I looked for a criminal — and found a war hero. When I began to write Bittersweet Brooklyn, I knew I had a great uncle Abie “Little Yiddle” Lorber, the mobster who was “quick with a knife.” Through research I discovered his younger brother, Louis, was a hero at the Second Battle of the Marne in 1918, the turning point of WW1 — and that’s what inspires this column originally published on Veterans Day.
In the novel, the family follows Louis’s progress overseas via Edwin L. “Jimmy” James, a “New York Times” reporter embedded with the Americans in France. He reported: “The story of how the American Soldier, who had never before played a role in this world war, stood against the most savage rush of the German foeman and held fast at one of the most vital points of the allied lines will make a glorious page in American history.”
Louis enlisted and became a private in the Thirty-Eighth Infantry led by Colonel Ulysses Grant McAlexander, These green troops joined the weary English and French battling the German offensive. And the miracle of that engagement was that they turned the tide with their bravery and routed the attacking Germans headed for Paris, putting them on the defensive. This Battle of the Marne is still seen as a key engagement in WW1.
Who was Louis, who fought so bravely that he received a Conspicuous Service Cross? He was a middle son of East European immigrants born in New York in 1896. According to his draft records, he was five foot four, grey-eyed and dark-haired and of medium build. He was working at the time at the Grand Theatre on the corner of Christie and Grand in Manhattan when he enlisted in December 1917.
As a boy alongside his notorious brother Abie, his mother institutionalized the pair at the NY Hebrew Orphan Asylum in 1905 at the age of nine. But, unlike Abie, when he was old enough to make a choice he enlisted. He found success in the Army. He was promoted from private to corporal. He never returned to civilian life and died far from Brooklyn in the Philippines married to a gentile woman he met while stationed at Camp Pike in Arkansas after the war.
My grandmother Thelma named her only son Lawrence after her beloved Louis. She loved to dance and one detail that I love was that he was in charge of the dances at Camp Pike.
May he rest in peace, this decorated foot soldier of the Second Battle of the Marne whose heroic story I disinterred unexpectedly on the road to Bittersweet Brooklyn.