Monday, November 11, 2013

Portrait of a World War I Veteran

Zalmon Reuben Orlowsky was born about 1891, probably in Bachmach or Glukhov, Chernigov gubernia, Russian Empire (now Bakhmach and Hlukhiv, Chernihiv oblast, Ukraine).  When he immigrated to the United States, arriving in New York City on October 30, 1906, his father was likely already dead, as he listed his mother, Elke Orlowsky, as his closest relative in the "old country."  His occupation given on the ship manifest was merchant.  A family story says that he taught himself to read English by going back and forth between Russian and English versions of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace.

By 1910, Zalmon, now going by the last name of Orloff and sometimes the first name of Sam, was living in New Haven, Connecticut and working as a shop laborer.  On December 16, 1914, he was naturalized as an American citizen in New Haven.  He registered for the draft on June 5, 1917, still in New Haven.  Surprisingly, he does not seem to have been enumerated in the 1917 Connecticut military census, or at least I haven't been able to find him in the database on Ancestry.com.

The state of Connecticut, to show its pride in its citizens who had served during the "War to End All Wars", published a three-volume work in 1941 with details on those citizens' service.  According to his entry (in the second book), Zalmon was inducted into the National Army on October 3, 1917 at Local Board 2.  (The number 1,912,305 isn't explained in the book; I'm thinking it might be his service number?)  He was living at 31 Anne Street, New Haven.

Zalmon was assigned to the Headquarters Company of the 319th Field Artillery Regiment through to his discharge.  He was made a corporal on December 7, 1917; a sergeant on February 1, 1918; and also a supply sergeant on February 1, 1918.  He was with the American Expeditionary Forces from May 19, 1918 to March 25, 1919.  He was honorably discharged on April 4, 1919.

From letters Zalmon wrote to his sweetheart while he was in the Army, we know that he went through basic training at Camp Gordon, Georgia.  His tour with AEF took him to France, where he was near the front lines.  As with many soldiers, he was deeply affected by what he saw during the war.

Sometime between his discharge in 1919 and the 1920 census, Zalmon moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he worked as a mechanic.  By 1924 he was married and had a son, and by 1927 they had moved to the bustling city of Chicago, where some of Zalmon's cousins lived.  He had trouble getting good work, however, and was a paper hanger from 1924 to 1930.

Zalmon survived World War I, but he did not make it through the Great Depression.  He died March 1, 1930, in Chicago.  His death was unexpected; he is buried in a section of the cemetery where the plots were sold individually, on an "as needed" basis.  He is not far from a family member, though; his sister-in-law had died the previous year in a car accident, and he is buried only two plots away from her.

I am lucky to have a friend in the Chicago area.  She tries to visit Zalmon on Veterans Day every year to let him know he is not forgotten.

6 comments:

  1. Jewish cemeteries were where I first experienced the tradition (?) of putting a picture of the deceased on the grave marker. I just wish that Zalmon's picture was in better shape.

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    1. I wish the picture were in better shape also, but considering that it's more than 80 years old, it isn't doing too badly!

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    2. LB 2 may relate to Local (draft) Board 2 of New Haven. WWI draft boards were simple numbers by city, county, etc. Only later were they numbered, so we woulnd up with four digit draft boards.

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    3. Thank you, Mike! Local Board makes sense. I just couldn't think of anything for the L.

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  2. I'm pretty sure that the monument is supposed to represent a broken off tree trunk, recognizing that he died young. The shapes just to the left and right of the his picture represent sawed off branches. There is a facebook group: "Woodmen of the World & Other Tree Gravestones" that displays many gravestones that show this type of imagery.

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    1. Larry, I agree, the monument is a broken tree shape, indicating his relatively short life. His sister-in-law's monument is the same model. - Janice

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