When Men Betray
In the spring of 1918—three years after the Great War began in Europe— the Germans made an assault on British and French forces on the western front. The U.S. commander, General “Black Jack” Pershing, asked President Woodrow Wilson for a quick call-up of young doughboys to assist the Allies. It was the beginning of the first major infusion of American troops since Wilson had declared war one year before. The intensity of the fighting and the need for reinforcements would fluctuate over the next few months. But it wasn't until late July that the Germans would be put on the defensive, and not before the loss of nearly ten thousand American lives. At New York State's Camp Upton, a frightened draftee, on getting wind of Pershing's plan, ditched the rifle he had barely learned to clean and in the middle of the night fled for his young life. He didn't get very far. He was picked up by the military police, arrested, and charged with treason. If convicted—which was likely—he would be shot. Desperate to save the young man's life, his relatives went to the only family member who had anything more than a modicum of influence.
Ivan Abramson, a cousin of the deserter, was the idol of the family. In 1918, approaching the age of fifty, he still carried the heavy accent of his native Lithuania, which he had left as a child. Through a combination of energy, talent, and gall, Abramson established a name for himself in the