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CT World War I veteran who died on the last day of the war presented the Purple Heart

New Haven Register - 5/25/2024

May 24—GUILFORD — Sgt. Paul Maynard had just spent weeks at the front of one of the deadliest campaigns in World War I, coming off an earlier stint in the hospital for gas poisoning and happy to be back with his men as it seemed the war was coming to a close.

Just a week earlier, the 21-year-old from Torrington, had written to his mother on Nov. 4, 1918, "If I keep having good luck, I guess we'll see each other before a great while."

He was killed in a trench in France on Nov. 11, 1918 while pulling his men back, said his grandnephew Rick Maynard, of Guilford.

Now, 105 years later and just before Memorial Day, Paul Maynard was honored for his sacrifice with the Purple Heart on the Guilford town green.

"He died on the last day of the war. He wrote those words on Nov. 4, and on Nov. 11, the Germans declared an armistice, the war ended, but so did his life," said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who presented the medal. "Now you may think what a needless thing to give his life, or more accurately his life was taken for nothing."

But Blumenthal said he was a hero on that day.

"He was doing his job and defending our democracy on that day," Blumenthal said, "and it was not a senseless death, it was a patriotic and heroic death."

The recognition was a long dream for his Rick Maynard, also Guilford's former park and recreation director.

Maynard had worked years doing research to get his uncle recognized for his heroism. Maynard noted that Christine Pittsley from the Connecticut State Library helped him with his research and was able to pinpoint where he died from the exact coordinates.

Paul Maynard is buried at Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France. He served with Connecticut's102nd Infantry, 26th "Yankee Division" after enlisting when he was 20 years old.

Maynard told the crowd of 60 or so gathered that his granduncle was a "country boy" from Torrington and was one of the first from that town to enlist in 1917. His granduncle only wanted to farm when the war was over.

Maynard learned of his granduncle when he and his brother discovered an old "Look" magazine marking the 50th anniversary of WWI in 1964.

"And there was a picture of the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery and of all the thousands of crosses of gravestones there. Right in the front was Sgt. Paul Maynard," Maynard said. "And the caption ... was that the last day of war was the last day of life for some of the soldiers."

He said that was case for his granduncle, whom he didn't really know much about. His grandfather didn't talk about him much with the family, he said.

It was only after his father died and they were going through some papers, that he found out more about the young sergeant through letters he wrote home.

"I started reading those letters and said, 'Oh my goodness, this is amazing,'" he said.

Maynard learned his granduncle lived in Torrington across from Coe Memorial Park and guessed he probably walked across the street on July 17, 1917 to enlist at the park, where he is now memorialized.

"I imagine as a teenager he kind of hung out in that park," Maynard said.

Maynard said "he wrote with such innocence" in his letters home. As he read excerpts from Paul Maynard's letters, everyone gathered was silent with only the noise of passing cars and motorcycles in the background.

From his writing, his grandnephew learned that his granduncle sent money home to his family. He also didn't want his parents to worry about him and he was an upright young man who was a "loving son."

"He would send his money home saying, 'I don't need it here. You need it at home,'" Maynard told the gathering.

The sergeant would assure his folks that he was not picking up bad habits while serving overseas.

"Evidently there was a rumor going around that he was smoking cigarettes," Maynard said with a chuckle. "He wrote to my grandfather, 'I am just the same fellow as I used to be, and mother need not worry. Tell Dad I'm not old enough for smoking yet.'"

During the war, Maynard said, he trusted God.

"He said, 'if anyone needs God, it is a soldier. When in places where it seems that there is not a chance, it releases one mind just to remember God is near,'" Maynard read.

And he didn't let fear get in the way of his duty.

"He was a patriot, he said he couldn't wait to get to France," Maynard said. "He was so happy to get there so soon."

Above all, his granduncle was a hero, Maynard said. Even while laid up in a hospital after being gassed, he was eager to get back to his men.

From the hospital he wrote home faithfully.

"He said, 'this is not a place for me,'" Maynard said. "He felt guilty being in a nice, comfortable place when the guys were out in the trenches."

After leaving the hospital, Paul Maynard spent 21 days on the frontlines "in the range of the big guns, even when he fell back two or three trenches" and conditions were harsh.

"In one of his letters, he wrote of not sleeping for 10 days during a battle. Can you imagine that?" Maynard said. "I don't know how he could see straight or shoot straight or run and dodge the missiles, 10 days without sleep."

Paul Maynard took part in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, which lasted 47 days and was "the deadliest campaign in American history" with more than 1 million American soldiers participating, according to the National Archives. The attack went from Sept. 26 to Nov. 11, 1918, when the Armistice was signed.

Maynard's granduncle wrote about the relief he felt "to get back where you don't have to dodge shells all the time." Maynard recounted. "'After seeing fellows get killed near you and feel the shock of the shells, it makes one kind of shy from them.'"

He wrote of how often he had to dodge shells.

"It was one of the longest and one of the most intense battles of the war," Maynard said.

Just before his death, the young soldier had received a "loving letter from his mother while in the front trenches. He wrote back, "'You can imagine how it cheered me up when it was handed to me while under a big barrage,'" Maynard read aloud.

Paul Maynard also wrote to his brother. "Well, Glen, I thought a good many times I never would be able to write home again. We have had a hard time at this front, and we'll be glad when it's over with. Write often, and don't forget your old chum."

Maynard said the family wasn't notified of his death until a few months after the armistice.

"He was forgotten essentially for months when he never got off the train," he said. "The family never knew where he was or if he was even still alive. So a hundred and something years later, now he's finally receiving the Purple Heart."

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