The stress of combat can affect soldiers differently. World War One was notorious for a perceived new ailment called “shell shock”, an ailment we now refer to as post-traumatic stress disorder. Private Fred Heintz (1888-1923) was a different man when he returned from the fields of France, and like many veterans his life would be shortened by this “new” ailment.
Henry Heintz (1860-1915) immigrated to the United States from Germany as a child in 1865, along with the rest of his family. The family originally settled in the young state of Iowa, but Henry found himself gradually moving east until he finally settled in Tuscarawas County in 1884-1885. He married Bertha Briel (1861-1934) in July 1885 and they began to raise their own family. Three sons were born between 1888 and 1896, with Fred Heintz being the eldest of the three.
Henry found work wherever he could. He worked as a miner, a brakeman on the railroad, and moulder in in a local foundry. Henry died in 1915 and Fred and his brothers became the breadwinners for the household. One of the brothers pursued work in Cleveland while the other brother married and continued to live in Bertha’s home. Fred was working for the annealing department at the Reeves Mill when, like many able men, he registered for the draft in 1917.
Fred was drafted in the spring of 1918 and shipped off for training along with 157 other local draftees. He was sent to Camp Gordon in Georgia for basic training as a replacement. The replacements from Camp Gordon were then sent to New York where they embarked aboard the transport ship Orca in July 1918 destined for the battlefields of France. Fred was initially assigned to Company H, 116th Engineers, and then as a replacement in Company D, 14th Engineers Railway. This unit had been in Europe since the fall of 1917 and was tasked with the construction and maintenance of railroads used to supply troops throughout the frontlines. The 14th Engineers Railway took part in the Cambrai and Somme offensives and, at the time of Fred’s arrival, had been sent to Calais to rest for the upcoming campaigns.
The 14th’s stay at Calais was short lived though and, in early September 1918, they were recalled to the front lines to prepare for the upcoming Meuse-Argonne offensive. The regiment was tasked with laying track across recently captured no-man’s land, filling shell holes with ballast, moving men and material to the front lines. Much of this activity was done at night and virtually all of it was done while under artillery and machine gun fire and German aerial attacks. When the Armistice was signed in November 1918, the 14th continued to operate and maintain rail lines throughout the battlefield in order to clean up the areas, collect scrap, and move men and material.
Fred returned home in the spring of 1919 and, while he did not suffer any physical wounds, his mental state was a different matter. While he was able to return to his work at the Reeves Mill in Dover, he must have already been showing the signs of his condition. Shortly after his return his mother had him committed to the Cleveland State Hospital (originally known as the Northern Ohio Lunatic Asylum) in Newburgh, Ohio. According to one newspaper account Fred was bedridden during the last year of his life and, during his last three weeks, completely unresponsive.
When Fred Heintz died in July 1923, the newspaper reported it this way: “…one of Dover’s heroes of the World War died…at the state hospital at Newburgh of exhaustion from the effects [sic] of shell shock received overseas…” The affects of combat on a person’s mental state have become clearer and clearer in the years since Fred’s death, but they are no less tragic. Fred is interred at the Maple Grove Cemetery in Dover, Ohio.
If you or someone you know has a mental illness, is struggling emotionally, or has concerns about their mental health, there are ways to get help. Click here for resources to find help for you, a friend, or a family member.
© Noel B. Poirier, 2021.