Father William F. Davitt, a first lieutenant and senor chaplain, was the last American officer and the last chaplain to fall in World War I. It was on November 11, the day of Armistice. All fighting was to stop at 11:00 a.m. Father Davitt died about 9:45 a.m.
Father Davitt wasn't shy about joining the men in the thick of fighting. In one instance, when his division was advancing along the Vesle River and he heard that a party of Americans was cut off in a ravine, he assembled and led a group of volunteers through what was described as "a hail of machine gun bullets and rescued those cut off without the loss of a man."
More honors came for the brave chaplain while he was serving such a long way from where he was born on December 8, 1886 in Holyoke, Massachusetts then grew up in neighboring Chicopee where he played football in high school. No doubt his brother James also showed the same courageous spirit as a first lieutenant in the 94th Aero Squadron of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF).
It was also a long way from Holy Cross College in Worcester where he graduated in 1907, and from the seminary he attended in Montreal, Canada, before being assigned to St. Ann's.
But then came the war and his service as a chaplain in France. In another instance there, the commanding office of the American 5th Corps cited him "for faithful and conscientious performance of duty and for extreme coolness under shell fire in the performance of his duty as Acting Chief Burial Officer, 5th Corps, during the Meuse-Argonne Operations."
He was recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross. The recommendation stated that during one major advance "Chaplain Davitt worked single-handed without ceasing for anything, collecting the dead of his Division (32d) and looking after the burial. He did this under violent fire, to which he apparently paid no attention. While doing this work he stopped to encourage with cheerful words and advice the enlisted men along the line who also were under fire. The results of his work were 125 American soldiers buried, many wounded cared for, and soldiers in the line encouraged."
The War Department awarded it to him posthumously.
Shortly before the end of the war, Father Davitt was transferred to the 3rd Corps, but on November 10, 1918, he had to return to his regular Division.
There, the next morning everyone was looking forward with relief to the armistice to take effect at 11 am. But then the unthinkable happened.
Father Davitt was carrying a large American flag to present to the Commanding Officer, said one source. The flag was to be raised at the official hour of the armistice. He had "just stepped from the latter's room" and then was crossing over a parade route when "a piece of a shell bursting on the roof of a barn nearby struck and killed him." The shrapnel was from the last shell fired by the enemy in the war.
His friend and fellow classmate Father George Connor, also a chaplain and Captain there, celebrated Father Davitt's funeral. He would go on to tell Father Davitt's mother his regiment "had learned to love this wonderful, brave, big-hearted boy of a chaplain.
The colonel, his officers and men, marched behind their regimental band, bearing his precious remains to the yard of the little village church that nestled almost unharmed amidst the ruins around it."