Individual Narrative of Samuel Dreben

Samuel DREBEN was born on 1 Jun 1878 at Poltava, Ukraine, Rus.1,2 He removed with his parents around 1879 to Kiev, Ukr.3 He removed again circa 1881 to Odessa, Ukr, where he worked in the fields.4 About 1896, he sailed to London, Eng.5 and in Jan 1898, he moved on to Liverpool, Eng, working as a dock laborer and tailor's helper to raise money for the voyage to the United States.6 He immigrated in Feb 1898 through Ellis Island, New York, NY.7

Sam began military service in May 1899 at Bacoor, Philippines, in G Company of the 14th U.S. Infantry. Sam earned his nickname "The Fighting Jew" by distinguishing himself in the Philippines and during the Boxer rebellion in China. Early in 1901, trying to get closer to action, Sam asked for a transfer to I Company of the Tenth Infantry stationed at Misamis Island in Mindanao. During his enlistment he was twice cited for bravery.8,9 He ended his first stint of military service on 25 Jul 1902 at Angel Island, San Francisco, CA.10

Sam settled for a short while in Los Angeles, CA, taking odd jobs as a tailor's helper, streetcar motorman, fruit picker, and timber cutter, all the while attending nightschool to better learn the language.11 Early in 1904, Japan attacked Russia. In his eagerness to avenge the wrongs done his people by the Russians, Sam signed on with the army transport "Thomas" as a civilian kitchen worker. He jumped ship in Nagasaki and attempted to join the Japanese army. However the Japanese refused his requests, worried that he might be a spy, so Sam headed back to San Francisco a few weeks later.12

He re-inlisted in the military on 5 Jul 1904 at Fort Bliss, El Paso, TX, in Company A of the 29th Infantry. He was trained extensively in the use of machine guns, but never saw action.13 , and on 15 Jul 1907 at Fort Douglas, UT, he was discharged.14

In 1909, he headed off to adventure again as a "soldier of fortune", using his new skills with the machine gun to fight for the rebel army in Nicaragua against the dictator Zelaya. There, Sam received the only wound of his military career when he was shot in the posterior. Later, he would fight for a short time in another rebellion in Honduras.

In 1910, he headed to Mexico where he would fight with the revolutionary forces of Francisco Madero, General Pascual Orozco and Pancho Villa. Sam was recruited by a counter-revolutionary force under the command of Generals Inex Salazar and Emilio Campa. He began smuggling guns and ammunition across the border to supply the army in its fight against both the loyalist forces and Villa's revolutionary forces. At one point, he narrowly missed ending his career in front of a firing squad. Sam continued using his new-found skills as a "purchasing agent" to supply munitions and information to Villa's army until Villa changed his tactics and became simply a "bandito". In 1916, Villa raided Columbus, New Mexico and President Woodrow Wilson sent General Pershing in a failed attempt to capture Villa. Sam was placed in charge of a contingent of scouts for the expedition that were known as the "Drebeneers."15,16

A fellow "soldier of fortune" describe Sam as "short, heavy-set, with a huge comedy nose, a stomach always straining at the belt, he was a walking vaudeville act. Always kidding, always carefree and happy, he could make a bunch of men laugh when they were ragged, starving and facing violent death."17

He married Helen SPENCE on 26 Sep 1916 at El Paso, TX.18

He began military service once again for the United States, on 12 Feb 1918 at Camp Bowie, Fort Worth, TX, in A Company of the 141st Infantry, National Guard. The company fought in France during the closing months of WWI. Sam again proved himself during the action and was awarded the French Medaille Militaire, the Croix de Guerre with Palm, the Belgian War Cross, and the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross.19 He ended military service on 17 Mar 1919.20,21

Sam went into business for himself as an insurance salesman in El Paso.22 He and Helen SPENCE were divorced on 9 Jun 1919 at El Paso, TX.23 He was selected as a pallbearer in the Honor Guard to bury the Unknown Soldier on 11 Nov 1921 at Arlington National Cemetery, Washington D.C.24

Sam married his second wife, Meada ANDREWS early in 1923 at Dallas, TX.25, and they removed on 18 Jul 1923 to Los Angeles, CA.26 In 1924, he began to suffer from partial paralysis,27 and in an unfortunate accident, Sam was mistakenly injected with a lethal dosage of his medication at his doctor's office on 14 Mar 1925.28 He died the following day, on 15 Mar 1925 at Hollywood, Los Angeles County, CA, at age 46.29,30,31 Upon learning of his death, the state legislature in Austin, TX adjourned for the day and the flag over the capital was lowered to half-mast.32

He was buried on 16 Mar 1925 at Grandview Gardens Cemetary, Glendale, Los Angeles County, CA.33

Columnist and close friend Damon Runyon wrote and published the following poem to Sam:


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 Millitaire,

-- These, too.

And there's a heart beneath the medals

That beats loyal, brave and true --

That's Dreben,

A Jew!


Now whenever I read articles

That breathe 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 Dreben,

A Jew!

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Created with The Master Genealogist for Windows on 03 Jun 2000 at 12:57:26.