Hail Drebin: America’s Fighting Jew in 20th century

When it comes to choosing topics to write about, I am always a “sucker” for the unusual, out-of-the-ordinary and unorthodox.
An historical character who fits these descriptors is Samuel Drebin, a Russian Ukrainian Jew, who five months after arriving in New York in 1899, decided to join the U.S. Army at age 21.
After a brief training period, he was shipped to the Philippines to help put down a native insurrection led by the rebel leader Emilio Aguinaldo.
After distinguishing himself in battle, Drebin joined troops headed toward China, assisting in the rescue of westerners trapped in Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion, where he received additional recognition as a courageous fighter.
With the end of the Rebellion in 1901, Drebin was released from active duty and failed to find satisfaction in a succession of manual-labor jobs.
At the start of the Russo-Japanese War, Drebin attempted to fight for the Japanese, but he was quickly turned down since he couldn’t speak a word of Japanese and they also thought he might be a Russian spy.
Having experienced success as a soldier, Drebin re-enlisted in 1904 at Fort Bliss, Texas, where he trained and became proficient in the use of the Army’s new machine guns.
After Drebin’s second army enlistment ended, his newly acquired machine-gun skills helped him find work as a security guard in the Panama Canal Zone and as a fighter in the Nicaraguan rebel army.
With a reputation as a fighting soldier, Drebin was recruited for several liberation movements, eventually joining Gen. “Black Jack” Pershing in January 1917 in an unsuccessful attempt to capture Pancho Villa.
As Pershing’s personal scout during the search for Villa, Drebin earned Pershing’s respect, resulting in a genuine friendship.
With the inability to find or capture Pancho Villa and the looming entry of the United States into the World War in Europe, the search for Villa was ended.
Drebin married and seemed to be settling down in El Paso. The Drebins had a child and life seemed to be slowing down for Sam.
With the start of World War I, however, he was drawn back into the Army, joining the heaviest fighting in France.
True to form, Drebin, an excellent soldier-fighter, was recognized by the French, British and Americans with some of their nations’ highest awards.
Perhaps Drebins greatest award was the statement by the Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, Pershing, calling him “the finest soldier and one of the bravest men I ever knew.”
Learning of his wife’s infidelity while he was away, Drebin divorced her and settled in El Paso, establishing a prospering insurance business.
In 1921, Pershing called Drebin to duty once more to join Alvin York as honorary pallbearers at the burial of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
Having served three tours of duty, First Sgt. Samuel Drebin had fought in more wars than any other American soldier.
In addition to the medals and ribbons awarded Drebin, another outstanding honor was a poem honoring his memory by the famous writer Damon Runyon in 1942:
Hail Drebin!
There’s a story in that paper I just tossed upon the floor that speaks of prejudice against the Jews;
There’s a photo on the table that’s a memory of the war And a man who never figured in the news.
There’s a cross upon his breast — That’s the D.S.C., (Distinguished Service Cross) The Croix de Guerre, the Militaire — These, too.
And there’s a heart beneath the medals That beats loyal, brave and true — That’s Drebin, A Jew.
Now whenever I read articles that breath of racial hate Or hear arguments that hold his kind to scorn,
I always see that photo With the cap upon his pate And the nose the size of Bugler Dugan’s horn.
I see upon his breast The D.S.C, The Croix de Guerre, the Militaire — These, too.
And I think, Thank God Almighty We have more than a few Like Drebin A Jew!

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