Over There: Edwin Schwarz

A series profiling American Jewish service in the First World War

Edwin Schwarz

Aero Surgeon

Dr. Edwin Schwarz lived his entire early life in Texas attending schools as a youth in Lockhart, Palestine and Dallas.  After medical training at the University of Texas Branch at Galveston, he left for an internship at Bellevue Hospital in New York, followed by a residency at Cleveland City Hospital in Ohio.

Together with many other North Texas doctors, this distinguished physician volunteered for military service when America entered WW I.  As a captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps his assigned duty station at Carruthers/Benbrook Field near Fort Worth brought him home.  He became one of the first clinicians to work with and treat aviators and related personnel.

Instructional Flying Squadrons 208, 209 and 229 had a complement of about one thousand men, including flight instructors, cadets, mechanics, support persons, and ambulance drivers.  The only females on the base were a few nurses who helped staff the hospital.

His hospital had a capacity of fifty beds and included a staff of five officers and twenty-three enlisted men.  Averaging 261 patients a month and treating a total of 1,686 patients during the time he spent at the airfield, Dr. Schwarz and his staff kept very busy.  Of these patients 1,095 returned to duty.  Twenty eight soldiers died. However, some pilots from Benbrook may have crashed at one of the other bases in the Taliaferro triangle and succumbed to their injuries at those posts.

Within the wards were: an isolation section of ten beds, sterilizing area, physical examination office, operating room, dispensary, laboratory, kitchen/mess hall and a low oxygen training room.  A separate building contained a mortuary.  Ambulances not only carried splints, bandages and suture equipment, but also wire cutters, fire extinguishers and axes as some planes crashed in open fields at quite some distance from the air base.

Dr. Schwarz’s day began with sanitation inspection, inpatient rounds at the hospital ward, followed by sick call where he treated patients with minor injuries and illnesses from the common cold to pneumonia.* He grabbed a quick bite of lunch and then attended to a clinic dedicated to flight readiness evaluations for aviators and wellness examinations for other personnel.

When a Jenny or D.H. 9 fell from the sky and thundered into the ground, routine activities immediately ceased and the total emphasis of the medical group turned to the rescue and recovery of the involved airmen.  Interrupting his other duties, Edwin rode out to accident sites in an ambulance, across bumpy, hole-ridden, rough roads and fields, kicking up massive clouds of choking light brown dust.**  The ambulance crews prayed that the flimsy crafts of canvas pulled over metal tubing and wood did not catch fire and incinerate the crew. They put out the flames with small portable flame extinguishers. The fliers were extricated at times utilizing wire cutters and axes. The second-seat aviator often fell from the plane as he wore no seat belt, and stood balanced on a railing when manning a machine gun. The doctor at the scene prevented further bleeding with tourniquets, applying deep pressure bandages and at times sutures. He limited motion with splints, preventing additional orthopedic, neck or spinal cord injury. Sometimes the smell of burning flesh turned the stomach of some attending medics causing the rookies amongst them to vomit.

Dr. Schwarz’s medical treated ballroom dancer Vernon Castle after his aircraft crashed. Photo from Bain News Service courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Canadian Royal Air Force Flying instructor Vernon Castle took off from Hicks Field near Saginaw, Texas, one morning with his pet monkey, Jeffery, and a student pilot.  He and the monkey occupied the front seat, unusual in an era when trainers almost always sat behind their pupils. The flight took them over Carruthers/Benbrook Field.  At seventy-five feet another aircraft flew directly toward him. He took evasive action to avoid a collision, but stalled and plummeted nose-first into the ground. When Dr. Schwarz’s medical team arrived on the scene, Jeffery and the second-chair aviator were shaken, bruised and experienced other minor injuries. However, Castle suffered multiple severe traumatic wounds, and in spite of excellent medical care, he succumbed a short time later.***

When discharged from the service in 1919, Edwin went into private practice and became Fort Worth’s first pediatrician.  During his outstanding career he helped establish the city’s first day nursery and organized what later became the children’s clinic of John Peter Smith Hospital. Fort Worth Pediatric and Texas Pediatric Societies elected him president. He received many awards for his service to children and his community including the Gold Headed Cane Award from Tarrant County Medical Society and recognition from the National Conference of Christians and Jews for his contributions to various citizens of the Fort Worth community.

In 1922 he married Annette Lederman, daughter of a pioneer Fort Worth family. They had two sons. He passed away in Fort Worth in October 1962.

Author’s Note

Although I arrived in Fort Worth six years after he died, Dr. Schwarz and this author had a great deal in common.  We both came to Fort Worth to serve as a physician for an aviation unit.  Both of us were pediatricians and served as presidents of the Fort Worth Pediatric Society and held high officerships in the Texas Pediatric Society and Texas Chapter of The American Academy of Pediatrics.  Just before and after my discharge for a brief period of time I saw patients in the same office that he shared with Dr. Frank Cohen on Henderson Street.

*Measles and a Spanish Influenza pandemic with pneumonia as a frequent side effect visited the Fort Worth area in 1918-1919.  At a nearby large Army training base, Camp Bowie, more than 200 died from these maladies.  The Army gave Dr. Schwarz and his medical group an award for having one of the lowest mortality rates in the Armed Forces during the great pandemic.

**Into the 1980s it was common for the medical officer of the day or flight surgeons to ride out on ambulances following behind firefighting personnel to the scene of aircraft accidents.

***Vernon Castle and his wife Irene were a popular dance team who appeared on Broadway and silent movies at the turn of the century.  He left a life of luxury at the start of WWI and flew for the English on the Western Front and downed two enemy aircraft.  He then became a flight instructor and came to the U.S. to train American aviators.  He was much admired by the locals and a memorial to him from the citizens of Benbrook stands on the land where he crashed, and a street in the city is named after him.

A version of this article appears in Dr. Julian Haber’s book The Yanks Are Coming Over There, Over There. The book is a joint project of JWV Post 755 and Fort Worth Jewish Archives.  Funding provided by grants from the Dan Danciger JCC  Hebrew Day School Supporting foundation and Tarrant County Jewish Federation.

Revised versions of They Were Soldiers in Peace and War Vol. I and Vol. II tell the stories of more than one hundred Jewish American Service men and women, WWI through our current conflicts and was published in 2015.  They are available in our museum store.