Our world is marked with buildings named in honor of predecessors who made an enduring impact throughout their lives. Such structures are often of local significance, carrying forth the legacy of the individual for whom they were named. Sadly, time can often whittle away the memory of the contribution and sacrifice that initially inspired such a distinction.
During the summer of 1960, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed the purchase of a 5-acre tract of land along Tanner Bridge Road in Jefferson City near what was then the city limits. The ground was soon broken for the construction of a military training facility that was years in the planning.
"The main structure of the Army Reserve Center will be a two-story brick building of 18,000 square feet," reported the Jefferson City Post-Tribune on June 28, 1960. "The maintenance shop will be a one-story brick building."
The Army Reserve Center was completed at a cost of nearly $300,000 and dedicated during a ceremony held Nov. 11, 1961. The site was christened to perpetuate the memory of a local soldier who was killed in action while serving his country years earlier during World War II.
Ralph W. Heisinger was born in Jefferson City on July 4, 1917, the son of William Heisinger and Carlena Popp. A 1936 graduate of Jefferson City Senior High, he had been a member of the Jays football team and participated in the Jefferson City Symphony. He later attended the local junior college and in 1940 graduated from the business school at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Following his graduation, Heisinger moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where he was employed as an office manager with the Pontiac Division of General Motors. It was a short-lived career, however, since he was soon inducted into the military weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
"In February 1942, he entered the army as a private at Ft. Leavenworth (Kansas) and completed his basic training at Camp Wolters (Texas)," reported the Jefferson City Post-Tribune in its Nov. 16, 1948, edition. "After examination, he was assigned to the Officers Training School at Ft. Benning (Georgia)," receiving his commission as a second lieutenant Aug. 4, 1943.
The Sunday News and Tribune reported on Aug. 8, 1943, that the newly commissioned officer was able to return home on leave while his only sibling, a younger brother named Vernon, was studying engineering at Chapman College in Los Angeles as part of an Army Student Training Program.
His visit to Jefferson City, although brief, was a memorable occasion since Heisinger and his fiancée, the former Jeannette DeWyl, were married during a ceremony held at the Central United Church of Christ. Although the couple enjoyed a brief honeymoon, the young lieutenant was soon required to report for duty on the West Coast on Aug. 19, 1943.
Shortly following his arrival at Camp Roberts, California, he was assigned to Camp Adair, Oregon, and joined the Company A, 362nd Infantry Regiment of the 91st Infantry Division. For the next several months, the regiment participated in training and maneuvers to prepare them for their deployment overseas.
"The 91st Infantry Division arrived in North Africa, 18 April to 10 May 1944, and trained intensively at Arzew and Renan, French Morocco," noted a combat chronicle compiled by the U.S. Army. "Leaving by units, the entire Division was in Italy, 19 June 1944."
The division would push north through Italy and eventually reached the Arno River, where they organized and maintained defensive positions from July 24 to Sept. 12, 1944. While there, they underwent extensive training in preparation for an impending assault against entrenched enemy forces.
An official divisional history notes, "on 12 September 1944, the division began its attack on the immediate approaches to the Gothic Line." It was on this date that Lt. Heisinger led his platoon in an attack during which he successfully annihilated fortified enemy positions that hampered his company's advance. Reports indicate the officer was personally responsible for four enemy dead and the capture of several others.
Later the same day, while on a reconnaissance mission near Mt. Calvi, Italy, Heisinger was wounded by sniper fire. A medic came to provide first aid but was also wounded. When two soldiers approached to provide assistance, Lt. Heisinger ordered them to return to a safe position until after the cover of darkness. Although help arrived a few hours later, the officer had died from his wounds.
"(His) personal heroism in the assault on the fortified enemy, and his extraordinary gallantry in ordering his men not to risk their lives to save his own exemplify the finest traditions of the infantry and the Army of the United States," read the citation for the Heisinger's posthumously awarded Silver Star Medal.
His body was initially laid to rest in a military cemetery in Castelfiorintino, Italy, but in November 1948, his remains were returned to his native community of Jefferson City and interred in the city's Riverview Cemetery.
During a ceremony Nov. 11, 1961, the community was reminded of one of the contributions to freedom made by a local fallen hero when a new United States Army Reserve Center was dedicated in memory of Lt. Ralph W. Heisinger on Tanner Bridge Road.
Maj. Gen. Curtis J. Herrick stated during his dedication address, "We are happy the Army has had men with a sense of devotion to duty such as Lt. Heisinger." He added, "We honor him for his service and valor and hope our (soldiers) training here will benefit from his shining example."
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.