In the final hours of World War I, a terrible toll

In this photo taken on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018, the grave marker of French WWI soldier Augustin Trebuchon in Vrigne-Meuse, France. His tiny plot is alm

In this photo taken on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018, the grave marker of French WWI soldier Augustin Trebuchon in Vrigne-Meuse, France. His tiny plot is alm

FILE  - In this undated file photo American World War I soldiers wave their helmets after the Nov. 11, 1918 Armistice was signed in France. Hundreds o

FILE - In this undated file photo American World War I soldiers wave their helmets after the Nov. 11, 1918 Armistice was signed in France. Hundreds o

FILE In this file photo taken on Saturday, July 26, 2014, wooden crosses and Canadian flags adorn the grave of World War I Canadian soldier Pvt. Georg

FILE In this file photo taken on Saturday, July 26, 2014, wooden crosses and Canadian flags adorn the grave of World War I Canadian soldier Pvt. Georg

In this photo taken on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, a memorial to US World War I soldier Henry Gunther perched on a hill where he died in Chaumont-devant-Da

In this photo taken on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, a memorial to US World War I soldier Henry Gunther perched on a hill where he died in Chaumont-devant-Da

FILE - In this file photo taken on Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014, the sun begins to rise behind barbed wire next to a re-constructed WWI trench in Ploegstee

FILE - In this file photo taken on Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014, the sun begins to rise behind barbed wire next to a re-constructed WWI trench in Ploegstee

FILE - In this file photo from Nov. 1918, the German and French delegations speak as they wait in Rethondes for the start of the train to the Armistic

FILE - In this file photo from Nov. 1918, the German and French delegations speak as they wait in Rethondes for the start of the train to the Armistic

In this photo taken on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018, a photo of French WWI soldier Augustin Trebuchon hangs on a wall outside a cemetery in Vrigne-Meuse, Fr

In this photo taken on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018, a photo of French WWI soldier Augustin Trebuchon hangs on a wall outside a cemetery in Vrigne-Meuse, Fr

FILE In this file photo taken on April 3, 2017, the bones of soldiers are piled in a crypt at the Douaumont Ossuary in Verdun, France. Hundreds of tro

FILE In this file photo taken on April 3, 2017, the bones of soldiers are piled in a crypt at the Douaumont Ossuary in Verdun, France. Hundreds of tro

FILE  - In this Saturday, Aug. 3, 2014 file photo, George Barkhouse, 84, from Nova Scotia, Canada, looks out to where his uncle, World War I soldier P

FILE - In this Saturday, Aug. 3, 2014 file photo, George Barkhouse, 84, from Nova Scotia, Canada, looks out to where his uncle, World War I soldier P

In this photo taken on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, Historian Nicolas Czubak speaks with the Associated Press at the Verdun Memorial in Fleury-devant-Douaum

In this photo taken on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, Historian Nicolas Czubak speaks with the Associated Press at the Verdun Memorial in Fleury-devant-Douaum

In this photo taken on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, a memorial to US World War I soldier Henry Gunther perched on a hill where he died in Chaumont-devant-Da

In this photo taken on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, a memorial to US World War I soldier Henry Gunther perched on a hill where he died in Chaumont-devant-Da

In this photo taken on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, hunters walk on a hill where American World War I soldier Henry Gunther died in Chaumont-devant-Damville

In this photo taken on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, hunters walk on a hill where American World War I soldier Henry Gunther died in Chaumont-devant-Damville

In this photo taken on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, an iron gate leads to a World War I German cemetery in Ville-devant-Chaumont, France. The cemetery conta

In this photo taken on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, an iron gate leads to a World War I German cemetery in Ville-devant-Chaumont, France. The cemetery conta

VRIGNE-MEUSE, France (AP) — Augustin Trebuchon is buried beneath a white lie.

His tiny plot is almost on the front line where the guns finally fell silent at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, after a four-year war that had already killed millions.

A simple white cross says: "Died for France on Nov. 10, 1918."

Not so.

Like hundreds of others along the Western Front, Trebuchon was killed in combat on the morning of Nov. 11 — after the pre-dawn agreement between the Allies and Germany but before the armistice took effect six hours later.

His death at almost literally the eleventh hour only highlighted the folly of a war that had become ever more incomprehensible to many in nations drawn into the first global conflict.

For the French, who lost up to 1.4 million troops, it was perhaps too poignant — or too shameful — to denote that Trebuchon had been killed on the very last morning, just as victory finally prevailed.

"It was a lie, without a question," said historian Nicolas Chubak, even if he acknowledged it was meant "to somewhat ease the mourning of families."

There were many reasons why men kept falling until the call of the bugler at 11 a.m.: fear that the enemy would not abide by the armistice, a sheer hatred after four years of unprecedented slaughter, the ambition of commanders craving a last victory, bad communications, the inane joy of killing.

The reasons trumped the lives of soldiers, many of whom were convinced they were on the brink of survival.

Historian Joseph Persico estimated the total dead, wounded and missing on all sides on the final day was 10,900.

U.S. Gen. John J. Pershing, who had been bent on continuing the fighting, even had to explain to Congress the high number of last-day losses.

Before Nov. 11, the war had killed 14 million people, including 9 million soldiers, sailors and airmen from 28 countries. Germany came close to a quick, early victory before the war settled into hellish trench fighting. One battle, like the Somme in France, could have up to 1 million casualties. The use of poison gas came to epitomize the ruthlessness of warfare that the world had never seen.

Death on the final morning added another twist to the cruelty.

In northeastern France's Meuse-Argonne, a 23-year-old American, Henry Gunther, was killed by German machine-gun fire one minute before the armistice.

"His time of death was 10:59 A.M. which is just so haunting," U.S. historian Alec Bennett said. Gunther still charged a German machine gun nest, when keeping his head down for a few dozen more seconds could have saved him. It remains a mystery why he did it.

"Gunther's act is seen as almost a symbol of the futility of the larger war," Bennett said.

Other nations also were not spared such casualties.

With two minutes to go, Canadian Private George Lawrence Price was shot by a German sniper close to Mons in southern Belgium, some 250 kilometers (150 miles) from where Gunther died. It served no apparent purpose but another life was shattered in its prime at 25.

"It really was one man, here and there, who was driven by vengeance, by a need to kill one last time," Belgian historian Corentin Rousman said.

And Trebuchon, 40, also was shot minutes before the cease-fire. He was running to tell his comrades where and when they would have a meal after the armistice.

The three are considered their nations' last men to fall in active combat.

___

Photojournalist Virginia Mayo and videojournalist Mark Carlson contributed reporting.

___

For more information on World War I, go to The Associated Press' WWI hub: https://www.apnews.com/WorldWarI

___

World War I: An AP Centennial Commemorative Edition. Available now exclusively at Amazon: https://amzn.to/2JGrx5U