One of Denton’s first World War I soldiers, Arthur McNitzky, was born in Denton to German immigrants.
His father, Klara Machnitzki, left Breslau, Germany, and boarded a ship in England to Quebec, Canada, on July 9, 1874. He changed his name to August McNitzky, facing difficulty finding work as a cobbler in Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Texas and Mexico. His travels cost more than his immigration voyage, and he struggled with illness, possibly malaria.
August was working in Dallas by 1878. Family members reported he considered suicide after a Dallas bank default wiped out his $200 savings. Instead, August walked from Dallas to Denton to start over as a shoe and boot maker. He bought the shop after his employer’s wife died in 1880.
Emma Mentzel emigrated from Berlin in 1883 with her uncle, Ernest Mentzel. She lived with her aunt and uncle on Bolivar Street until she married August on Oct. 8, 1885.
Emma and August had five children. August died in 1902 when Arthur was 12 years old. One brother, William McNitzky, started a printing press and book binding business he eventually sold to Terrill Wheeler, which became the Wheeler Press.
As the U.S. prepared for World War I, Arthur enlisted in June 1917 and was in Company M of the Army’s 142nd Infantry. His draft card listed him as a pool hall employee of E.L. Alexander with a medium build, gray eyes and sandy-colored hair.
Arthur was promoted to mess sergeant when he arrived in France, but he longed to fight. On several occasions, he was turned away by officers at the front, but Arthur was determined: “I’ve come too far to go back, and besides, it’s open season, and don’t cost anything to kill ‘em. I’m going to have my share.”
Maybe Arthur had something to prove, since Company M was full of Denton soldiers. Anti-German sentiment made his family home at 210 S. Elm St. a frequent target of vandals.
Company M was near Etienne, France, during the battle of Argonne Forest that began Sept. 28, 1918. Arthur returned to the front and refused to leave.
According to Gregory Ball, he advanced “with the company, and while firing from inside the hold, he was struck in the forehead by a machine gun bullet and died instantly.”
On Friday night, Oct. 8, 1918, a telegram notified Emma McNitzky of Arthur’s death in action. She hoped it was an error, since he was a mess sergeant. Lt. Col. Alvin Owlsley’s condolence letter explained that although he wasn’t listed as a combatant, Arthur took his rifle and went over the top with the other Denton heroes.
Arthur was the first Denton County soldier to die in World War I. His mother and sister went to France, exhumed his body, and brought him home to Denton’s IOOF Cemetery.
Vandalism to his mother’s home stopped after Arthur’s death. Denton’s American Legion Post 71 on Spencer Road was named after Arthur McNitzky in 1919.