Nov. 11, 2018 marked the centennial anniversary of Armistice Day. One hundred years ago, “the guns fell silent” and the Great War ended. Today we call it World War I. The American Expeditionary Forces were well over 2 million men and one of them was First Sgt. Benjamin Kaufman, a true American Hero.
Kaufman was born in Buffalo, New York, and raised in the Bronx. It wasn’t until after the war that he settled in the greater Ewing area.
Kaufman was drafted into the U.S. Army, not unlike millions of other men. He was assigned to Company K, 308th Infantry. The young athletic Kaufman was liked and respected by his peers. He was fast tracked to the rank of first sergeant, the senior enlisted man in a company.
Kaufman immediately established himself as a warrior leader. While rescuing some of his men he was temporarily blinded by a gas artillery shell. He refused medical assistance and disobeyed orders to remain at the hospital.
He stole a uniform and returned to his unit. However, this did result in court marshal charges that were later dropped by officers that could see Kaufman’s true character.
One of the major battles fought in World War I was in the Argonne. This is where Kaufman cemented his legacy of selfless service to his comrades and heroism.
The following is the Medal of Honor citation: “While serving in an advance detail in the Argonne on Oct. 4, 1918, Kaufman and his men came under heavy fire from a German machine gun. Two of his men were wounded. Kaufman realized that he had to silence the machine gun before help could reach the wounded men.
“Kaufman was struck in the arm by an enemy bullet. With his shattered, bleeding right arm hanging limp at his side, Kaufman advanced on the enemy with an empty pistol, lobbing hand grenades with his left arm. He eventually reached the German position, scattering the machine gun crew and captured a German soldier.
“Kaufman returned to the American lines with his prisoner. He fainted from the loss of blood after revealing the position of the German lines, which made it possible for the Americans to move forward.”
For his actions during the war Kaufman received awards for bravery from nine foreign governments and on April 12, 1919, the United States awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor.
After the war, he became active in the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, serving as national commander 1941–1942, and the executive director from 1945 to 1959.
He was also a commander of the New Jersey Council of the Disabled American Veterans of the World War and a National Vice Commander of the National Legion of Valor.
During World War II, he was director of the War Manpower Commission in New Jersey.
First Sergeant Kaufman never stopped serving.
He died on Feb. 5, 1981 at the Mercer Medical Center at the age of 86 and is buried in Ewing Township at the Fountain Lawn Memorial Cemetery.
The Ewing Patriotic Committee felt compelled to remember him on the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.
So on the 11th hour, of the 11th day and 11th month of 2018, members of the Ewing Patriotic Committee, joined by a Ewing Kiwanis member, conducted a memorial ceremony at First Sergeant Kaufman’s grave site.
The ceremony included reading his Medal of Honor citation, a prayer, the playing of TAPS and placing a flag, flowers and stones beside his marker.
Today we are too quick to apply the moniker of warrior and hero. Not so when you describe Kaufman. He was an unwavering patriot and a genuine national treasure.
Rick Ryczkowski is a retired U.S. Army colonel and vice president of the Ewing Patriotic Committee.