On April 28, 1894, Benjamin Hoffman was born in Hartford, Connecticut, to Joseph Hofmann and Catherine “Katie” Powell. Both parents were born in Germany.1 He had a brother and a sister. They moved to Chicago. His father died some time before the 1910 census as the family was now living with his mother’s brother and she was listed as a widow.2 He registered for the draft in June 1917, at which time he was unemployed.3 He entered into the Army in July 1917.4 Benjamin was a private first class in Co. E., 131st Infantry, 33rd Division during World War I.5 The 33rd Division was the only division to be composed only of men from Illinois. It was put together from different National Guard units throughout Illinois. Most of the 33rd Division was sent to Camp Logan in Texas for training. Most were sent to France in May of 1918. By June 1918, the men were sent to the British trenches near Amiens, France.6
Benjamin received a Purple Heart for an injury.7 The Purple Heart is given to military personnel who have been wounded or killed by enemy action while serving. The Purple Heart is the oldest military award that is still given to service members, being first created in 1780. This award is also one of the first military medals that was given to all ranks, including the lower ranking enlisted soldiers. Typically in the 1700s, most awards were only given out to officers after winning a battle.8
World War I started in 1914 after the Archduke Franz Ferdindand of Austria and his wife Sophia were assassinated. A Serbian terrorist group called The Black Hand was behind the assassination. Another factor that led to World War I was differences in foreign policy among major world powers. The war started in 1914, but the United States did not join until 1917.
In 1915, Germans sank a British passenger ship called the Lusitania, during which 128 Americans lost their lives and 1,195 lives in total. American citizens urged the U.S. government to join the war. Woodrow Wilson said that he wanted a peaceful ending to the war. However, when Germany stated that they would sink any ship that approached Great Britain in 1917, Woodrow Wilson decided that America would join the war. By 1918, the British troops had blocked the ports to Germany. This resulted in German citizens starving and their economy collapsing. German citizens started to protest the war. Finally, the leaders on each side of the war met in Compiegne, France, to sign the peace armistice on November 11. By the end of the war the Russian, Ottoman, German, and the Austro-Hungarian empires had all collapsed due to the war. Eight million soldiers had died during the war and twenty one million were wounded.9
On January 6 1919, Benjamin was discharged from the Army. In 1940 he was a painter and lodger.10 He registered for the WWII draft in 1942. He was self-employed at that time.11 In 1950, he was a pipefitter in the construction field. He died in 1960. No obituary could be found.
8 DeSimone, Danielle. “8 Things You Need to Know About the Purple Heart Medal.” August 6, 2021.