Art Cashin's Veterans Day Remembrance

From Art Cashin

On this day (-1) in 1918, Pvt. Henry Gunther of Baltimore, Maryland thought he saw a suspicious movement in the German trenches across the way. Fearing that the "Huns" were using the mid-morning sun to get some territorial advantage while the peace talks dragged on, Gunther decided to rush the suspicious area. Henry was fast but unfortunately, not invisible. A single shot from a German rifle struck him in the heart and killed him instantly. The time was 11:01 a.m. just 1 minute after the war officially ended, making Put Henry Gunther the final casualty of World War I.

Thus, he joined nearly 8.4 million other victims who died during that great conflict alone (113,000 Americans). But Gunther was in a distinct minority - he died of a wound.

More than half of the rest died of the flu or other illnesses.

Pvt. Gunther may have died needlessly. There had been strong rumors (and some real evidence) that an Armistice had been agreed to days before but was purposely unannounced for rather arcane reasons.

In fact, there had been rumors of an Armistice for several weeks. Back in September, Belgian Radio had announced a ceasefire only to have to retract it several hours later.

(Some generals contended that the false reports caused troops to let down their guards, or even leave their trenches. They suggested that this caused unnecessary deaths.)

On November the 7th, 1918 reports hit the streets that an Armistice had been signed. In New York City people poured into the streets shouting joyously, blowing horns or banging pots and pans. On Wall Street they had a spontaneous ticker tape parade (without the parade). The Department of Sanitation maintained that 155 tons of ticker tape and torn paper floated from windows. Fifth Avenue became so crowded that police closed it to all traffic. Back on Wall Street the NYSE Governors decided to close a half  hour early (2:30) in celebration – or – as they put it “in view of the momentous occurrence and the triumph of the Allied Cause”. The next morning they would discover there was no Armistice. Fighting continued and trading resumed.

Four days later at 4:00 a.m. on November 11th, trans-atlantic telegrams arrived in New York revealing that an Armistice had indeed been signed. After verifying the accuracy of the telegrams, the NYSE Governors voted to close for the day in celebration.

But, as noted, at 11:01 a.m., Harry Gunther became the last military casualty of World War I. If only he had known that world leaders had already agreed upon on a cease-fire (about four days before). But with a nod to symmetry, history and-yes-even numerology, they had decided to implement the Armistice on the Eleventh hour of the Eleventh day of the Eleventh month.

To celebrate, take off your trench coat, decant some cognac with a local Lili Marlene and ponder the wisdom of the great philosopher who said, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making plans". (I hear Gunther's family changed the spelling of their name but I lost track of them.)

The war between the Bulls and the Bears may be grinding to a stalemate if not an Armistice or maybe it is just a pause to catch a breath.


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