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World War I flying hero’s story revealed

February 7, 2013
By J.T. Whitehouse , Town Crier

While Poland Village celebrated its native son William McKinley last month, who went on to become president of the United States, Poland Historical Society researcher Ted Heineman recalled the story of another Poland man who is a lesser-known war hero.

"It is one of my favorite stories," said Ted Heineman, a member of the Poland Historical Society and publisher of the Riverside Cemetery Journal. "The story includes Poland Village officials, Riverside Cemetery, Poland Presbyterian Church, cremation, and has all the drama of World War I."

Heineman had done research into World War I pilot Thomas Archibald Dickinson because he was listed as a Canadian veteran buried in Riverside Cemetery Lot 846. The cemetery records contain a single notation that states, "Stone of T.A. Dickinson, no body in cemetery."

In researching Dickinson's life, Heineman found out he was born on Oct. 8, 1896 in England. He came to the United States in 1901 and, in 1915, upon turning 18, he joined a Canadian Unit of the British Royal Flying Corps. Following his training in Canada, he was sent to France where he was assigned to a two-man observation and bombing aircraft. During the course of World War I, Dickinson was credited with shooting down numerous enemy planes and completed several bombing missions to take out railroad stations and munitions depots.

Heineman discovered several news stories from the 1930s that described one of 2nd Lt. Dickinson's flights behind enemy lines. During the flight, he and his observer, 2nd Lt. Norman Frome, were attacked by four German Fokkers (a much faster plane than Dickinson's deHavilland biplane) and while the two men managed to complete their bombing run, their plane was shot up and they were losing fuel. They managed to get back to their own lines, gliding in without fuel. Dickinson had more tales of narrow escapes and was once wounded and another time had a bullet go through his cap. After the war, Dickinson earned the Distinguished Service Cross and the Croix de Guerre.

"I went online to find that only four Distinguished Service Crosses were given for flying in the First World War and Mr. Dickinson had received one of them," Heineman said.

After the war, Dickinson returned to the United States. He was employed by Youngstown Sheet and Tube in the steam engineering department.

Heineman said the 1926 Struthers City Directory shows him living at 112 Spring St., but was known to have purchased a home on College Street in Poland at some time in 1927.

As to his death, Heineman found newspaper clippings that said he committed suicide in November 1931. He had found that after the war, Dickinson was battling depression. On Election Day in 1931, he took his gun with him as he went to Village Hall to cast his vote. After voting, he disappeared. Clark Wagner, Poland's marshal, organized a search party that found Dickinson's body in a shallow creek.

Heineman said he checked the military records at the Mahoning County courthouse and it showed Dickinson buried in Poland Riverside Cemetery, but the record states there was no body in Lot 846, only a stone.

After checking source after source, Heineman was coming up short on exactly where his body was laid to rest. He finally located information that Dickinson's body was cremated, which was a fairly new procedure in 1931. His body had to be taken to Cleveland for the procedure, and then his remains were flown back to Poland and spread to the winds from the aircraft as Poland residents observed in reverence. There was a Masonic funeral service for Dickinson held at the Poland Presbyterian Church with a Rev. Frank O. Leonard presenting the eulogy.

In further researching, Heineman said he found information on family members.

"I did check the 1930 Census and found out that Thomas Dickinson had a son named Paul who was born about 1923 in Ohio," he said. "After 80 years, there are no local residents now alive to answer questions. This is a story of a lesser known Poland War Hero who was highly decorated, but sadly has no monument in the village and has long been forgotten."

 
 

 

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