Ken Harbaugh tells the stories of service members who have distinguished themselves through an act of valor. These stories feature recipients from the Civil War to present day, including a few who were originally overlooked for the medal.
First Sergeant Kaufman couldn’t say no to a fight. After being shot in the arm, rendering it useless, and being separated from his men, Kaufman captured an enemy machine gun position despite only having one working arm.
Welcome to the Medal of Honor podcast, brought to you in partnership with the National Medal of Honor Museum. I’m Ken Harbaugh. In each episode, we’ll learn about a different service member who has distinguished him or herself through an act of valor.
First Sergeant Benjamin Kaufman was born on March 10th, 1894 in Buffalo, New York, but grew up in Brooklyn.
Kaufman enlisted in the U.S. Army after the U.S. entered World War I. Because he had been studying at Syracuse before his enlistment, he was offered the option to commission as an officer twice, but refused. A year later in 1918, as a part of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), he deployed to France to fight the advancing Germans.
During an early battle in France, Kaufman was blinded by gas while rescuing several soldiers. He refused medical help until the doctors forced him to the hospital. Kaufman continued to try and return to the frontlines, borrowing a uniform. His unexpected return got him court-martialed, though the charges were dropped.
A few months later, the Allies launched the Meuse-Argonne offensive, the final offensive of World War I. On October 4th, 1918, Kaufman led a patrol in the Argonne forest to attack an enemy machine gun position that had stopped his company’s advance.
The enemy machine gun fired on the patrol, separating Kaufman from the rest of his men. Upon contact, Kaufman’s right arm was shattered by an enemy bullet, but he continued to advance, throwing hand grenades at the machine gun nest. Capturing the position, he took the surviving German soldier prisoner and escorted him back to friendly lines. After identifying the German line for his company, Kaufman lost consciousness due to blood loss.
In May 1920, Kaufman was awarded the Medal of Honor on Governors Island, New York by General John Pershing, the commander of the AEF. His other awards include the Purple Heart, the World War I Victory Medal, the French Croix de Guerre, and awards from the governments of Italy and Montenegro.
After the war, Kaufman was an active member of Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, serving as national commander from 1941 to 1942 and executive director from 1945 to 1959. Kaufman also served as director of the New Jersey’s War Manpower Commission during World War II and was on the state’s council for Disabled American Veterans. On February 5th, 1981, he passed away in Trenton, New Jersey.
The Medal of Honor Podcast is a production of Evergreen Podcasts.
Nathan Corson is our producer and engineer, León Pescador is our script writer, Declan Rohrs is our script editor and recording engineer, and I’m Ken Harbaugh.
We are proud to support the National Medal of Honor Museum. To learn more, and to support their mission, got to mohmuseum.org. Thanks for listening.