By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News
A website has been created honoring the World War I military service of Illinois Army Company, Company L, which by a scan of surnames and other evidence includes many Jewish members.
Creator Ron Miller, a Jewish Chicagoan, wants the Jewish community to learn more about his website and help build the database by identifying more descendants who have family documentation and true stories and memorabilia to add.
This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles that brought World War I to an end.
Over 380 soldiers have been identified as having served with Company L. Augmented by drafted men from Chicago, the Midwest and nationwide, the Company L soldiers fought in 1918 on the Western front in France with the Third Battalion of the 132nd. Infantry Regiment of the 66th. Brigade of the 33rd. Division, known as the Prairie Division.
Three descendants of Company L soldiers found each other and have dedicated themselves to honoring their ancestors and those with whom they served: Private First-Class Harry Shankman, grandfather of Miller; Sergeant Wesley Foster, great uncle of Edward Hudson; and Corporal Lee Reuter, father of Barbara Metzger.
“We have combined our efforts with the goal of finding the descendants of these Company L soldiers and publicizing their war sacrifices,” Miller said. “We hope their descendants can add information celebrating the history of their ancestor’s sacrifices.”
The website includes history, combat operations, reproductions of memorabilia and a searchable company roster.
Miller’s interest was fueled by his grandfather who fought in World War I. Shankman, who changed his name from Kraznitsky, came to America from Kiev in 1910, 16 years old at the time. “He was drafted and ended up going to France,” Miller said. “He fought many of the major battles. He was gassed and died at a relatively early age, 55.”
As the family genealogist, Miller had little to go on. “The only thing we knew about his service was that he had a certificate from his company. And, his mother remembered going to picnics organized by veterans of Company L during the 1930s. The soldiers of Men of L had formed a nonprofit organization in 1920. Meetings continued for 45 years until the organization’s members largely died out.
One of the Jewish soldiers memorialized on the website is Colonel Abel Davis, Commanding Officer, 132nd. Infantry, 33rd. Division. Born in Konigsberg, Germany to Lithuanian parents, his family moved to Chicago in 1892. In World War I, Major Davis was given command of a special training regiment at Camp Logan, an Army training camp, in Houston, Texas. He was promoted and given command of the 132nd. Infantry. The Illinoisans fought under Jewish General John Monash in the Battle of Hamel, France. After the war, as a member of the Illinois National Guard, Davis was promoted to brigadier general. In his later years, he remained in Chicago where he worked in the banking industry and contributed to Jewish causes.
“I am surprised by how much information is available,” said Miller, who spent 24 years on active duty in the military. “I’ve just found it’s kind of amazing, just the lives that people led and just the mechanics of finding names, dates and places—the old genealogy. The new genealogy is all the stories that go along with what a particular ancestor did and then assign that to our Company L website. It really kind of ties it together.”
For more information, visit the website www.company-L.com or contact admin@company-L.com or call (773) 203-5060.