When Sam said farewell in Vasilkov in 1912, setting off to join his brothers and seek his fortune in America, he was fourteen. Those he left behind included his parents, Morris and his family, and the three youngest siblings, Sylvia, Nate and Joe. Neither those three nor Beila ever saw Sam again. He was one of about twenty thousand Jews who served in the armed forces during World War I, and sadly, he was one of those killed in action.
A report of his death on January 29, 1919 was sent to Max's home in Gary. Sam had identified Max as his next-of-kin "emergency" contact, presumably because of Jacob's inability to speak English. In addition to the details surrounding Sam's death, the report received by the family sketched his division's movements in France and Belgium so that, with the aid of a good map, they could trace his company's movements and gain a better grasp of what had happened.
After he died, there was speculation that Sam might have lied about his age in order to enlist. But this seems unlikely, considering the fact that he joined Company Fat Camp Lewis in mid-September 1917, he was already nineteen years of age.
Sam was one of twenty-two men of the 361st infantry of the 91st Division whose deaths were recounted by Colin V. Dyment for the American Red Cross in the information sent to the family on June 6, 1919. He wrote:
"When the 91st Division went into action at daybreak on September 26, 1918, from a line about two and a half miles long between the ruined villages of Vauquois and Avocourt, in the department of Meuse, eastern France, at the southern edge of the Argonne, Company E was in the right wing of the division.
"As the great artillery preparation of the preceding night had torn up the German defensive system and paralyzed resistance to a great extent for some distance back, the division made about five miles on the first day, and Company E, which started from a line a little southwest of Avocourt, traveled through the wide Bois de Cheppy (Cheppy Woods) and across the plateau beyond, so far as the Very-Epinonville canyon, without having any men killed. It slept that night in an old German trench system across the canyon from the destroyed village of Epinonville, which is five miles north by northwest of Avocourt and twenty miles northeast of Verdun.
"On the second day, September 27, the 91st Division attacked the towns of Eclisfontaine and Epinonville. Company F was at the left of Epinonville and its sector of advance took it about half way between the two towns. It mounted the slope of the Very-Epinonville canyon in the morning of the 27th and began to advance over the plateau extending westerly from the canyon...
"Company F retired late in the afternoon of September 27 and spent the night again in the neighborhood of Very canyon. The following day it was lying in support and had no men killed. On the third night, however, it marched up through th darkness and rain, together with companies E, G and H, to relieve the third battalion, which had been badly shot up between four and five o'clock on the afternoon of the 28th. It was thus in a front line position on the morning of September 29, the day on which the great charge was ordered on Gesnes...
"After the retirement on the of the 29th from Gesnes, the whole 181st brigade, including Company F of the 361st, remained dug in for four days on the southerly slope of what is known in the 91st Division as Miller Hill or Hundred Hour Hill, and in the woods just behind. While the Germans did not approach close enough to use machine guns or rifles effectively, they constantly pounded the American position with shells, and between September 30 and October 3 Company F had three men killed or mortally injured..."
Sam was wounded in the right calf by machine gun fire on October 9, during a period in which five men from his company were killed. At the time, his injury did not appear to be life threatening.
"Company F ...was relieved on the night of October 11 and marched forty miles to the rear, to the neighborhood of Revigny, where about October 18 it entrained for Belgium... From October 20 to October 30 the 91st drilled and rested and equipped itself for the drive on Audenarde, which was to begin at 5:30 p.m. October 31. This drive continued from daybreak, October 31, to November 4, by which time the Germans had been driven from the 91st front across the Escaut River and largely out of Audenarde... Four men from Company F were killed during this operation...
"After the armistice, the division remained inn Belgium until January 1, then moved to the LeMans embarkation area, 125 miles southwest of Paris, where Company F was billeted in the town of Belleme, department of Orne. There, on January 29, Sergeant Samuel Lezak died in the 362nd field hospital at 8:00 a.m. from bronchial pneumonia, which had affected both lungs. The writer saw him fifteen minutes before death and talked with the physician in charge, but the sergeant made no intelligible statements while in the hospital, as he was delirious most of the time."
The report received by the family, written by Lt. Wallace MacKay of Company F, gave the following account of Sgt. Samuel Lezak:
"The sergeant was a splendid character, being clean and soldierly to the last degree. He went through the Gesnes charge standing up. I reproved him for it two or three times, but he persisted. In front of 255 on October 9 he was wounded by a machine gun bullet in the calf of the right leg. On this occasion, Sgt. Lezak, Corporal Mohr and a third soldier went out in front of 255 to get a wounded man in response to a request for volunteers. All three were wounded by machine gun fire and had to get back as best they could without their man. Sgt. Lezak then refused to go to the rear because he wanted to stay with the company, but Lt. MacKay told him he must go because of his wounds.
"He rejoined the company at Belleme after January 1, 1919, and was then all right except for a boil on his forehead. His leg, however, soon began to give him trouble with 'proud flesh.' Then he caught cold and [on] January 27 was sent to the field hospital.
"Both Sgt. Lezak and Corporal Mohr were recommended on the line for the Distinguished Service Cross, but the papers of recommendation were lost in transmission. He was a great student of military tactics and the way he could make his men stop around was wonderful. He attended an officers' training school at Gondrecourt just before the Argonne drive began and I suppose that his record there was nearly perfect."
Sam's body was returned to the family in the United States and he was laid to rest in Chicago. He was the only one of the eight Lezak siblings who never married.