Illustration by Art Seiden

Florida Atlantic University Libraries

Jewish Heroes and Heroines in America

1900 to World War II:

A Judaica Collection Exhibit





Sergeant Sam Dreben: The Subject of Runyon's "Tbe Fighting Jew"

by Seymour "Sy" Brody

World War I hero Sergeant Sam Dreben was not only acclaimed by the men he fought with, but also by the American people at home. His heroics touched many people, including the writer and poet, Damon Runyon, who expressed his feelings in a now-famous poem, "The Fighting Jew."

In this poem, Runyon wrote that whenever he read about prejudices against the Jews and of racial hatred, he was reminded of the heroic fighting Jew, Sam Dreben. He was also reminded of the Distinguished Service Cross, the Croix de Guerre, the Militare and other medals that were awarded to Sergeant Dreben. Runyon ended his poem with:

... THANK GOD ALMIGHTY, WE WILL ALWAYS HAVE A FEW, LIKE DREBEN A JEW

Sam Dreben was a refugee from Czarist Russia, where the pogroms taught him how to face his enemies and how to fight back. He had a hard task of adjusting to life in America and worked at many jobs. He finally found a career that he liked when he enlisted in the Army. He saw action in the Spanish-American War, the Philippine insurrection, and later in the Boxer Rebellion in China.

Dreben fought under General "Black Jack" Pershing when President Wilson sent them across the Mexican border to capture Pancho Villa. In later years, General Pershing had a high regard for Dreben because of his service in this campaign.

Dreben returned to civilian life after the Mexican campaign, but it didn't last long as America became involved in World War 1. He enlisted once again and was one of the first of the Yankee troops to land in France and to go into battle against the Germans.

It was at St. Etienne that Dreben distinguished himself. A German machine gun had been keeping the American troops from getting out of the trenches and advancing. The American artillery was unsuccessful in trying to destroy this machine gun nest. Dreben observed the situation for a few days and then decided to make his move to destroy the machine gun nest. He zigzagged his way alone to the enemy post, where he killed 23 of the 40 Germans there. He received the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism.

Sam Dreben was one of the many Jewish immigrants who served in the American Army and fought overseas against the Germans. He was one of the many Jews who received recognition for their heroism in World War 1. He and the other Jewish soldiers were part of the legacy that Jews serve and fight for their country in a crisis.


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.


For additional information, contact
Special Collections and Archives
S.E. Wimberly Library



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