Sunday, December 9, 2012

The" Bear Jew" is Based on a Real Person!?

Ok, so maybe Sergeant Sonny Donnowitz wasn't a real person, but there was someone tougher and more battle hardened than the "Bear Jew." His name was Sam Dreben and he was a complete bad ass. Completely fearless and commanded respect from everyone around him. Known as the "Fighting Jew" Dreben fought in several different and unrelated theaters of battle on every continent except Africa. But why? Was it because he was a dare devil? Loved the thrill of war? Or perhaps just had a death wish? I think it is more than that, something maybe from his childhood that made him always want to fight the good fight, maybe he just had a sense a duty which has since fell by the way side.

Sam Dreben was born June 1, 1878 in Poltava Russia, present day Ukraine. Born to Jewish parents Sam's future in Russia was not promising. Knowing this he made two attempts at running away, the furthest he ever made it was Germany. At 18, he made his way to London, hung out for a bit and then made his way to the states by the winter of 1899. By that summer Dreben had enlisted in the U.S. Army and was being shipped to the Philippines with the 14th Infantry Regiment. The mission, restore and keep order in the new acquired land. The rebellion was led by Emilio Aguinaldo who wanted the United States out of the Philippines. There Dreben fought amongst some of America's greatest military heroes, Teddy Roosevelt, Arthur MacArthur and John Pershing. In the end the, the American forces suppressed the rebellion, officially making the Philippines a territory of the United States. Yet that was Dreben's first taste of battle and I guess he liked it because this would be the beginning of an illustrious military career.

After seeing action in the Philippines, Dreben was sent to Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion. There he was part of a protection detail for American business interests in the area. While there Dreben was released from military service. Working odd jobs and finding everyday life a little dull, he looked to enlist with a Japanese recruiter to fight in the Russo-Japanese War, but was called back to Fort Bliss in Texas, in 1904. There Dreben would train with the newest and latest piece of military equipment, the machine gun. Dreben took  the machine gun like a duck to water. He remained in Fort Bliss until 1907 when he was released from service for a second time. Looking for work he made his way to the Panama Canal Zone. Unable to get anything going, Dreben's reputation as a tough guy landed him several gigs fighting with several revolutionary causes. Mainly through Central America, he fought in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico. In Guatemala, Dreben received a million dollar wound, he was shot in the buttocks. Oddly enough that would be the only time he was wounded in combat.

Dreben would eventually make his way back to the states and re-enlist back into the army. His next major action was when he took part in the Punitive Expedition (1916). The Expedition goal was to go into Mexico and capture (or kill) Pancho Villa for a raid he orchestrated in New Mexico. This would not be the first time Dreben would be involved with Villa. Prior to the Expedition, Dreben and Villa worked together in Mexico. They spent several months in Mexico looking for Villa but the search was fruitless.  Then in 1917 with the U.S.'s entry into WWI, you could bet Dreben was one of the first in line to sign up. He enlisted with the 141st Infantry Regiment of the 36th Infantry Division. Before leaving Dreben took a wife, Helen Spence and started a family. Sadly as Dreben was leaving for France, news reached him of the passing of his daughter. It is unknown how Dreben reacted to the news, but he continued on to France.

When in France, Derben continued to do what he did best, kick some serious tail. He took part in the battle of St. Etienne (1918). He served under General Jack Perishing and he was held in his highest regards. By the end of the war Dreben went home with some serious hardware, and left a bunch of Krauts crying for their mutters. Aside from the miles of street cred he continued to grow, he was also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Croix de Guerre and the Medaille Militaire. After the war Dreben was looking to get some R&R. He did have to deal with a cheating wife, which he then divorced. However, aside from the marital issue, Dreben ran a successful insurance business in El Paso, Texas. But just when life seemed to slow down a bit, Dreben's achievements called him back into action. In 1921, Dreben and several other men were deputized by the El Paso P.D. to illegally extradite a prisoner from Juarez, Mexico. The plan ran a rye and Dreben and his merry men were arrested by Mexican authorities, only to be released three days later after Uncle Sam flexed a diplomatic little muscle. After the spat in Mexico, Dreben remarried and moved to California for a new start. Then in 1925 Dreben tragically died from an accidental dose of medicine. As news of his death spread all the major newspapers ran articles honoring the hero.

Sam Dreben is a true American hero. A man who symbolizes heroism with every bone in his body. His service to his county was never forced and always selfless. He built a reputation as a tough guy and his bravery was world renowned. Today we would call men like Dreben, soldiers of fortune, a gun for hire or even a mercenary. But Dreben is a unique character and exemplifies that sense of adventure not really seen anymore.You can see that perhaps Dreben could have been an inspiration not just for Sergeant Sonny Donnowitz character, but for all the characters in Inglorious Bastards. But what does that say about Dreben? The characters in that film are larger than life, and so was Dreben. Today, Dreben is still on of the most unknown people in military history. The man from Russia, whose mother had hopes he'd become a rabbi, is one toughest men to ever step onto a battlefield. Whether it on a field in France, a dock in Beijing or a jungle in Honduras, Dreben never shied away from the service for others.Today, Sam Dreben should be up there with our other military heroes and in equal or great standings. An American hero through and through, but is slowing becoming another casualty to History and his achievements only belonging to the ages.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Charles Lee: Beyond Assassin's Creed III

The name Charles Lee hasn't meant much to people until recently. The reason for Lee's resurgence is due to the release of the latest version of the Assassin's Creed video game series. The latest version is set during the American Revolution with  the people and events of the era. From George Washington to Sam Adams, Thomas Jefferson to Paul Revere and of course, Charles Lee. In the game Lee is the ultimate bad guy and is portrayed as pure evil, but how true is this? And why make Lee the antagonist of the game? There were plenty of other figures that could have been chosen, anyone of the Redcoats would have been fine, or even Benedict Arnold, but it was Lee. So how could it be that the most experienced man in the Revolution fall by the way side of our collective view of the Revolution and become a now infamous video game villain?

So in Assassin's Creed III, Charles Lee is part of a secret group, the Templars (Go figure). They are set on ensuring that the world order is kept and the Templars influence and power are kept intact. Which in their view is to build America as a Templar nation, but that is not really important for this piece. The game goes as far as implicating Lee in orchestrating the Boston Massacre. But aside from the farfetchedness of the Templars and the manipulation of the Boston Massacre, the story of Lee becomes quite on spot. His disdain for George Washington, his poor military practices and the fact he was a drunk. But to understand who and what Lee did, lets first look at were he comes from, because as you may know the past always plays a part in the present, well the then get what I mean.

Lee was born in Cheshire, England in the winter of 1732. Born into a military family, his father was Colonel John Lee in the Royal Majesty's Army, Lee was destined to be a major military figure. He was educated at on of the finest schools in Switzerland and returned to England in 1746 to continue his education. That same year his father placed young Charles in the service, under his command, as an ensign. Lee's history is pretty average, well educated and focused on self advancement, especially through the military. In 1751, Lee purchased a Lieutenant's commission and saw action in the French & Indian War. While in the colonies, Lee married a Mohawk Indian woman and father twins. Lee had a reputation for having a short fuse, and was dubbed Ounewaterika, by the natives which translates to "Boiling Water". He continued to be active in the war until its end, the attack at Louisbourg (1758), he was wounded at the assault on Fort Ticonderoga (1758), participated in the capture of Fort Niagara (1759) and Fort Montreal (1760) and up until the British conquered Canada in the fall of 1760. After his service in the colonies, Lee also fought for the Portuguese and the Polish. He returned to England in 1763 and found himself very sympathetic to the American cause. He was so much interested in it he moved in 1773, to Virginia and built his estate, Prato Rio (which is today in present day West Virginia).  It is in the colonies then, that Lee's selfishness, self entitlement or just plan want for glory would then destroy what was supposed to be a legacy which would be everlasting with the other military leaders of the Continental Army.

Charles Lee reported to the Continental Congress on several occasions, which is partially portrayed in the game. There, Lee awaited to be appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, but waiting is all he could do. He was very vocal about his feelings towards Washington, but they fell on death ears. Lee was overlooked for a few reasons: first he was English born, second, he was a bit of a drunk and vulgar (despite his educational background, remember you can't teach manners) and finally he wanted to be paid for his service. These combined made Congress pick Washington, who basically was the complete opposite of Lee, American born, not a fall down drunk and willing to work for free. Regardless, Lee was made second in command, Major General. Lee's first major role in the war was protecting Charleston, South Carolina. There he saw the construction of Fort Sullivan on Sullivan;s Island. Here Lee would make his first military blunder. Seeing the advancing British Naval forces he ordered the fort evacuated, leaving the city undefended. Lucky, Governor John Rutledge knew the strength not just of the South Carolinian people but of the palmetto logs which the fort was made from. The fort withstood the assault and forced to retreat and reconsider their strategy in taking Charleston. After this Lee was recalled by Washington to New York to prepare the city's defense. 

Upon arriving in New York in 1776, Washington made an attempt at showing Lee that he was respected and an important part of the Continental Army. He did so by rename Fort Constitution, which is located on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, Fort Lee. Unfortunately for Washington Lee was not pleased. The renaming of the fort made him despise Washington even more. He began to be even more vocal to Congress about his personal opinions of Washington and more often as well. Lee even went as far as trying to sabotage Washington during his retreat across New Jersey by purposefully taking his time moving his troops west. The disdain for Washington has been quite evident, so evident that the writers of Assassin's Creed felt it fitting to link Lee to Thomas Hickey. Whose Thomas Hickey you ask? He was one of Washington's guards who plotted to assassinate Washington. He was later tried and hung. But in the game it is Lee who is the mastermind behind the plot and then tried to pin the blame on the main character, Conner. But back to the reality of Lee. Because of his lack luster support of Washington, Lee left himself in a compromised position during the winter of '76. While stopping for the night at White's Tavern in Basking Ridge,NJ Lee was found out and arrested by a British patrol. He was given back to the Continental Army in a prisoner exchange due to his high military value. But Lee's biggest act of defiance towards Washington and ultimatelywhat destroyed his career would happen in the summer of 1778.

At the Battle of Monmouth Lee was reluctantly placed as second in command. There Lee deliberately disobeyed Washington's orders to attack by retreating. Too bad for Lee he retreated right into Washington was heading right to the battlefield. Washington was enraged beyond human capability, then to make matters worse, Lee disrespected Washington in front of all those in Washington's force. Washington then publicly stripped Lee of command & rank, had him arrested in the mist of the battle and had him court martialed. Lee tried to have the court martial overturned but it was in vain. After his failure to clear his military name, he then went back on the attack against Washington. Lee was quickly becoming a lesser and lesser like character in America. He was so hated many Americans wanted a piece of him. Colonel John Laurens challenged Lee to a duel, a duel which Lee was wounded in. And that was not the last duel, Lee was challenged to roughly 50 some odd duels after his dishonorable exit from military life. By 1780 Lee had faded from the public spotlight and recent memory of the newly forming American nation. he back ill in January of 1780 and died in his Philadelphia home.

So what did we learn about Charles Lee? He was a selfish bastard who couldn't handle be second in command. The man wanted to be the Commander-in-Chief so badly he found it necessary to sabotage Washington at every chance he could. But what do we learn from Lee? Mainly that being a whinny baby gets you no where for 232 years until someone writes a historical based fictional video game. And to top it off you become the villain of the story. Lee's legacy is this, a man who was driven by anger, by frustration from a choice made by others and that through acts of dishonor he caused his own self destruction. There are many heroes and villains from the founding of America, Lee is neither. He has been a footnote to the Revolution, mainly through the faults of his own. His yearning for being in charge went as far as becoming a traitor. After he was captured in New Jersey, Lee drafted military plans against American forces for General William Howe. They were discovered in 1857 in the Howe family archives and many historians believe this may have been the root of Lee's complete disregard for Washington's orders at the Battle of Monmouth. Yet today Lee is not remembered for his negative actions but as a fictional character. A Templar, who hates freedom and democracy, whose only goal in life is to ensure that the world ends in got to play the game to get that one, sorry. But Charles Lee had his chance to be a true American hero. One who would be as revered as Washington, Greene, Putnam, Lafayette and von Steuben are for their military actions but no, Lee caused his own self implosion and put himself on the express track to becoming a complete loss of historical value.