April 5, 2017 – Welcome to World War I Wednesday
The postings you will find here each Wednesday, today through the end of the year, are part of the St. Louis Jewish community’s commemoration honoring those who served their country during the Great War, 1917-1918. While this first post, dated to coincide approximately with the beginning of the U.S. involvement in the war, is a general description of the community’s involvement in the war, those that follow will be more specific, highlighting individuals or groups who served. Most were members of the military, but others served their country in the medical field or on the home front.
This project has been a labor of love for a few dedicated volunteers who, over the past several years, have diligently gathered information about service members from the St. Louis Jewish community (and those we claim as ours). Our database is certainly not complete, but currently we have identified more than 600 individuals who fit that description. Thirty-six of them died during the war. Needless to say, we cannot give information about each one of these individuals in a weekly posting. However, those we have selected represent the various service units, places of birth, duties, service overseas (or not), etc., which we have identified.
While there are numerous sources that deal with the Great War, none deal thoroughly with the local Jewish community. Thus we have gone through numerous sources and pulled out those individuals who, in at least one source, stated that they were Jewish. Resources from which we gathered information include the St. Louis Jewish Community Archives, the Modern View, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and St. Louis Star & Times newspapers, WWI Draft Registration cards (searchable on the Missouri Secretary of State’s Missouri Digital Heritage Soldiers’ Records: War of 1812-World War I website), and the various World War I collections at the Missouri History Museum (such as the Casualties of the European War, WWI: Biographies & Service Records, and Portraits of Members of the Armed Forces from St. Louis City and County Killed in World War I) among others.
We are pleased to present a brief survey of those from the community who served their country in the Great War, and we hope that you enjoy learning more about them. Some of these individuals sacrificed all to serve in the First World War, and all of them sacrificed part of their lives. We are honored to recognize the people who fought “the war to end all wars.”
All photographs on this page are courtesy of the Missouri History Museum, St. Louis.
April 12, 2017 – The Abramson Brothers
Julius and Bertha Abramson were the parents of five sons, three of whom served in the Great War. Julius immigrated to Missouri from Germany in 1890 and soon met and married Bertha Klein. The three brothers, Alvin (1894), Sidney (1898) and Herbert (1896) illustrate the St. Louis Jewish community’s commitment to serve their country in time of war.
Alvin Abramson enlisted on May 30, 1917 at the Student Citizens Training Camp, Fort Riley, Kansas, and reached France in August 1918 with Company C of the 530th Engineers. Sgt. Abramson was one of 400,000 engineers who repaired war damage to expedite troop movements. Their mission included bridge and road building, maintaining communication lines, erecting stables and hospitals, and repairing train tracks.
In the spring of 1917 Herbert and Sidney Abramson were part of Company I of the 5th Infantry Regiment of the Missouri National Guard, which became the 138th Regiment. The unit also included a young Captain Harry Truman. They participated in the offensive at Cheppy from September 26 to October 1, which became known as “Six Days in the Argonne.” According to a newspaper report, Sidney witnessed the death of Washington University graduate and Medal of Honor winner Captain Alexander Skinker, commander of Company I, on September 26. Sidney was only five feet away from Capt. Skinker, with bullets piercing his own blouse pocket and backpack. Both Herbert and Sidney were wounded during the war, but in an announcement made by their mother Bertha, and printed in the Modern View, all three of her sons returned safely from “over there.”
After the war, Alvin attended law school at Washington University and became president of the Grand Jury Association. He and his wife, Lalla (Jacobs) lived at 709 Skinker and later at 40 N. Kingshighway. Herbert moved to New York City where he lived with his wife Estelle. Sidney married Mary Jane Levy Berlinger; they lived at 3 Lake Forest in Richmond Heights. Sidney returned to France with the Army during WWII as a Captain in the Quartermasters Corps.
To learn more about the Abramson brothers, or any Great War soldier from St Louis, go to Genealogy.MOHistory.org/Genealogy/Names and type in a name.
April 19, 2017 – Ben Moreell
Ben Moreell was the youngest of five children born to Samuel Moreell of New York City and Sophie Sossnitz, a Russian immigrant and daughter of Rabbi Joseph Sossnitz of New York. Although Ben was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, the family moved to 1368 Clara Avenue in St. Louis, and he graduated from Central High School. He won a four-year scholarship to Washington University where he studied Civil Engineering. After completing his degree in 1913, Moreell was admitted to the Civil Engineering Corps of the U.S. Navy.
During the Great War, Lt. Moreell was assigned to the naval base at the Ponta Delgado, Azores, assisting Admiral Herbert Dunn, the commander of the Atlantic Fleet. It was here that Ben’s work was commended by then Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Roosevelt, an association that would later prove advantageous for Moreell.
While his WWI service was admirable, it was his service after the war that makes him worthy of even higher praise. Having moved back to St. Louis, Moreell married Clara Klinksick, a Navy nurse from Missouri. They lived the life of a career naval family, moving frequently and raising a family. In 1937 President Roosevelt chose Moreell to be Chief of Bureau Yards and Docks. Ben Moreell soon advanced to the rank of full admiral, the first to do so without having graduated from the US Naval Academy. As another war approached, Rear Admiral Moreell saw the need for a naval force that would perform engineering projects in support of the Navy and the Marines overseas. Known as the Seabees, this new force of more than 300,000 managed construction projects overseas during WWII and continue their work to this day.
Ben Moreell went on to work with President Truman before his retirement from the Navy, and later served on the board of the Jones & Laughlin Steel Company. Unlike his father, Admiral Moreell is not buried in St. Louis. Instead he lies at rest in Arlington National Cemetery, a fitting location for the “Father of the Seabees.”
To learn more about Ben Moreell, or any Great War soldier from St Louis, go to Genealogy.MOHistory.org/Genealogy/Names and type in a name.
Ben Moreell’s photograph is provided by the US Navy Seabee Museum.