The National Museum of
American Jewish Military History

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Hall of Heroes:American Jewish Recipients of The Medal of Honor


Distinguished Service Cross

The inspiration for Damon Runyon's poem "The Fighting Jew," Sam Dreben escaped Russia and its pogroms as a teenager. Arriving in America, Dreben had difficulty finding work. When he learned the Army fed and clothed you, he joined, fulfilling a childhood dream to be a soldier. He served in the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection and the Boxer Rebellion in China. He then spent time serving as a mercenary soldier in several Central American revolutions, including Mexico. When his enemy Pancho Villa attacked the United States, Dreben volunteered his services to his adopted country again, serving with distinction as a scout in General John J. Pershing's Punitive Expedition.

Dreben retired from the military trade after the Mexican campaign, settling down with a family in El Paso, Texas. But World War I interrupted his plans and he re-enlisted with the United States Army, once again serving with distinction. He earned a Distinguished Service Cross during action at St. Etienne. 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. After several days, Dreben decided to make his own move to destroy the machine gun nest. He zigzagged his way alone to the enemy post, where he killed 23 of the 40 Germans. In addition to the Distinguished Service Cross, Dreben was awarded the highest medal the French government gave for enlisted men, the Medaille Militaire.

After the Armistice was declared, Dreben returned to Texas and began to fight battles of a more peaceful nature. When a known Ku Klux Klan member attempted to join the American Legion, Dreben introduced a successful resolution banning Klansmen from the organization. In his speech presenting the resolution, Dreben said: "These men, oath-bound to secrecy, hide behind their masks and say that because I am a foreign-born Jew I am not good enough to be an American. Every time America has called for volunteers, I have put on the uniform. They did not ask me at the recruiting office if I was a Jew, and they did not ask me on the battlefield what my race or religion was."

The man that General Pershing once introduced to Marshall Foch as "one of my bravest soldiers" died in 1925.


Distinguished Service Cross

Herman Erdman received the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in action near Moronville Farms, France, on January 1, 1945.

According to his citation, Sgt. Erdman, on discovering an enemy force of five companies about to attack his Company C.P., proceeded immediately to engage them single-handedly. "He ran over exposed terrain, jumped into a hole twenty-five yards from the enemy columns, and opened fire with rifle and grenades, so effectively that he diverted the attack toward his own platoon."

Although wounded in the neck, Sgt. Erdman directed artillery and mortar fire with such devastating accuracy that the attack was completely broken. "The fighting spirit displayed by Sgt. Erdman," the citation concludes, "and his extraordinary courage, are in keeping with the Army's finest traditions."


Navy Cross

Lieutenant (j.g.) Ershler of Hudson N.Y received the Navy Cross for his part as a dive bomber pilot operating from an aircraft carrier, in "softening up" gun emplacements and other defense installations to ease the invasion of French Morocco for land troops.


Distinguished Service Cross

Lieutenant Fierman of New York City was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in action near Colibong, Luzon in the Pacific. During a savage Japanese counterattack, Lieutenant Fierman, an artillery observer, was stationed in an exposed forward position, which soon became the focal point for concentrated enemy fire. Disregarding the pleas of his men that he take cover in a foxhole, Fierman remained in the open in order to better direct the artillery.

The citation accompanying the award notes "with enemy artillery and mortar shells bursting around him, he remained at his radio for twenty-five minutes, until struck by a shell fragment which flung him ten feet from the radio and wounded him seriously". Though he was bleeding profusely and in great pain, Lieutenant Fierman remained at his post directing artillery fire until a withdrawal was begun to another position.


Distinguished Service Cross

Irwin Finkel served in the European Theater of Operations with the 13th Armoured Division. Finkel received the American Theater Medal, ETO with two Bronze Stars, Good Conduct Medal, and a WWII Victory Medal. He was in the first vehicle to enter Dachau Prison Camp in May 1945. He was discharged Feb. 6th 1946, with the rank of private first class.

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