When the United States declared war against Germany in April 1917, a call went out for men to enlist in the military. Jews represented only 3.27 percent of the total population, yet they made up 5.73 percent of the country's armed forces.
Congressman Julius Kahn of California, a Jew who was chairman of the House Military Affairs Committee, drew the first draft number from a glass bowl. At that time, he made a pledge that was picked up by the Jewish community:
I desire to congratulate my co-religionists on the splendid showing they are making in the matter of serving our country in this war. Many of the boys who go down to the front will be wounded. Many of them will be killed. But Jews at all periods in the world's history have been ready to make the supreme sacrifice whenever the land that gives them shelter demands it. I know, that I voice the sentiment of the overwhelming majority of the Jews in the United States when I say that we will do our share toward keeping Old Glory floating proudly in the skies so that it may continue to shelter under its folds the downtrodden and the oppressed of every land.Typical of the Jewish family's commitment to the war effort was the one of Mrs. Gustave Jacobson of New York City. After the declaration of war, her oldest son, Gustave, enlisted in the army. Two more sons, Harry and Samuel, joined the Signal Corps. Another son, Simon. signed up with a gas contingent. Her fifth son, Benjamin, joined the 305th Artillery, and her sixth son, Jacob, enlisted in the aviation branch of the service. Her seventh son, Daniel, remained at home because he was only 15.
Within the year, Mrs. Jacobson received word that Harry had been killed, Simon had been wounded and that Jacob had been injured in an airplane crash.
One day, the youngest son, Daniel, disappeared. A search for him proved futile. He was nowhere to be found. When armistice was declared, five of her six sons had returned home, two wounded and one killed. On a Sabbath eve, Daniel also returned home. He had changed his name and falsified his age so that he could enlist and serve in the Marine Corps.
The Jacobsons served their country without any hesitation and the mother, Mrs. Jacobson, never complained. To offer seven sons to the service of our country was a tremendous sacrifice.
More than 250,000 Jews served in the armed forces in World War 1. They received 1,135 decorations, including three Congressional Medals of Honor. There were more than 9,000 commissioned officers, including two @enerals and an admiral. Approximately 3,500 were killed and more than 12,000 wounded. The Jewish Welfare Board was organized in 1917 to help meet the war needs. It established 200 centers with more than 500 workers in the training camps and 57 overseas behind the trenches. It also helped with enlistment and with raising funds for the war.
Once again, Jews responded to our country's call to help it repel its enemies so that we could remain free.
This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.
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Last updated 18 October 2006