Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things (Part II) – Elmer W. Heindl

Captain Elmer W. Heindl while in service in the Philippines in 1945.

Elmer Heindl was born in Rochester, NY on June 14, 1910. Despite being in a line of work that would have made him exempt from military service, he enlisted in the US Army in March 1942 and was assigned to the 37th Infantry Division. The 37th Division was an Ohio National Guard Unit that served in the Pacific.

He was a most unlikely hero yet was awarded three of the four medals for bravery during the war.

Captain Heindl was awarded the Bronze Star Medal w/ V device for his actions in the Solomon Islands in 1943 and 1944. In July 1943 he was assisting a graves detail in completing their task of burying the dead when they came under attack by Japanese snipers. Their only refuge was the open graves they had dug. Although not a combat arms officer, Captain Heindl maintained control of the situation and was able to calmly and diligently lead the men to safety.

He was awarded the Silver Star for his actions during the campaign for Baguio in the Philippines. Upon receiving word that the regimental commander was overdue, Captain Heindl volunteered to accompany the men who went to look for him. They were rounding a hairpin turn in the mountains when they unexpectedly came upon two Japanese tanks traveling toward them. In the chaos of the ensuing firefight, Captain Heindl fell down the side of the mountain and improbably came to rest near the overturned jeep of the regimental commander. He rendered first aid to the unconscious man and was able to get him to safety.

Captain Heindl received the Distinguished Service Cross for action in February 1945 in the Philippines. During the liberation of Bilibid Prison in Manila, he and a medic came to the aid of two men who became trapped in a guard tower. The men had climbed into the tower to use it as an observation post to direct the American effort. Upon discovering the men in the tower, the Japanese concentrated their weapons on it. Despite the withering enemy fire, Captain Heindl and the medic twice entered the tower to retrieve both men although one of them would eventually succumb to his wounds.

Two days later, he left the protection of his foxhole to pull a wounded officer to safety while mortar shells and rockets rained down upon them. Three days after that, he dragged several wounded men to safety during a firefight that killed nine others.

Japanese Military 10 peso note from the Philippines turned into a VJ Day souvenir.
Elmer Heindl’s signature appears in the lower right corner.

What makes Elmer Heindl’s exploits so remarkable was that he carried them out without firing a single shot. In fact, Elmer Heindl did not carry a weapon. Elmer Heindl was a Roman Catholic Priest.

Fr. Elmer Heindl at his ordination in 1936.

After the war, Fr. Heindl continued service in the Army Reserve. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1990. He died in 2006. The Armed Forces Reserve Center at Ft. Benning, GA was named for him in 2012.

LTC Elmer Heindl at a Veterans Day ceremony in upstate NY shortly before his death in 2006.

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