WWII chaplain honored at Reserve Center dedication

Reserve unit from New York officially arrives at Benning

benw@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 8, 2012 

The new Armed Forces Reserve Center at Fort Benning was named Saturday in honor of Lt. Col. Elmer W. Heindl, a Catholic chaplain who served during World War II.

After the ceremony, Brig. Gen. Dwayne R. Edwards, commander of the 98th Training Division, marked the official arrival of the Reserve unit by unfurling its flag at Harmony Church, six weeks after ending 53 years of service in Rochester, N.Y. Known as the Iroquois, the unit's primary mission is to provide drill sergeants to Army Training Centers across the nation, including Fort Benning.

More than 125 family, friends and soldiers from the training unit, including 22 members of Heindl's family, gathered for the ceremony at 10477 Old Cusseta Highway.

Kathleen Nichols, Heindl's niece, said the honor on the building is just awesome for her uncle.

"He always said he didn't deserve the honors and he was just doing his job," she said. "Everything he did, he did it as an honor and privilege."

Although he was only armed with his faith and never carried a gun, Heindl was one of the most decorated chaplains to serve during the conflict. He was in Guadalcanal, the Solomons and the Philippines. For his actions under fire, he was the recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star.

Heindl was born in Rochester in 1910 and ordained as a priest in 1936. He served as assistant pastor of St. Andrew's in Rochester before volunteering to join the Army in 1942.

On several occasions, Heindl offered prayers to dying soldiers and helped rescue others under fire without regard for his own safety. During an assault on Bilibid Prison in Manila, Heindl climbed to a tower to reach a fallen soldier who was bleeding profusely and only had minutes to live. With enemy machine guns trained on the tower, the chaplain calmly knelt and offered prayer for the dying man. In another battle, Heindl rolled down a hill to apply a tourniquet to the leg of Col. Lawrence White, who had been shot.

"He was always in the front line," Nichols said. "The chaplain never carried guns, so whatever he did he put himself out there. New recruits always used to say don't ever stand near the chaplain if the fighting breaks out because he won't get shot."

White later went to work for the CIA but he never forgot Heindl's service. The chaplain would receive a thank you call from White on that date every year. Heindl died July 2006 at age 96 after sustaining third-degree burns in a shower accident.

Nichols said her uncle loved serving others so much that he would have returned if it had been possible when the Iraq war broke out.

"When the Iraq war broke out, if he was younger, he would have been over there," Nichols said. "He said I would go back if he could. By that time he was in his 90s."

At the new building, Edwards said the headquarters unit will staff about 70 people, including 25 full-time. While the unit had deep roots in Rochester over the last five decades, the commander said soldiers have made the transition.

"It's something that took some adjustment but everybody made that adjustment magnificently and I'm very proud of them," Edwards said. "When we closed up the building about six weeks ago, it was on a high note. Everything is exactly where it should be."

Edwards, who lives in Lexington, Ky., said the unit will be able to work more closely with the Maneuver Center of Excellence in all the efforts to integrate the Infantry and Armor schools. "We think we are going to have a great contribution to make in terms of what we bring to the post," he said.

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