My name is Benjamin Kaufman. I was born on the tenth of March 1894 in Buffalo, New York. (58)
On the twenty-third of September, 1917, I found myself in Brooklyn, New York enlisting in the Army. I was 23 ½ years old. I didn’t know if I was going to be drafted, so enlisting seemed to be a logical step. I didn’t know if I was going to be given an opportunity to fight for my country, but in April 1918, I went overseas. (59) I can remember that day very well, my first trip out of the U.S.. I can remember being scared – scared that I might never see my family or friends again. I can also remember being excited – excited that I was actually going to make something of my life. For once I felt proud – proud to be an American.
The war was nothing like I thought it was going to be. Even after serving for a couple of months I still wasn’t used to fighting. They had tried to teach me to fight in Camp Upton before I left the U.S., but that didn’t help very much. (96) I learned how to kill another human being, not because I wanted to, but because the government told me to. After my training I thought I knew it all – but as soon as I stepped onto the front line, I forgot everything I had learned in training and did whatever I could to just survive. (61)
I was in the 308th Infantry Regiment of the 77th Division. (62) Known as the “Metropolitan Division” our unit was made up almost entirely of boys from New York State. (63) I made many new friends during the war, but after watching a couple of them get blown to pieces it became hard for me to make friends. Like many veterans of the war, this attitude was to haunt me for the rest of my life. (64)
I was pretty lucky. For almost four months I lived each day unharmed – physically. But on the 17th of August I was slightly wounded. Fortunately, I lived and before I knew it I was back on the front-line. (65)
The fourth of October, 1918, is a day I will never forget. We were advancing one yard at a time, into the forest of Argonne, when out of nowhere an enemy machine-gun began shooting down my soldiers. For a moment I just stood there helpless, but when I realized what was happening I just couldn’t stand there any longer. I kept advancing, determined to knock out the enemy gun that was killing my buddies. Before reaching the enemy position I was hit. A machine-gun bullet shattered my right arm. Separated from my patrol, wounded and in great pain I probably should have given up. Sure I was in pain, but that didn’t matter. For that instant, nothing mattered to me except knocking out the machine-gun. If anything, I became more determined to attack. (66).
I kept on charging, even though I had a shattered arm and my weapon was empty. Still able to use my left hand, I began to throw grenades at the enemy position. Well, I kept going and captured myself a prisoner. Then as I advanced I ended up scattering that enemy crew. I was able to bring both the prisoner and the enemy machine-gun back to our lines. Because of this I was awarded the Medal of Honor. (67)
Many people have called me a hero. It gets embarrassing sometimes because I know guys who I think were a lot braver than me. I only had to be brave once. Some of my friends were brave all the time. They were runners. Our division tried to use messenger dogs in Oise-Aisne in August, 1918 to carry messages between command posts. (68) I can still hear the sound of those innocent dogs, lying in such pain, dying. Once they were dead we had to rely on human runners to carry those messages. If you volunteered to be a runner you were almost sure to die. But nevertheless it needed to be done and sure enough, men volunteered. Those men were the real heroes – not me. (69)
So the question I kept asking myself was: Why me? Why did I receive the Medal of Honor, when some of my comrades died unnoticed, fighting for their country?
On the ninth of May, 1919, I was honorably discharged. (70) I returned home to New York a changed man. Although I survived the war physically, I never recovered from the emotional scars. To this day I wonder if it would have been better had I died in battle, ending all of my painful memories. As I lie here, a forgotten soldier, I can’t help but remember what one of my comrades told me as I was leaving the front line:
"All has left such everlasting impressions with me. I shall never forget…These, all these results of the awfulness of war remains with me never to be blotted out until I cease to exist…Writers will attempt to describe some, but not man will ever Picture it truly." (71)
He was right.