by Seymour "Sy" Brody
When the battleship MAINE was sunk on February 15, 1898, there were 15 Jewish sailors who went down with the ship. The executive officer of the MAINE, and later a vice admiral in the United States Navy, was Adolph Marix, a Jew.
Marix was the chairman of a board of inquiry to investigate the mysterious sinking of the MAINE. It is interesting to note that his father was an interpreter in the Lincoln Administration and that Abraham Lincoln appointed Adolph Marix to the United States Naval Academy.
When the United States declared war against Spain on April 21, 1898, the first volunteer was Colonel Joseph M. Heller, who left a thriving medical practice to become an acting assistant surgeon in the Army. About 5,000 Jews served in this war. When the Jewish High Holy Days were approaching in 1898, there were 4,000 requests for furloughs to attend services.
There were indeed 30 Jewish Army officers and 20 more in the Navy in the Spanish-American War. Jewish casualties ran high for the percentage of Jews in the service. Twenty-nine were killed, 47 wounded, and 28 died from disease - for a total of 104.
Corporal Ben Prager received the Silver Star Medal for his bravery in the Philippines in 19 skirmishes and engagements. The official citation describes his accomplishments: "When the engagement was fully opened up, Corporal Benjamin Prager and seven other soldiers from Companies A and L, 19th United States Infantry, moved out and charged the enemy ... and after twice charging in the face of heavy fire, succeeded in dislodging the enemy and putting the entire force to rout. With true soldierly spirit, the success was followed up and the enemy was driven out of the city across the river and mountains."
Colonel Teddy Roosevelt commanded the Rough Riders, which included a large number of Jews. The first Rough Rider killed was a 16-year-old Jewish boy, Jacob Wilbusky. Colonel Roosevelt promoted five men in his command for their bravery in the field without knowledge of their religion. One of them was a Jew.
Sergeant Maurice Joost of the First California Volunteers, a regiment that had more than 100 Jewish soldiers, was the first man to fall in the attack on Manila. There were 280,000 American soldiers in this war, which was four-tenths of I percent of the population. Jewish soldiers were one-half of I percent of the American Jewish population; therefore, Jews served in greater proportion than did the remainder of the nation's citizens.
In the Spanish-American War, Jews once again demonstrated that they are willing and ready to fight and serve in defense of our country.
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.
Return to Table of Contents