Memorial Day is the day we set aside to reflect on the heroism and sacrifice of our troops. Jews have served in the United States military since the beginning of the nation, and many have been honored with the highest commendation. Created during the Civil War, the Medal of Honor was and is the highest honor a soldier can receive, presented by the President of the United States. Since its inception, there have been 3,473 recipients, at least 27 of whom were Jews. At least one Jewish service member has received the Medal in the Civil War, the Indian Wars, the Phillipine-American War, the Boxer Rebellion, Haiti, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, and in the larger conflicts, many more than one.
The Civil War
Abraham Cohn was a Sergeant Major in the Union Army. He was presented with the Medal of Honor on August 24, 1865, for his participation in two battles, the Battle of the Wilderness and the Battle of the Crater. In the Battle of the Wilderness, Cohn rallied and formed several fleeing troops of different regiments under heavy fire. At the Battle of the Crater, Cohn bravely carried out orders to the advanced line under severe fire.
A corporal in the Union Army, Isaac Gause received the Medal of Honor for his part in a battle near Berryville, Virginia on September 13, 1864. He captured the colors of the Confederate Army’s 8th South Carolina Infantry while taking part in a reconnaissance along the Berryville and Winchester Pike.
Abraham Greenawalt, a Union soldier, earned his Medal of Honor for capturing a Confederate corps headquarters flag at the Second Battle of Franklin, Tennesse. He received his award on February 13, 1865.
Henry Heller was presented his medal on July 29, 1892. Heller was a Union sergeant who assisted, under heavy fire, in bringing a wounded Confederate officer to Union lines at the Battle of Chancellorsville
Leopold Karpeles was a Union flagbearer and received his medal on April 30, 1870. He was honored for rallying troops during the Battle of the Wilderness.
Benjamin Bennett Levy was a Union drummer boy whose drum was destroyed during battle. He took the weapon of an ill tent mate and joined the fight, proceeding to take the flag from a fallen color bearer and carried it onwards, saving it from capture.
David Orbansy earned the Medal of Honor for his action in the Battle of Shiloh in 1862 and the Siege of Vicksburg in 1863. He received his medal on August 2, 1879. His citation was “gallantry against the enemy.”
The Indian Wars
Sergeant George Geiger received a Medal of Honor for his actions in the Battle of the Little Big Horn, otherwise known as “Custer’s Last Stand.” Sgt. Geiger took up an exposed position with three others in order to draw enemy fire away from other men who went to the river to get water. David Goodman received a Medal on March 3, 1870for “bravery in action” while participating in the battle at Wounded Knee in South Dakota.
Simon Suhler, who changed his name to fight in the Civil War, received a Medal for bravery in fighting the Apaches in Arizona. Jacob Trautman was a German-born soldier who fought in what is now known as the Wounded Knee Massacre. He was sent to arrest the Sioux chieftain Big Foot and disarm Big Foot’s followers.
The Phillipine-American War
Louis Clinton Mosher was a Second Lieutenant who cleared a space within twenty yards of the Moro trenches, then safely carried a wounded soldier to his company .
The Boxer Rebellion (The Battle of Peking, China)
William Zion was awarded the Medal of Honor for his “meritorious conduct” as a Marine in China from July 21 to August 17, 1900. He also fought in World War I, dying from an accidental gunshot inflicted while cleaning his weapon.
Samuel Gross is widely accepted as the only Jewish Marine to ever receive the Medal of Honor. He participated in battles against the Caco bandit insurgency during the United States occupation of Haiti.
World War I
Sydney G. Gumpertz received a Medal of Honor for his actions during combat. Sgt. Gumpertz left the platoon and headed out during machine gun fire, watching his two companions become casualties from bursting shells. He continued alone against direct fire, and captured nine members of the enemy.
Eduoard Izac was a Navy lieutenant who was captured and held as a prisoner of war upon a German submarine.There, he gathered valuable information and determined to escape. He jumped through a window of a moving train at risk of death, and was recaptured. Lt. Izac made a second and successful attempt to escape, breaking through barbed-wire fences and drawing fire, hoping it would permit others to escape as well.
Phillip C Katz was an Army sergeant who learned of a fellow comrade left wounded in the battlefield. He voluntarily advanced to the soldier and carried him to safety.
Benjamin Kaufman received the Medal of Honor and the Croix de Guerre for bravery in the Argonne Forest. He took out a patrol to attack an enemy machine gun, but before reaching it, he was separated and a bullet shattered his right arm. Without hesitation, he advanced on the gun alone, taking one prisoner and the gun back to the first-aid station.
During an attack near Saint-Étienne-à-Arnes, France, Samuel M Sampler charged the hostile position alone with hand grenades. He killed two German soldiers and captured 28, who were sent back as prisoners of war.
William Sawelson was awarded the Medal posthumously for valor in World War I. After hearing a wounded man calling for water, he left his shelter and crawled through machine gun fire to give what was left in his canteen. He then returned to his own foxhole to obtain more water and return to the wounded man.
John Otto Siegel received the Medal of Honor while serving on the U.S.S. Mohawk. He rescued two men from a schooner that was on fire. He returned a third time when a steam pipe over the door of the crew’s quarters burst and made escape impossible. He was overcome by smoke and fell to the deck, allowing him to be rescued by the crew of the Mohawk.
World War II
Isadore Seigfried Jachman was killed after defending the town of Flamierge, Belgium from a German attack. Sergeant Jachman and his company were attacked, when he left his place of cover and grabbed a bazooka from a fallen comrade. He advanced on the tanks and fired the weapon, forcing them to retire. A statue was also erected in Flamierge in his honor.
Benjamin Lewis Salomon practiced dentistry for the United States Army and was assigned as a front-line surgeon. When the Japanese began to overrun his hospital, he stood as a rear-guard with no chance of survival, allowing safe evacuation of the wounded. He successfully killed 98 troops before being killed during the Battle of Saipan. His Medal of Honor was given posthumously in 2002.
Raymond Zussman was a lieutenant in command of two tanks with an infantry company, one of which was attacked and dismantled by the enemy in Noroy le Bourg, France. Armed with only a carbine, he reconnoitered alone on foot in advance of his remaining tank. Under his leadership, 18 enemy soliders were killed, and 92 were captured.
Tibor Rubin, a Holocaust survivor from Hungary, emigrated to the United States and served as a private first class to gain assured citizenship. There was rampant anti-Semitism in his troop, leading him to be involved in some of the more dangerous missions. For several acts of bravery, he was recommended four times for the Medal of Honor by his two commanding officers, both killed in action shortly after. The sergeant that received those orders deliberately ignored them. Rubin received his Medal on September 23, 2005 from President George W. Bush after the passing of the Leonard Kravitz Jewish War Veterans Act of 2001. This act allowed the review of nominations of Jewish servicemen who were overlooked due to anti-Semitism.
Captain Jack H. Jacobs assumed command of a company while wounded by mortar fragments, ordering a withdrawal from an exposed position. With severe head wounds, he returned to intense fire to evacuate a wounded advisor to a wooded area to perform life saving first aid. He continued to make trips across fire swept rice paddies to evacuate other wounded soldiers and their weapons.
Air Force Sergeant John Levitow received the Medal of Honor for heroism while assigned as a loadmaster on an AC-47 involved in a night mission. When struck by a hostile mortar round, all occupants of the cargo compartment were wounded and thrown into fuselage. Stunned by a concussion and hurt by over 40 fragment wounds, Sgt. Levitow went to help a nearby comrade who was bleeding heavily. He lit a flare, but was unable to grasp it with his hands. Hugging it to his body, he dragged himself to the end of the open cargo and threw it out to ignite in the air and bring attention to the crew.