The Heroism of Private Jack Herschkowitz

Jack Herschkowitz was always willing to do his duty though he wasn’t quite happy about being drafted. He was an immigrant from Romania, working at a family grocery in New York. He was inducted into the United States army on the 20th of September 1917. Assigned to Company C of the 308th Infantry of the 77th Division, he was soon fighting in Europe.

While engaged in battle, he advanced too far along with his group. They were caught in a pocket that was surrounded by the Germans. Conditions were getting worse with food and water in short supply and shells falling on them.

A message runner’s bravery

Major Charles Whittlesey had assigned Private Herschkowitz as a message runner on the 29th of September 1918. His job was to report to headquarters the position of the battalion. Herschkowitz also had Lieutenant Arthur McKeogh and Private John Joseph Monson with him.

They had to break through the German lines while at risk from the enemy’s dominant position and shelling. During their efforts, a small group of Germans attacked them. However, they killed one of them and drove the others off. At night, Herschkowitz and his fellows crawled unknowingly into a German camp’s center.

They lay there undetected for three hours. Finally, when the Germans discovered them, they made an attempt to escape. Private Herschkowitz drew the fire of the enemy to himself deliberately in order to protect his fellow officer. This gave the officer an opportunity to escape.

Herschkowitz tried to get back to his regiment all night long. He only had a piece of bread in his gas mask to eat. Fortunately, he saw some Frenchmen in blue uniforms who helped him get back to his headquarters. Once there, he delivered his message.

McKeogh’s contempt

Herschkowitz narrated his experiences to author Henry Berry nearly seven decades later. He believed McKeogh disliked him. Herschkowitz said that he had this belief from the fact that McKeogh called him a button hole maker. That means a tailor, which Herschkowitz wasn’t.

He also believed that when the mission was successfully completed, he might’ve at least earned the officer’s respect. Herschkowitz was the one who killed the German soldier who had spotted all of them.

Croix de Guerre

Another extraordinary fact about Herschkowitz’s heroism is that he endured all this while suffering from flu. His body temperature had reached the level of 105. He collapsed right after completing his mission and reaching the headquarters successfully. He spent the remaining part of the war in hospitals.

Unfortunately, his battalion continued to advance after they received his message. In doing so, they cut themselves off from the rest of the 77th Division even farther. On the 19th of April 1919, he boarded a ship to the United States from France.

Before the ship left for its destination, Colonel Maurice Laurent from the French Army hopped on board. He gave the Croix de Guerre award to Herschkowitz along with Major George McMurtry and Benjamin Kaufman.

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