War historians have given notice to it. It is a tragic subplot to a war tragic beyond most all comparison. World War I was a senseless, repeated exercise in the mass killing of young men from around the globe. This went on from August, 1914, up to the cease fire ordered for the eleventh month, the eleventh day, and the eleventh hour of 1918. Offensives on especially the western front meant men from several nations either were ordered to attack or were put in the position to defend against them. Men from many nations woke up on 11/11/18, but as casualties of war never saw the end of that day. People were celebrating the end of the war in Paris, Berlin, London, Washington, and elsewhere while men, most having heard the rumor about the armistice, fought on and died. George Edwin Allison died at 9:30 AM, the last official British casualty. Augustin Trebuchon, a message runner, was killed by a single shot at 10:50 AM, the last French casualty. George Lawrence Price was the last official Canadian casualty, dying at 10:58 AM. The last American to die was Henry Gunter, who if he understood German would have heard the machine gunners of that nation plead for his division to stop their offensive. His time of death was 10:59, and divisional records indicate, “Almost as he (Gunter) fell, the gunfire fell away and an appalling silence prevailed.” If possible, one story is even more tragic. While historians cannot be absolutely certain, they believe the last casualty of this tragic war was a German officer named Tomas. Allegedly, he told Americans approaching a house that he and his men occupied that they could have the house since the war was over. No one had told the Americans who, not trusting the officer, shot him as he walked toward them right after 11:00 AM. Official records indicate over 10,000 dead, wounded, and missing men on the last day of World War I. Historians have found letters, interviewed fellow soldiers of these unfortunate men, and through such correspondence give chilling insights. These men were optimistic. Many felt charmed to have cheated death, some of them veterans whose service had spanned the entire length of a war that exacted staggering, daily death tolls. Others had a strong sense of foreboding, a fatalistic resignation that somehow, despite the cheerful optimism of comrades, they would not survive the day (much historical information gleaned from www.historylearningsite.co.uk).
It is extremely difficult to read this legacy from World War I of men doing their duty to the end, to come so close to escaping the clutches of death, only to be felled in the final hours. Armistice Day and the ending of World War I are the roots of one of our greatest National Holidays and observances, Veterans Day. We honor those living and dead who fought to keep us free from tyranny and evil. Even in that first world war, where war prosecution is much questioned and debated, mothers, fathers, family and friends are beholden to the men and women who risked everything to defend our beloved country.
With that in mind, please allow me to draw this spiritual parallel. How tragic for a child of God to follow for so much of the way only to fall away later in life (2 Peter 2:20-22). How tragic for one to come so close to the cross of Calvary and salvation, only to die short of that goal (cf. Mark 10:22). Jesus spoke of one not far from the Kingdom (Mark 12:34). Agrippa was “almost persuaded” (Acts 26:28). Only eternity and the Judgment Day will reveal the stories of those battling with themselves on the battlefield of Ephesians six, maybe close to obedience, who died outside of Christ. What a tragedy for anyone to die lost. Especially tragic are the examples of those who knew the truth, were convicted about it, but who died without having resolved the greatest problem known to man.
We honor the soldiers who fought and died, even in the “11th hour.” We pray for the souls who are living but will die, who have yet to come to the Captain of the Lord of hosts.