World War I was a global battle that lasted from July 28, 1914, to November 11, 1918. Tens of millions of servicemen from over 30 countries fought on battlegrounds all over the world. Many methods of combat were pioneered in this bloodbath, which ended up killing 16 million people. Technology-wise, it was the first war to see large scale use of poisonous gas, airplanes, and tanks. Also, artillery technology and targeting was perfected to rain death on thousands of soldiers. America tried to stay out of it for years but was pulled in, declaring war against Germany on April 6, 1917. Here are 10 historic firsts in America’s involvement in World War I…
10. First Soldiers to Die in a WWI Battle
In late 1917, the Americans took over a portion of the front lines near Artois, France. That same year, on November 3, the Germans launched an early morning raid on US lines. When the dust cleared eleven Americans were taken Prisoner of War, and three Americans were found dead. They were Corporal James Gresham of Kentucky, Private Merle Hay of Iowa, and Private Thomas Enright of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In the chaos of the German attack, who died first was lost in the fog of war, so the three are seen as the first US deaths of the war.
Seven months later, Michigan’s Private Joseph William Guyton was the first to die in Germany on May 24, 1918. President Harding later honored his grave by saying, “In the name of the republic, I bestow this tribute on the casket of the first soldier who perished on the soil of the enemy.” These men were the first Americans soldiers to die in WWI, but were they the first Americans to die in combat?
Many Americans balked at their nation’s initial neutral stance. Some due to their heritage, beliefs, or sense of adventure, joined the militaries of other nations that were involved in the fighting. Some are seen as “technical” Americans. For example, Harold Chapin was born in Brooklyn, New York (thus an American citizen) but moved to England and became a hugely successful actor before he died during the Battle of Loos on September, 26 1915. He viewed himself as “an English actor, and English playwright, and died as a British soldier.” According to writer Gary Ward in VFW Magazine, the official publication of the US Veterans of Foreign Wars, the earliest American that died as a soldier in WWI combat was Edward Mandell Stone, the son of a Chicago industrialist. Serving with the French Foreign Legion, Stone was mortally wounded by German shellfire and died on February 27, 1915.
The first American to kill a German after formally entering the front line trenches was Sergeant Major Herbert Sleigh. Using WWI sniper technology the US media claimed he was able to shoot a German from 1,400 yards.
The first servicewomen to die in the war were Nurses Edith Ayres and Helen Wood, who both were accidentally killed after a deck gun exploded on May 20, 1917, aboard the USS Mongolia. The ship was on its way to France.