A Rock Springs man fired the first American shot of World War I

Marines on Guam after the Cormoran incident. The men with them are laborers from German New Guinea who’d been working aboard the raider. Later they were returned to their homeland aboard a Japanese ship, Japan having been on the side of the Allies in World War I. (Guampedia photo – used with thanks)

Tyler Johnson
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SWEETWATER COUNTY, WYOMING (October 17, 2020) – On Sunday morning, June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir apparent to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire  and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo, in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina, setting off the Great War, later called World War I. On one side were the Central Powers, which included Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire; on the other was the Allies – at that time Great Britain, France, and Russia, among others.

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The United States would not enter the war on the side of the Allies for nearly three more years, and when it did, the first shot an American serviceman fired at an enemy in that colossal conflict was not in the trenches in France or on the battlefields of the eastern front, but in the harbor of a Pacific island over 6,000 miles from his birthplace. The staff of the Sweetwater County Museum reported on Saturday that Corporal Michael Chockie, United States Marine Corps, the man who fired that shot, was a native of Rock Springs, Wyoming, the son of Austrian immigrants.

The German merchant raider Cormoran, armed with eight 4.1-inch guns, put into Apra Harbor, Guam, on Dec. 14, 1914. Guam was American territory and the United States was still neutral. Nearly out of coal, the Cormoran and her crew were interned by American naval authorities and remained in Apra for the next two years.

On April 7, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany and boarding parties of sailors and Marines led by Lieutenant W.A. Hall, USN, moved toward the raider in boats to seize the ship. When a boat from the Cormoran was seen headed for shore, Hall ordered Corporal Chockie to fire a shot across the boat’s bow – the first American shot of World War I. At first, the Germans ignored the warning, but after Chockie and another men fired several more shots into the water near the boat, its crew hove to.

The German merchant raider Cormoran, which was interned on the Pacific island of Guam in 1914 and scuttled by its own crew when the United States declared war on Germany on April 7, 1917.

Moments later, the Cormoran’s captain blew the ship up to keep her falling into American hands. Seven German sailors drowned as she sank quickly in 120 feet of water; the survivors – around 300 men – were pulled from the water by sailors and Marines. The Cormoran remains on the bottom today, a popular site for scuba divers.

As described in the archives of the Naval History and Heritage Command, “This brief encounter at Guam resulted in the first violence of the war, the first Germans killed in action with the United States, the first German prisoners of war captured by the United States forces, and the first shots fired between the U.S. and Germany. Despite this, it was an incident marked more by kindness and humanity than hostility and carnage as American Navy personnel acted quickly and labored hard to save their new enemies rather than to destroy them.”

As of this writing, the Museum has been unable to locate a photograph of Corporal Chockie, but is continuing its search. A video about the Cormoran incident can be found online on YouTube.

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