Pvt. Joseph W. Guyton, First American Soldier Killed on German Soil
Joseph Guyton was born on June 10, 1889 in Evart, Michigan, a small town known for its lumber mills back in its day. Pioneers were just settling the area back in 1866 through homesteading after the Civil War. He attended a small school house just outside of town. At age 20 he married his sweetheart Agnes Winona Baker from Lake City, Mi. Two years later in 1911 they had a daughter named Olive Clara Guyton. Life at this point was going very well.
In 1914 war broke out over in Europe. America tried to stay neutral but Germany kept violating our neutral status. On May 7, 1915 German U-boats sunk the sister ship to the Titanic, The Lusitania. 1198 passengers lost their lives including 128 American's. America was very upset and cries for war emerged across the country. Finally on April 6, 1917 the United States of America declared war on Germany. Some men enlisted and others were drafted. Guyton was drafted.
Under military law Guyton could have refused to go since he only had a daughter and no name sake in case he should die. Guyton was too proud not to go. He felt it was his duty to go since he was called to war. Guyton was with the 126th Infantry Regiment which was attached to the 32nd Infantry Division also called the Red Arrow Division.
Around the midnight hour gun fire was being exchanged between the US and the Germans near Alsace region. Since Guyton was on the front lines he was instructed to fire his gun intermittently. In return fire Guyton was struck in the temple and died instantly (Wikipedia). He was 28 years old. He was buried at a nearby church yard. France, who we were allied with, gave Joseph Guyton the Croix De Guerre (The Cross of War) after his death.
A few months after Guyton's death his wife had lost her life with the flu epidemic that was sweeping the nation in 1918. Their only daughter was left to the care of other family members. The war was over on November 11, 1918.
America wanted to bring her deceased soldiers home. In May 1921, President Warren G. Harding had a ceremony at Hoboken, New Jersey for over 5,000 soldiers that gave their lives and were finally being sent to their final resting place here in the US. He placed a presidential wreath on the flag-drapped coffin of Private Joseph Guyton (Wikipedia). President Harding spoke these words, "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... I chose it because I am offering the tribute to the one returned whose death on enemy soil marked the day when our civilization went face forward and the assault on our present day civilization knew it had failed. May 24, 1918, is the date on which this soldier was killed, and the name is that of Joseph W. Guyton, Company I of the 126th Infantry, a resident patriot and hero of the State of Michigan of the United States of America."
Five days before of what would of been Guyton's 31st birthday his remains were returned home to Evart, Mi. Over 10,000 people waited at the depot to show Guyton their proper respect, Civil War Veterans, over 500 soldiers, government officials not to mention local citizens. His body lays to rest in Forest Hill Cemetery just east of Evart.
The next week Olive, Guyton's 10 year old daughter, gave the flag that draped over her dad's casket to the American Legion Post in Evart. A year later Olive went to join her mother and father in heaven after suffering from pneumonia. The whole family now lays at rest together along side Joseph Guyton's parents.
Joseph Guyton is remembered today by a local park in Evart, the Joseph W. Guyton American Legion post in Evart, the US-10 "Guyton" Bridge over the Muskegon River in Osceola County, and Guyton Elementary School in Detroit which sadly closed its doors in 2009.
By J. Moyer