Fallen Heroes: Private Ralph James Fivecoat

When Private Ralph James Fivecoat (1896-1919) died in France, the war had officially been over for nearly three months. Nonetheless, the Tuscarawas County coal miner, who had been fatally wounded, never returned home.


John Fivecoat (1872-1963) and his wife Nora Shaffer (1875-1965) lived in the community of Tuscarawas when they welcomed their first child, and only son, Ralph James in 1896. John worked as a coal miner while Nora tended house when the couple, only married for a year, became parents. Three daughters followed soon after.

Ralph, after finishing school, also worked as a coal miner. He worked for the Midvale Goshen Coal Company when he registered for the draft in June 1917. His registration described him as being tall, stoutly built with blue eyes and light colored hair. Ralph did not have to wait long after he registered, as he was drafted in September of 1917. Ralph’s train carried him, and eighty-four other recruits, to Camp Sherman. They departed Uhrichsville on Friday, September 21, 1917.

Map of Camp Sherman, in Chillicothe, Ohio. (Source: https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p16007coll51/id/908/rec/249)

After undergoing training at Camp Sherman, Ralph was assigned to duty with the 308th Ammunition Train. Ammunition trains were used during World War One to handle transporting the ammunition from the ammunition storage depots to wherever units were fighting. The term “train” did not mean a literal train, but rather any means of conveying ammunition to the front. During World War One this was often carried out using horse or mule drawn vehicles. Fellow fallen hero Private Daniel F. Freed served in this unit as well.

Private Fivecoat, along with the rest of Company F, 308th Ammunition Train, shipped off to France from Boston in June 1918 aboard the SS Carnarvonshire. Shortly after arriving in France, Ralph found himself suffering from a severe case of rheumatism. It took nearly two months for him to recover enough to return to service. Instead of being sent back to the 308th Ammunition Train after he recovered, Ralph was assigned to the 224th Military Police Company. It was while assigned to this unit that he received the wound that ultimately took his life.

A United States Army military policeman in France searches a German prisoner. (Source: https://www.usmilitariaforum.com/forums/index.php?/topic/210707-us-army-brassards-armbands-1898-to-1918-part-2/)

Just how, when, and where Private Fivecoat received his wound is unknown, but all of the surviving records state that he was “wounded in action” as opposed to having suffered some other kind of injury. His family, according to newspaper reports, had no idea that Ralph had recovered from his illness or had been transferred to another unit. The last letter they received from him, which came after the news of his death, mentioned nothing about him being wounded in action. Likely he did not want to cause any worry to his family.

The casualty report of the commanding general of the American Expeditionary Force, printed on March 1, 1919 in the New Philadelphia newspaper, was the first report of Ralph Fivecoat’s death. His death was confirmed in a telegram the family received stating that he had died from “wounds received in action” February 4, 1919 at Base Hospital 26 in Allerey, France.

Private Ralph James Fivecoat, a fallen hero of Tuscarawas County, is buried at the St. Mihiel American Cemetery and Memorial, Plot A Row 6 Grave 30.

American graves at St. Mihiel American Cemetery and Memorial (Source: https://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials/europe/st-mihiel-american-cemetery)

© Noel B. Poirier, 2021.

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