War brings out the best or the worst in a fighting man. In World War I, Jewish soldiers displayed bravery and courage, which was recognized by the awards they received.
One such hero was Sergeant William Sawelson, who received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery. Born in Newark, New Jersey, he entered the Army in Harrison, serving as a member of Company M, 312th Infantry, 78th Division.
It was in France at Grand Prix, on October 26, 1918, that Sawelson heard a wounded man in a shell hole some distance away cry out for water. Acting on his own initiative, Sawelson left his protective shelter to crawl through heavy machine gun fire to bring the wounded man a canteen of water. He returned safely to his shell hole, obtained more water, and was returning to the wounded man when he was killed by machine gun bullets.
Three Jewish soldiers received the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War I: Sergeants Sidney Gumpertz, Ben Kaufman, and William Sawelson.
First Sergeant Sidney G. Gumpertz was in Company E, 132nd Infantry, 33rd U.S. Army Division. It was on September 29, 1918, at Bois de Forges that he displayed his heroism. His outfit was advancing against the Germans when it was held up by an enemy machine gun. An American heavy artillery barrage failed to destroy the machine gun nest. Using that barrage as cover, Gumpertz and two of his men went out to try and silence the enemy position.
The artillery shells killed the two men with Gumpertz. Alone, he zigzagged to dodge the machine gun bullets, continuing his advance until he was able to jump into the machine gun nest and take the nine German soldiers prisoner.
Corporal Barney Satler was responsible for rescuing an entire battalion in the Battle of the Marne in France. Salter escaped from an Army hospital after being wounded because he was determined to rejoin his outfit. He hitchhiked rides and made his way across the country until he found his outfit in St. Mihiel. He reported for duty, filthy, ragged and starved, with a festering wound on his stomach as big as his hand. He pleaded not to be sent back to the hospital. His commanding officer acquiesced, and gave him light duty until his wound healed.
In a fierce battle, the Second Battalion had been practically destroyed and its right flank was in trouble. Acting on his own, in the absence of any officers alive, Salter took command. He ordered a bayonet charge that saved the battalion and destroyed the enemy. He received many awards for his bravery.
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