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List of Jewish Medal of Honor recipients facts for kids

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The Medal of Honor was created during the American Civil War. It is the highest military decoration presented by the United States government to a member of its armed forces. A recipient must distinguish themselves at the risk of their own life above and beyond the call of duty in action against an enemy of the United States. The medal is presented to the recipient by the President of the United States on behalf of the Congress.

Since it was instituted there have been 3,473 recipients. At least 27 American Jews have received the Medal of Honor for their actions starting in the American Civil War through the Vietnam War. The first two recipients were Henry Heller and David Orbansky. Both received it for their actions in 1863 during the American Civil War. Samuel Gross was the only Jewish American Marine to receive the medal for his actions in Fort Riviere, Haiti. The last to receive it was Tibor Rubin in 2005. He was believed to have been overlooked due to discrimination. His medal was for his actions in the Korean War in 1950. The medal was presented 55 years later.

American Jews and the Medal of Honor

Depending on religious definitions and varying population data, the United States currently has the second largest Jewish community in the world (after Israel). The American Jewish population was estimated to be approximately 5,128,000 (1.7%) of the total population in 2008 (304,060,000). However, it may be as high as 6,444,000 (2.2%). As a contrast, Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics estimated the Israeli Jewish population was 5,435,800 in 2007 (75.7% of the average population).

The Medal of Honor was created during the American Civil War. It is the highest military decoration presented by the United States government to a member of its armed forces. The medal is bestowed "for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty, in actual combat against an armed enemy force" and the recipient must have distinguished themselves at the risk of their own life above and beyond the call of duty in action against an enemy of the United States. Due to the nature of this medal it is commonly presented after the recipient has been killed (posthumously).

Until 1914 the Medal of Honor and the Purple Heart were the only medals that could be received. Prior to 1916 the criteria for the Medal of Honor were much less restrictive than it is today. In 1916 a board was established to ensure that future Medals of Honor would be made only for the highest purposes. The board determined some Medals that had been given out should be taken back.

Since the institution of the Medal of Honor, at least 27 have been presented to American Jews. Four received the medal posthumously.

American Civil War

The American Civil War was a major conflict fought between the federal government of the United States and eleven of its member States. They sought to secede and to create their own government. It was called the Confederate States of America. It started on April 12, 1861, shortly after Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States. It ended four years later on April 9, 1865. During the war over 10,000 military engagements took place and more than 3 million people fought on both sides. Forty percent of the battles were fought in the states of Virginia and Tennessee.

Since its creation, 1522 have received the Medal of Honor for actions during the American Civil War. Depending on sources, as many as seven were Jewish.

Note: Notes in quotations are derived or are copied from the official Medal of Honor citation
Image Name Service Rank Place of action Date of action Notes References
Cohn, AbrahamAbraham Cohn Army Sergeant Major Battle of the Wilderness and Battle of the Crater, Virginia May 6, 1864 and July 30, 1864 "During Battle of the Wilderness rallied and formed, under heavy fire, disorganized and fleeing troops of different regiments. At Petersburg, Va., ... bravely and coolly carried orders to the advanced line under severe fire."
Gause, IsaacIsaac Gause Army Corporal near Berryville, Virginia Sep 13, 1864 "Capture of the colors of the 8th South Carolina Infantry while engaged in a reconnaissance"
Greenawalt, AbrahamAbraham Greenawalt Army Private Franklin, Tennessee November 30, 1864 "Capture of corps headquarters flag (C.S.A.)"
Heller, HenryHenry Heller Army Sergeant Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia May 2, 1863 "One of a party of 4 who, under heavy fire, voluntarily brought into the Union lines a wounded Confederate officer from whom was obtained valuable information concerning the position of the enemy."
Karpeles, LeopoldLeopold Karpeles Army Sergeant Battle of the Wilderness, Virginia May 6, 1864 "While color bearer, rallied the retreating troops and induced them to check the enemy's advance"
Levy, BenjaminBenjamin Levy Army Private Battle of Glendale, Virginia Jun 30, 1862 Drummer boy, took the gun of a sick comrade and went into the fight, when the color bearers were shot down he carried the colors and saved them from capture.
Orbansky, DavidDavid Orbansky Army Private Shiloh, Tennessee, Vicksburg, Mississippi 1862 and 1863 "Gallantry in actions"

Indian Wars

Indian Wars is the name generally used in the United States to describe a series of conflicts between the colonial or federal government and the native people of North America. The wars ranged from the 17th-century to the early 1900s. These wars generally resulted in the opening of Native American lands to further colonization.It included the conquest of American Indians and their assimilation. It often also included forced relocation to Indian reservations.

According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census (1894), "The Indian wars under the government of the United States have been more than 40 in number. They have cost the lives of about 19,000 white men, women and children, including those killed in individual combats, and the lives of about 30,000 Indians."

From the time the Medal of Honor was created during the American Civil War, through the end of the Indian Wars there were 426 recipients who received it for actions in one of the Indian Wars. This included four American Jews. The first to receive it was Simon Suhler who received it under the name Charles Gardner. The next two were David Goodman and George Geiger. The last Jew to receive the medal for the Indian wars was Jacob Trautman. He received it for his actions in the battle now frequently referred to as the Wounded Knee Massacre.

Note: Notes in quotations are derived or are copied from the official Medal of Honor citation
Image Name Service Rank Place of action Date of action Notes References
Geiger, GeorgeGeorge Geiger Army Sergeant Battle of the Little Big Horn, Montana Jun 25, 1876 "With 3 comrades during the entire engagement courageously held a position that secured water for the command"
Goodman, DavidDavid Goodman Army Private Lyry Creek, Arizona Oct 14, 1869 "Bravery in action"
Suhler, SimonSimon Suhler Army Private Arizona Aug 1868 – October 1868 Enlisted under the name Charles Gardner; "Bravery in scouts and actions against Indians"
Trautman, JacobJacob Trautman Army First Sergeant Wounded Knee Massacre, South Dakota Dec 29, 1890 "Killed a hostile Indian at close quarters, and, although entitled to retirement from service, remained to the close of the campaign."


The Philippine-American War was an armed military conflict between the United States and the First Philippine Republic. It was fought from 1899 to at least 1902. This war arose from a Filipino political struggle against U.S. occupation of the Philippines. While the conflict was officially declared over on July 4, 1902, American troops continued hostilities against remnants of the Philippine Army and other resistance groups until 1913. Some historians consider these unofficial extensions part of the war.

During the Philippine-American War 86 members of the American military received the Medal of Honor. The only American Jew to received it was Private Louis C. Mosher. He received it for risking his life while rescuing a wounded soldier from enemy fire.

Image Name Service Rank Place of action Date of action Notes References
Mosher, Louis C.Louis C. Mosher Philippine Scouts Private Gagsak Mountain, Jolo, Philippine Islands Jun 11, 1913 Risked his life by to rescue a wounded soldier under enemy gunfire

Battle of Peking, China (Boxer rebellion)

In 1900 the United States dispatched American troops to China as part of a multinational force. It was sent to quell a rebellion that was endangering the lives of citizens from several countries. The conflict would become known as the Battle of Peking, or as the Boxer rebellion. After the battle, 59 Medals of Honor were presented for actions throughout the event. William Zion from Indiana was the only American Jew to receive the medal during this conflict.

Image Name Service Rank Place of action Date of action Notes References
Zion, WilliamWilliam Zion Marine Corps Private Battle of Peking Jul 21, 1900-Aug 17, 1900 Distinguished himself in the presence of the enemy


In 1915 Haiti saw several bloody changes in Government leadership. The result was an unstable and dangerous environment for American citizens, business and interests. A citizen led revolt overthrew and killed the brutal new dictator General Vilbrun Guillaume Sam within 6 months of seizing power. President Woodrow Wilson ordered the United States Marines to restore order and protect American property and lives. When the Marines arrived they began engaging the rebel Cacos and in a battle that ended at Fort Riviere, Haiti. It resulted in hand to hand combat and the Cacos were eliminated. After the battle six Marines received the Medal of Honor for their actions. These Marines included Dan Daly, Smedley Butler and the only Jewish Marine to ever receive the Medal, Samuel Marguiles. He received it under the name Samuel Gross.

Note: Notes in quotations are derived or are copied from the official Medal of Honor citation
Image Name Service Rank Place of action Date of action Notes References
Gross, SamuelSamuel Gross Marine Corps Private Fort Riviere, Haiti Nov 17, 1915 Also known as Samuel Marguiles; "was the second man to pass through the breach [in the fort's walls] in the face of constant fire from the Cacos and, thereafter, for a 10-minute period, engaged the enemy in desperate hand-to-hand combat".

World War I

When World War I broke out, the United States initially maintained a policy of isolationism. They avoided conflict while trying to negotiate peace between the warring nations. When a German U-boat sank the British liner Lusitania in 1915 there were 128 Americans aboard. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson vowed that "America isn't too proud to fight". He demanded an end to attacks on passenger ships. Germany complied and Wilson unsuccessfully tried to mediate a settlement. He repeatedly warned that the U.S. would not tolerate unrestricted submarine warfare, in violation of international law. In 1917, three years after the first shots of the war were fired, the United States entered the war. By the end of the conflict more than 4.7 million American soldiers, sailors and Marines would fight in the war.

More than 250,000 Jewish Americans served in the armed forces during the war. More than 3,000 killed in action and another 12,000 being gassed or wounded.

One hundred twenty four people would eventually receive the Medal for their actions during the war. Seven of them were Jewish. One of them was William Sawelson. He received it posthumously when he was killed by a machine gun attempting to assist another injured soldier. Lieutenant Edouard Izac was captured by a German submarine after it sank the ship he was on. He was then taken prisoner and brought aboard where he gathered information about German submarine movements. He realized the importance of the information and determined he must escape. For his first escape attempt he jumped from a moving train. He was recaptured and sent to a prison camp. On his second attempt he successfully escaped the prison camp and made his way through the mountains of southwestern Germany. He swam the Rhine River at night with German sentries nearby.

      This along with   indicates that the Medal of Honor was awarded posthumously

Note: Notes in quotations are derived or are copied from the official Medal of Honor citation
Image Name Service Rank Place of action Date of action Notes References
Sidney Gumpertz.jpg Gumpertz, Sydney G.Sydney G. Gumpertz Army First Sergeant Bois-de-Forges, France Sep 29, 1918 "Gumpertz left the platoon of which he was in command and started with 2 other soldiers through a heavy barrage toward the machinegun nest. His 2 companions soon became casualties from bursting shells, but 1st Sgt. Gumpertz continued on alone in the face of direct fire from the machinegun, jumped into the nest and silenced the gun, capturing 9 of the crew."
Edouard Izac.png Izac, EdouardEdouard Izac Navy Lieutenant Aboard German submarine U-90 as prisoner of war Oct 8, 1918 After being captured after the ship he was on was sunk he gathered information about German submarine movements and risked his life to escape from detention as a German prisoner of war to get that information back to the allies.
Katz, Phillip C.Phillip C. Katz Army Sergeant near Eclisfontaine, France Sep 26, 1918 "Voluntarily crossing an area swept by heavy machinegun fire, he advanced to where the wounded soldier lay and carried him to a place of safety."
US Army Benjamin Kaufman.jpg Kaufman, BenjaminBenjamin Kaufman Army First Sergeant Forest of Argonne, France Oct 4, 1918 "He took out a patrol for the purpose of attacking an enemy machinegun which had checked the advance of his company. Before reaching the gun he became separated from his patrol and a machinegun bullet shattered his right arm. Without hesitation he advanced on the gun alone, throwing grenades with his left hand and charging with an empty pistol, taking one prisoner and scattering the crew, bringing the gun and prisoner back to the first-aid station."
Sampler, SamuelSamuel Sampler Army Corporal Near St. Etienne, France Oct 8, 1918 After locating an enemy bunker that was inflicting severe casualties on his unit he rushed the position using handgrenades and neutralized the enemy bunker allowing his unit to continue its advance.
Sawelson, WilliamWilliam Sawelson  Army Sergeant Grand-Pre, France Oct 26, 1918 "Hearing a wounded man in a shell hole some distance away calling for water, Sgt. Sawelson, upon his own initiative, left shelter and crawled through heavy machinegun fire to where the man lay, giving him what water he had in his canteen. He then went back to his own shell hole, obtained more water, and was returning to the wounded man when he was killed by a machinegun bullet."
Siegel, John OttoJohn Otto Siegel Navy Boatswain's Mate Second Class Aboard the USS Mohawk Nov 1, 1918 Risked his life by making multiple trips into a burning and damaged ship to rescue injured crew. After rescuing 2 men he returned a third time as a steam pipe burst, making it impossible for him to escape and causing others to come and rescue him after he had been overcome by smoke.

World War II

During World War II 16.1 million American service members served. It is estimated 650,000 of them were Jewish American men and women. More than 50,000 American Jews received medals during the war including five Medals of Honor.

Among the recipients were three Jewish Americans, Isadore S. Jachman, Ben L. Salomon and Raymond Zussman who all received it posthumously. Jachman and Salomon were both killed attempting to assist other fallen soldiers. Zussman's medal was received for risking his life on September 12, 1944. He was killed less than a month later before receiving it.

      This along with   indicates that the Medal of Honor was awarded posthumously

Note: Notes in quotations are derived or are copied from the official Medal of Honor citation
Image Name Service Rank Place of action Date of action Notes References
Jachman, Isadore S.Isadore S. Jachman  Army Staff Sergeant Flamierge, Belgium Jan 4, 1945 "[L]eft his place of cover and with total disregard for his own safety dashed across open ground through a hail of fire and seizing a bazooka from a fallen comrade advanced on the tanks, which concentrated their fire on him. Firing the weapon alone, he damaged one and forced both to retire."
Salomon, Ben L.Ben L. Salomon  Army Captain Battle of Saipan, Mariana Islands Jul 7, 1944 Held off advancing Japanese soldiers to protect the wounded he was treating
Zussman, RaymondRaymond Zussman  Army Second Lieutenant Noroy-le-Bourg, France Sep 12, 1944 "[R]econnoitered alone on foot far in advance of his remaining tank and the infantry ... Fully exposed to fire from enemy positions only 50 yards distant, he stood by his tank directing its fire ... Again he walked before his tank, leading it against an enemy-held group of houses, machinegun and small arms fire kicking up dust at his feet. ... Going on alone, he disappeared around a street corner. The fire of his carbine could be heard and in a few minutes he reappeared driving 30 prisoners before him."

Korean War

Korea was split into the two separate countries of North and South, Korea along the 38th parallel. Tensions between the two countries worsened when other countries began to get involved on both sides. The communist country of North Korea was supported by Russia, China and others. The democratic South was supported by the United Nations and the United States. In 1950 the United States got involved and over the next three years more than 1.5 million US service members would serve in Korea. During the three years of the war 133 Medals of Honor were presented. Although more than 150, 000 Jewish American men and women were serving in Korea at that time, not one received the Medal of Honor.

On July 23, 1950 Tibor Rubin was serving as a rifleman in Korea when his unit was forced to retreat. He was ordered to stay behind and keep the road open for the withdrawing unit. During the 24-hour battle he single-handedly fought off an overwhelming number of North Korean troops. He inflicted severe casualties on the attacking unit and assisted in the capture of many prisoners. A few months later Chinese forces staged a night-time assault on his unit and Rubin manned a machine gun allowing the unit to retreat southward. He again inflicted heavy casualties on the attacking unit. During the battle he was severely wounded and was eventually captured by Chinese forces. Although the Chinese offered to release him early and return him to his native Hungary, he refused. He remained a prisoner and risked his life repeatedly by sneaking out at night to get food and medical supplies for other wounded prisoners.

A 1993 study commissioned by the United States Army investigated racial discrimination in the awarding of medals. During the investigation it was determined that one Veteran American Jew and Holocaust survivor, Tibor Rubin, had been the subject of discrimination due to his religion and should have received the Medal of Honor. In 2005, 55 years later, President George W. Bush presented the Medal of Honor to Rubin in a ceremony at the White House, for his actions in 1950 during the Korean War.

Image Name Service Rank Place of action Date of action Notes References
TiborRubin cropped.jpg Rubin, TiborTibor Rubin Army Corporal Republic of Korea Jul 23, 1950 – April 20, 1953 During a 24 hour battle he slowed the advance of an assault of Chinese troops allowing other personnel with the 8th Cavalry Regiment to complete its withdrawal successfully. Although he was severely wounded in the battle and subsequently captured by Chinese forces he chose to remain in Chinese prison despite offers of an early release. While detained he risked his own safety by sneaking out at night and breaking into enemy food stores and gardens to find food for other soldiers and providing medical care to the sick and wounded prisoners.

Vietnam War

The Vietnam War was a military conflict between the Communist-supported Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the United States-supported Republic of Vietnam. It started in 1959 and concluded April 30, 1975 with the defeat and failure of the United States foreign policy in Vietnam.

During the Vietnam War, 246 Medals of Honor were received, 154 of them posthumously. Two American Jews received the Medal, Jack H. Jacobs from the Army and John Levitow from the Air Force.

Image Name Service Rank Place of action Date of action Notes References
JackHJacobs.jpg Jacobs, Jack H.Jack H. Jacobs Army First Lieutenant Kien Phong Province, Republic of Vietnam Mar 9, 1968 Although seriously wounded and bleeding profusely, he assumed command and ordered a withdrawal. He then repeatedly returned through heavy fire, to rescue other wounded including the company commander and treated their wounds. On three occasions he repelled Viet Cong squads who were also searching for wounded American soldiers in the same area, killing three and wounding several others.
John Levitow.jpg Levitow, JohnJohn Levitow Air Force Airman First Class Long Binh Army post, Republic of Vietnam Feb 24, 1969 Although severely wounded himself he moved another wounded crew member to safety. He then used his own body to smother and move a smoking flare from within the cargo compartment of the aircraft and threw it from the back of the plane as it separated and ignited in the air as it cleared the aircraft.
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