“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.”
~President Warren G. Harding
Joseph W. Guyton was born in Evart Township, Michigan. He attended a rural school in the area for only a short time before leaving to work in the oil fields of Ohio. He also worked as a farmer, plumber and well driller. In December 1909, Joseph Guyton married Winona Baker from Lake City, and the couple gave birth to heir only child, Olive Clara Guyton, in 1911.
After the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Guyton joined the 126th Infantry Regiment where he was attached to the 32nd Infantry Division (the “Red Arrow Division”) at Camp MacArthur near Waco, Texas. On February 17, 1918, Private Guyton sailed with his comrades out of New York harbor for France.
At around midnight on May 24, Guyton became the first casualty the First World War. He was an automatic gunner on a post near the line of resistance, and when the Germans returned a barrage of machine gun fire, he was struck in the temple and died instantly. Guyton was temporarily buried in a nearby church yard on foreign soil. He was posthumously awarded the croix de guerre (the grand cross of honor) by the government of France.
June 5, 1921, 10,000 people gathered in Evart to pay tribute to Guyton. The Evart newspaper reported that over 1,000 automobiles and 500 soldiers were present in the small community that day. Guyton’s remains were buried in Evart’s Forest Hill Cemetery.
Loungelistener also has a photo of the Historical Marker.