The Last American Killed in Action in Europe during World War II

By the first week of May 1945, the German Army was almost totally destroyed. Allied armies were advancing on all European fronts; the imminent surrender of Germany was a certainty.  In these last days of World War II in Europe, American soldiers continued to fight bravely. One such soldier was Pfc. Charley Havlat, who was shot in a German ambush on May 7. Havlat is considered to be the last American killed in the European Theater of Operations. He is buried in Plot C, Row 5, Grave 75, in Lorraine American Cemetery, France. 

Havlat, who was born to Czech immigrants in Nebraska, arrived in England in June 1943. He served with the 803rd Tank Destroyer Battalion in some of bloodiest battles of the war. In the invasion of Normandy, Havlat and his comrades fought their way from Omaha Beach to St. Lo. His battalion continued on across northern France, through Belgium and Holland, before reaching the Siegfried Line. In the autumn of 1944 Havlat saw combat at Aachen and the Huertgen Forest, and on December 16, Havlat found himself in the Ardennes Forest at the onset of The Battle of the Bulge. Three months later, his unit helped capture Trier, Germany and crossed the Rhine.

On the morning of May 7, 1945, on a dirt road twelve kilometers into Czechoslovakia, Havlat’s reconnaissance platoon was blindsided by a hail of enemy machine gun and small arms fire from concealed enemy positions. Moments after the attack began, Havlat took a bullet to the head, ending his life. His fellow soldiers returned fire until their radio operator received word that some nine minutes before the ambush, a cease fire order had gone into effect. Taken prisoner, the German officer who led the ambush knew nothing of the cessation of hostilities at the time of the attack, and apologized for the incident. Havlat lost his life a mere six hours before Germany’s unconditional surrender.  

Havlat was killed in his parents’ native land, while fighting to liberate it from fascism. His two brothers, Adolph and Rudolph, were both serving in Europe when they learned of Charley’s death. They traveled to his temporary gravesite to pay their respects to their older brother, who gave his life just hours before the war in Europe ended.