Army Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds was honored last week by Israel for an act of bravery that saved as many as 200 Jewish Americans during World War II and members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation think it’s time for his own government to do the same, reports Michael Collins.
U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville, and the state’s two U.S. senators — Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker — have begun looking for ways the U.S. government might be able to formally honor the Knoxville soldier, who died in 1985.
Duncan’s office has been working for two years to round up the supporting documentation needed to nominate Edmonds for the Medal of Honor.
It’s a huge undertaking. The medal has been awarded to just 3,496 recipients since it was first presented in 1863. Complicating matters further are the eligibility requirements, which state that the medal is to be awarded for personal bravery or self-sacrifice above and beyond the call of duty during actual combat with an enemy of the United States.
Edmonds’ defiance against the Germans certainly was an act of personal bravery that went above the call of duty. President Barack Obama said so last Wednesday during an emotional ceremony at the Embassy of Israel, where Edmonds posthumously became the first U.S. serviceman to receive the highest honor Israel bestows upon non-Jewish people who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Edmonds’ almost unbelievable display of courage happened in 1945, when he was a prisoner of war. One day, the Germans ordered all Jewish POWs in his camp to report the next morning in front of their barracks. Edmonds, the highest-ranking officer in the camp, ordered all of the camp’s POWs — Jews and non-Jews alike — to stand together.
An estimated 1,000 serviceman assembled in front of their barracks the next morning, Jan. 27, 1945. Upon seeing the mass of prisoners, the German officer in charge said, “They cannot all be Jews.”
“We are all Jews,” Edmonds replied.
Some of the men standing beside Edmonds that day remember him standing his ground, even when the German officer pulled out his pistol and threatened to shoot him. “If you shoot me,” Edmonds said, “you will have to shoot all of us, and after the war, you will be tried for war crimes.”
The German officer gave up and left.
Edmonds’ actions are credited with saving the lives of 200 Jewish American POWs. But Edmonds’ act of bravery took place while he was a prisoner of war, not in actual combat. That raises questions about whether he’s eligible for the Medal of Honor.