When the war started in 1914,

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most Amer­i­cans con­sid­ered it “Europe’s war.”

A hit song in 1915 was ti­tled “I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be A Sol­dier” and Pres­i­dent Woodrow Wil­son won re-elec­tion in 1916 with the cam­paign slo­gan “He kept us out of war.”

Ger­man bel­liger­ence soon had Amer­i­cans re­think­ing the wis­dom of iso­la­tion, said Bruce Mal­one, a his­to­rian and su­per­in­ten­dent of the Meuse-Ar­gonne Amer­i­can Ceme­tery.

“Un­re­stricted war­fare, sink­ing ships with Amer­i­cans on them or Amer­i­can ships” and the in­fa­mous Zim­mer­mann tele­gram in which Ger­many promised to give Mex­ico some Amer­i­can ter­ri­tory if it kept the U.S. en­gaged shifted the mo­men­tum, he said.

“Even Pres­i­dent Wil­son, who did not want to be in the war, had no choice,” Mal­one said.

On April 6, 1917, the U.S. de­clared war, much to the re­lief of its Eu­ro­pean al­lies.

“It wasn’t go­ing well in Europe at the time, and the Ger­mans were ac­tu­ally gain­ing some mo­men­tum. The Al­lies were es­sen­tially run­ning out of men to fight the war,” Mal­one said.

There was one prob­lem though, he added.

“We join the war. We’ve made prom­ises, but we don’t have an army. Cer­tainly not of the Eu­ro­pean stan­dard,” he said.

Speed was of the essence. Rus­sia left the war in March 1918 and Ger­many had sent its troops to the Western front for a fi­nal full on­slaught. Just in time, U.S. sol­diers started ar­riv­ing en masse.

Per­sh­ing, dis­re­gard­ing Bri­tish and French pleas to use U.S. troops to beef up de­pleted lines un­der Bri­tish and French com­mand, al­ways wanted his men to fight as an in­de­pen­dent Amer­i­can force.

A ma­jor break­through came at Bel­leau Wood, when U.S. forces stopped a Ger­man ad­vance on Paris against heavy odds. It proved their met­tle to the en­emy and al­lies alike.

The Amer­i­cans kept build­ing on their newly ac­knowl­edged grit through the end of the war. Saenz was there to record it.

“The bloody fight­ing and our vic­tory was the de­ci­sive blow that fin­ished the Teu­tonic pride and dis­pelled for­ever the Ger­mans’ false dream of global con­quest,” he wrote af­ter a Nov. 2 vic­tory.

Yet nine days later, vil­lages were still be­ing taken, at­tacks were still be­ing thwarted with heavy losses and rivers were still be­ing crossed un­der en­emy fire. Ques­tions re­main whether the gains were worth all the hu­man losses.

His­to­rian Joseph Per­sico es­ti­mated the to­tal dead, wounded and miss­ing on all sides on the fi­nal day was 10,900.

Per­sh­ing even had to ex­plain to Congress the high num­ber of last­day losses.

With two min­utes to go, Cana­dian Pvt. Ge­orge Lawrence Price, 25, was killed in Bel­gium by a Ger­man sniper.

France, a 23-year-old Amer­i­can, Henry Gun­ther, was killed by Ger­man machine­gun fire one minute be­fore the ar­mistice.

Tre­bu­chon, 40, also was shot min­utes be­fore the cease-fire. He was run­ning to tell his com­rades where and when they would have a meal af­ter the ar­mistice.

All three are con­sid­ered their na­tions’ last men to fall in com­bat.

Anti-Ger­man sen­ti­ment ran high af­ter the U.S. de­clared war in April 1917, and Gun­ther and his fam­ily in Bal­ti­more were sub­jected to the kind of prej­u­dice and sus­pi­cion that many of Ger­man de­scent faced at the time.

“It was not a good time to be Ger­man in the United States,” said his­to­rian Alec Ben­nett.

Gun­ther had lit­tle choice when he got drafted. He was given the rank of sergeant, but he later was de­moted when he wrote a let­ter home crit­i­cal of the con­di­tions in the war.

Soon af­ter, he was thrown into the big­gest U.S. bat­tle of the war, the Meuse-Ar­gonne of­fen­sive in north­east­ern France.

There were re­ports he was still brood­ing over his de­mo­tion right on Nov. 11. When he emerged from a thick fog in the val­ley around Chau­mont-de­vant-Damvillers, he and his com­rades faced a Ger­man ma­chine gun nest on the hill­side.

In­di­ca­tions are the Ger­mans fired one salvo over his head as a warn­ing, know­ing the war was al­most over. But he still charged.

“His time of death was 10:59 a.m., which is just so haunt­ing,” Ben­nett said. Gun­ther was rec­og­nized by Per­sh­ing as the last Amer­i­can to die on the bat­tle­field.

Ques­tions re­main whether it was a sui­cide run, an at­tempt at redemption or an act of de­vo­tion.

“Gun­ther’s act is seen as al­most a sym­bol of the fu­til­ity of the larger war,” Ben­nett said.

But there was one more cruel twist for his fam­ily: They were un­aware he had been killed.

Upon his ex­pected re­turn “they went to the train sta­tion to meet Henry — not there!” Mal­one said.

But there was no mys­tery sur­round­ing the death of Price, the Cana­dian. It was an ut­terly sense­less loss of life.

He was a farm la­borer in Saskatchewan when the swirl of his­tory plucked him off the land in Oc­to­ber 1917 as the Al­lies sought ever more man­power for the Western Front.

The summer af­ter he was drafted, he was part of the surge of vic­to­ries that seized vil­lages and cities right up to Nov. 11. By that time, Cana­di­ans were re­tak­ing Mons in south­ern Bel­gium, where sol­diers from the Bri­tish Com­mon­wealth had their very first bat­tle with the Ger­mans in Au­gust 1914.

It was es­pe­cially sweet for the Com­mon­wealth com­man­ders to re­take the city, bring­ing the war full cir­cle where they lost their first sol­dier, English Pvt. John Parr, on Aug. 21, 1914.

Price de­cided to check out homes along the canals while civil­ians in the cen­ter of Mons had al­ready bro­ken out the wine and whiskey they had hid­den for years from the Ger­mans to cel­e­brate with the Cana­di­ans.

A me­mo­rial to Henry Gun­ther, re­garded as the last Amer­i­can sol­dier to die in World War I, is on a hill in Chau­mont-de­van­tDamvillers, France.

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