Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Remembering a Veteran: Russian Immigrant Sam (Zalmon) Reuben Orlowsky, 319th Field Artillery, AEF

Contributed by Janice M. Sellers

Tombstone of Sam [Zalmon] Orloff,
Waldheim Cemetery, Chicago,
Cook County, Illinois.
Photo:  Carol Townsend
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 30 October 1906, his father was most 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 16 December 1914, he was naturalized as an American citizen in New Haven. He registered for the draft on 5 June 1917, while living at 31 Anne Street in New Haven.

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 3 October 1917, at Local Board 2.

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 the American Expeditionary Forces took him to France, where he was near the front lines with the 319th Field Artillery Regiment of the 82nd Division. As with many soldiers, he was deeply affected by what he saw during the war. Here are excerpts from some of his letters:

With the AEF in France, August 1918
“The night before last was the night when I began to lead the life of a real soldier. … [W]e camped in the woods on the grass without blankets even. German aeroplanes circled over the woods unceasingly. … In the morning we were awakened by a whiz of a shell flying overhead, the noise repeating itself every minute and a half. No matter how hard we tried to see the shells flying through the air it could not be detected.”

France, September 1918
“First, I am at the present moment in a … dugout which a few of my colleagues and myself have located in the neighborhood. … Second, my elbow is touching a fully loaded Colt, which may be needed any moment, as all kind of untoward persons prowl about the vicinity. Third, one of my best friends—the gas mask—is in alert position, as the Germans are likely to send over some of their nasty perfumes at any moment ….”

Still in the woods, October 4, 1918
“All of a sudden bombs began to explode right near us, and the light of the explosions simply blinded us. All of us instinctively fell to the ground and stretched ourselves flat, for that is the best protection from shrapnel and splinters. In fact, the bombs fell so near our barracks that pieces of the steel casing were to be found everywhere around them.”

Zalmon Orloff’s World War I draft registration card.

Zalmon was assigned to Headquarters Company of the 319th Field Artillery Regiment for his entire service in the Army. He was made a corporal on 7 December 1917 and a supply sergeant on 1 February 1918. He was with the AEF from 19 May 1918 to 25 March 1919, and was honorably discharged on 4 April 1919.

Sometime between his discharge in 1919 and the 1920 U.S. census, Zalmon moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he was working as a mechanic. By 1924 he was married and had a son, and by 1927 the family 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 the Great War, but he did not make it through the Great Depression. He died 1 March 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.

Zalmon Orloff’s entry in Connecticut Men and Women in the Armed Forces of
the United States During World War, 1917–1920

Zalmon is the grandfather of a friend of mine. We are lucky to have a friend in the Chicago area, who tries to visit Zalmon’s grave on Veterans Day every year to let him know he is not forgotten.


  1. This is a nice tribute to Sgt. Orloff; I enjoyed reading those excerpts. It would be nice to see more!

  2. A very common occurrence by all the states acknowledging the sacrifice of their

  3. These are the kind of accounts that makes it all real and very meaningful. Thanks for sharing.