Steamboat soldier who died on WWI battlefield remembered through his letters
November 10, 2018
Editor’s note: Guy Utter was killed in action northwest of Verdun, France, in 1918. The location of his death has been corrected below.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When Army soldier Guy Utter wrote home to his family in Steamboat Springs during World War I, he told them about what he was doing, complained about his brothers not writing and wondered how his father was getting by on the family ranch without him.
"I was glad to hear from you that you are all well and prospering," Utter wrote in a letter to his mother Louise Utter in December 1917. "I read what you said about buying the two ranches. I wish I was in on it, but maybe when I get out of the Army, though, I will not want to come back to Colorado. Although, I have not seen anything that looks as good to me as Colorado."
He also asked how many sheep his father was caring for and if his father needed his help?
"Doesn't he need my help to take care of them, or not?” Utter wrote. “If he does, then he might want to get me out. But I don't think there is any danger of that, although, there was a man who got out yesterday. His wife got him a discharge and got him sent home. It makes me sore."
But like the nearly 1,000 young men from Routt County who served our country in World War I, Utter answered the call to duty and was remembered in the letter as a brave and dedicated soldier.
He served for a little more than a year before being fatally shot in France in 1918. He was treated at a field hospital, but the injuries proved too much, and he died Oct. 25, 1918.
Utter's niece Nadine Arroyo said her father often talked about his older brother.
"My dad always took a lot of pride in him,” Arroyo said. “He was very proud of Guy for doing what he did, even though it was a great loss."
When her father passed away, Arroyo ended up with dozens of letters — many of them that came after her uncle’s death were unopened. The letters were written during his time stationed in Junction City, Kansas, San Diego, California, and from the battlefields of France. The letters give rare insight into the man who was called into service more than 100 years ago.
"He did not want to be there," said Arroyo, who still lives on the family ranch just off of Routt County Road 43. "I learned from reading the letters he wrote that he didn't want to be away so far, and he struggled with that. He was really worried because there was a lot of work on the ranch that needed to be done."
Utter was buried in Souilly, France near Verdun when he was killed. The army chaplain wrote the family after the war ended and passed along where Utter was buried, assuring them that he had been buried with full military honor and was in a clearly marked grave that was well kept.
He also relayed the huge sacrifice that Guy had made to stop German aggression and that his efforts helped bring an end to the war.
Utter was part of the first military service hosted by the newly formed American Legion Post No. 44 that took place in Steamboat Springs on Memorial Day 1921. However, there is some question about when Utter’s body was returned to his home town. Arroyo was told by her family, and she feels strongly, that her uncle was brought home in the fall of 1919.
But no matter the date, Utter’s loss greatly impacted the community where he lived.
In the days before Utter’s body was returned home, the headline in the Steamboat Pilot read, "Victims of War To Rest at Home."
"The remains of two Routt County boys who gave up their lives on the battlefields of France are soon to arrive, sent home by their government to be laid in their final resting places close to home," the story read. "…the body of Guy L. Utter, son of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel H. Utter of Cow Creek, has probably reached the United States by this time, and it is expected in Steamboat Springs within the next few days."
Veterans attended the ceremony. Businesses closed down, and crowds of people lined up to walk behind the horse-drawn carriage that carried Utter’s body.
Utter's letters revealed the mundane, day-to-day life of serving in the Army, like riding on the train from Denver to the base in Kansas where he first served, the pain in his derrière after he was vaccinated or the fact that women were a rare sight where he was stationed.
He also wrote about his desire to get on with life after the Army, and he often inquired about how his father was doing on the family ranch and what his nine brothers and sisters were up to in his absence.
Arroyo also has letters written about Utter after his death.
"Your son was a fine solider, and he was admired by both officers and men," Lieutenant E.L. Keenan wrote to Utter's mother after his death. "I regret very much his loss. The information that I have given you is slight, and far from satisfactory. You can no doubt verify the report by calling the War Department and can also learn the number of the base hospital and where he was buried."
His words reinforced the fact that the young man from Steamboat was not coming home.
Utter was one of 22 soldiers who died in World War I, and this year’s Veterans Day marks the 100th anniversary of the war to end all wars.
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Others included John Harvey Bird, Yampa; Willard Leighton Brown, Yampa; Charles Farmer Baer, Steamboat Springs; Lloyd M. Dobson, Pagoda; Raymond R. Gretsinger, Yampa; Wesley E. Gifford, Steamboat Springs; Dr. Robert Gilmore, Steamboat Springs; Ben J. Hofstetter, Hayden; Leo J. Hill, Steamboat Springs; George Klumker, Topanas; George Leo Lawson, McGregor; William Henry Long, Dunkley; Clayton Lewis, Oak Creek; Ralph Maitland Mabee, Hayden; Marcy M. Meaden, Deep Creek; James E. Noyce, Steamboat Springs; William Channing Reed, Yampa; Chester Bryan Reise, Hayden; Edward August Schrupp, McCoy; Zetto Dell Stoddard, Bear River; and Raymond C. Whitmer, Clark.