By BB Portnoy
“Our world is hungry for heroes, people who do the right thing for the right reasons in the right way, regardless of the risks or consequences,” the son of late World War II veteran Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds told The Algemeiner this week. “And that was my dad.”
Chris Edmonds, a Baptist pastor from Tennessee, is a man on a mission — to get his father, who passed away three decades ago, posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor, America’s highest military recognition, for the valor he displayed while protecting Jewish POWs following his capture by the Nazis during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.
At the Stalag IXA POW camp near Ziegenhain, Germany, Roddie Edmonds — who served in the US Army’s 422nd Infantry Regiment — was the senior non-commissioned officer. One day in January 1945, all Jewish soldiers — totaling around 200 — were ordered by the Nazi camp commander to report to the parade ground. Edmonds realized the danger the Jewish soldiers faced and defiantly instructed every solider at the camp — both Jews and non-Jews — to assemble outside their barracks.
Edmonds stood his ground and the camp commander eventually backed down, with no harm coming to the Jewish POWs.
Roddie Edmonds, who was liberated in March 1945, never told the story to his son, who only learned of it in 2013, when he met Lester Tanner, one of Jewish POWs saved by his father.
After hearing of his father’s gallantry, Edmonds immediately began the Medal of Honor effort. However, despite extensive evidence — including eyewitness accounts from elderly veterans — he has gathered proving the veracity of the story, Edmonds has thus far faced only rejection from the US Army.
“I was basically told that they didn’t think dad was eligible for a Medal of Honor because he was POW and wasn’t in what they considered combat at the time,” Edmonds said. “They didn’t see him as leading a revolt or being in danger in the sense of any combat.”
“But many of the congressional representatives and senators I’ve met during this past year when I’ve spoken at different events have been supportive,” he continued. “And every general I’ve met along the way, particularly in the army, have been like, ‘What’s the problem? We should put him up for a Medal of Honor.’ So I think it’s just the army has decided in the last few years that maybe there are too many medals being given out, and it is trying to preserve the prestige of that medal. They have a really stringent requirement now that you have to be dodging bullets and landing on grenades and be in the battle.”
“But here is the irony of all this,” Edmonds noted. “The army in World War II, and to my knowledge still does this, trains its soldiers to continue to resist the enemy and be a combatant, even as a POW. And they are to willfully try to defeat the enemy as a POW and that’s what dad was doing.”
“I struggle with the fact that, as far as I know, the army has not talked to any of the eyewitnesses, but rather just made an administrative decision at the beginning of the pipeline,” he said.
But Edmonds has not given up. One avenue of pursuit, he said, is via personal contacts he has at the Pentagon — “I still have a slight hope the army will reconsider,” he stated — while the other is a bill introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman John Duncan of Tennessee last March that would authorize the president to award his father the Medal of Honor.
The bill is currently sitting with the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.
“If people want to help out, we need co-sponsors on the bill,” Edmonds said. “Right now, we have three co-sponsors and we probably need 100 or more before it will ever have the possibility of coming out of committee.”
This past January, as reported in The Algemeiner, Roddie Edmonds became the first US soldier to be honored with Yad Vashem’s “Righteous Among the Nations” award.
“Yad Vashem vetted it and did their homework, investigated it and felt confident that, first, dad did what he did and, second, he was deserving of that high Israeli honor,” Chris Edmonds said.
During the ceremony at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC at which the award was bestowed, President Barack Obama said, “Would we have the courage of Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds? Roddie looked evil in the eye and dared a Nazi to shoot and he saved some 200 Jewish-American soldiers as a consequence.”
Last week, Roddie Edmonds received the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous’ Yehi Or Award, which Chris Edmonds accepted on his father’s behalf. The JFRprovides monthly financial assistance to aging and needy “Righteous Among the Nations” honorees around the world.
“This is an incredible picture of what all of us on this planet ought to be doing, which is helping one another,” Edmonds said of the JFR’s activities. “We’re all humans and I think dad’s story is illustrative of that.”
Edmonds went on to say, “If dad was here, he’d say don’t make a big fuss about this, I just did what I was supposed to do, just doing my job. But I think he’s deserving of the Medal of Honor. Dad demonstrated bravery and courage beyond the scope of his responsibilities. He didn’t have to do what he did.”
“It’s truly a unique American story, a unique solider story and a unique army story,” Edmonds continued. “I think it would honor dad, the army and POWs for him to get this award. And I believe it would even honor future generations, because if the US military says this man deserves the Medal of Honor, then his story is going to be told for generations to come. I just want to get dad’s leadership and legacy out there for everyone to be inspired by.
(c) 2016 The Algemeiner Journal