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Pvt. Samuel Safer: Company 'M', 339th Infantry

(Pvt. Samuel Safer, The Flint Journal, 1969)

Samuel Safer was born August 10, 1894 in Wisconsin; his Russian-immigrant parents, Jacob and Ida, having arrived in America barely two years earlier. The Safer’s moved around as Jacob hustled for work; they lived in Milwaukee, Erie, Buffalo, and finally, Flint, MI. Samuel’s parents, like so many Jewish immigrants, scrambled to provide for their children, Ben, Anna, Leo, Samuel, Emanuel, and Harriet, and yet insisted their children attend school. Yiddish may have been spoken at home, but English was required for success in America. Samuel completed three years of high school before entering Flint’s labor force, getting a job as a salesman for his father, proud to bring cash into the Safer household budget.[1] However, when the United States entered the war, Samuel Safer tried to enlist, but was informed by the enlistment board, “Wait to be drafted.” That event came June 27, 1918. Draftee Samuel Safer entered Camp Custer’s massive war-training maul, and when handed a weapon for the first time, remarked, “I had never fired a rifle in my life.”[2] Private Safer was assigned to Company ‘M’, shipped to Russia, and sent to Obozerskaya, where he quickly found himself battling the Bolos, as well as the Russian winter.

Rifleman Safer found himself working side-by-side with a contingent of French soldiers, all veterans of the war on the Western Front. The French however, once the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, refused to fight any longer. The French abandonment of their American allies left the doughboys confused. They, like Pvt. Safer, also wanted to quit fighting. Sam Safer recalled, “One night shortly after we learned the war had ended we asked a [Royal Scots] sergeant major why we were in Russia … He said, ‘I wish I could tell you but I really don’t know’.”[3] Safer soon learned the Americans had no way to get home, thus they had to fight for survival.

Sam Safer, having come from a Russian heritage, discovered he got along well with the peasants. Often, he and his fellow riflemen would spend nights sleeping on the floors in the locals’ homes. There, they would share their rations with the families and then bed down near their host’s warm fireplace-stove, safe from the wintery cold. Safer savored these relationships, but remarked, “Their houses were not the cleanest places on earth … They were infested with cockroaches and the peasant women were always picking lice out of their hair.”[4] Private Safer survived his time in Russia, boarded the transport ship, the U.S.S. Von Steuben for shipment back to the United States, and was discharged in July 1919.

Sam returned to his parents’ home and got a job as a clerk for his father who ran a clothing store called Safer’s Outfitters.[5] A few years later Sam left his father’s business and went to work for the Atlas Clothes Shop, as one of their managers. He got his own residence on West Taylor Street, and in 1927, married a woman named Mary. The couple had four children, Elaine, Gloria, Sheldon, and Bethany. Both Sam and Mary worked for the Atlas Clothes Shop for years. Sam retired from the business during World War II, while Mary, who was seven years younger, continued at the shop into the late 1950’s.[6] Samuel Safter passed away October 8, 1969 and was buried in Flint’s cemetery, his grave stone etched in English and Hebrew. Mary lived until 1994, and is buried besides Sam.


[1] U.S. Census, 1940. [2] Batz, Robert A. “Flint Man Fought Bolsheviks,” The Flint Journal, 11 Dec 1966. [3] Safer, Sam, in Batz, Robert A., “Flint Man Fought Bolsheviks,” The Flint Journal, 11 Dec 1966. [4] Batz, Robert A. “Flint Man Fought Bolsheviks,” The Flint Journal, 11 Dec 1966. [5] Flint, MI City Directory, 1921. [6] Flint, MI.,City Directory, 1954.

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