To the right is Mrs. V. F. Head unveiling the tablet of the Roy Head Memorial Bridge, near Cleveland, Georgia, named in honor of her son, the first Georgia boy to give his life to the World War.
We are very patriotic as a nation and work hard to recognize the sacrifice of those who have helped defend our freedom. But with the passage of time many of those sacrifices can be obscured or lost with successive generations. Buildings, bridges, parks, and monuments are often logical naming opportunities to show our appreciation for those who lost their lives so that we might live in freedom.
One of those places is a bridge in North Georgia on U. S. Highway 129 north of Cleveland, Georgia. Unless you were traveling from Cleveland to the town of Dahlonega, Georgia you would never cross over this spot. So, who was Roy Head and why is this bridge dedicated to his memory?
This is the second bridge named in Seaman Head’s honor. The photo above shows his mother at the dedication of the original bridge in 1925. The emotional toll on loved ones is evident in his mother’s face.
World War I, or the Great War, was a global war centered in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918. In late June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, Bosnia. An escalation of threats and mobilization orders followed the incident, leading by mid-August to the outbreak of war which pitted Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire (the so-called Central Powers) against Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and Japan (the Allied Powers). The Allies were joined after 1917 by the United States. The four years of the Great War–as it was then known–saw unprecedented levels of carnage and destruction, thanks to grueling trench warfare and the introduction of modern weaponry such as machine guns, tanks, and chemical weapons.
By the time World War I ended in the defeat of the Central Powers in Nov 3, 1918, the total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was over 38 million: there were over 17 million deaths and 20 million wounded, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history. The total number of deaths includes about 11 million military personnel and about 7 million civilians.
The United States lost 116,516 personnel to military combat and disease including the 1918 flu pandemic which caused about one third of total military deaths for all belligerents. Seaman Newton Roy Head was born January 7, 1894. He joined the United States Navy on January 28, 1915. After “Boot Camp” he was assigned to Battleship U.S.S. South Carolina during maneuvers at Guantanamo Bay Cuba in the early part of 1916. After his tour on the U.S.S. South Carolina, he was attached to the U.S.S. Transport “Finland” on which he as serving as Second Gun Crew Captain. He was killed when the ship was torpedoed in
the North Atlantic and was buried at sea October 28th, 1917. He was the first Georgia boy killed in action in World War I.
In 1958 the Georgia General Assembly rededicated this bridge near his hometown to his memory. The original bridge was transferred to a private owner, and this is a second bridge dedicated to his memory. It is to the credit of local residents and the State that a rededication of a second site took place. His story was known by local residents but less so to the State at large. Seaman Head was awarded the Purple Heart Medal posthumously.
ACTS AND RESOLUTIONS OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF GEORGIA 1958 1958 Vol. 1 — Page: 576
ROY HEAD BRIDGE — DESIGNATED. No. 156 (House Resolution No. 461-1117c). A RESOLUTION
To designate a certain bridge as the “Roy Head Bridge;” and for other purposes.
WHEREAS, the bridge known as the “Roy Head Bridge” on U. S. Route No. 129 about one (1) mile north of Cleveland, Georgia, is being relocated, and WHEREAS, said bridge was named for the first soldier killed in World War I from White County, and it is appropriate that the relocated bridge be continued to be
known by the same name.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the General Assembly of Georgia that the aforesaid bridge is hereby designated as the “Roy Head Bridge.” The State Highway Department is hereby authorized and directed to place suitable markers so designating said bridge.
Approval Date: Approved March 25, 1958.
The American Legion, Post 16, in Cleveland, Ga. is also named after Seaman Head.
So, when you are traveling down any highway across our nation never assume that the things you see dedicated are done purely as political favors. Often these dedications keep alive the memory of those who have sacrificed so much for our freedoms. Write them down; look them up; you never know what you might learn about our nation and its heroes. Seaman Roy Head was the first Georgian killed in World War I, but he was not the last, and we owe his family a debt of gratitude.