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December 2017 Hero of the Month: Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds

The Battle of the Bulge, the last large German offensive on the Western Front in World War ll, inflicted terrible losses on the US Army and resulted in thousands of American troops captured as POWs, but also produced some of the greatest examples of heroism in the entire war.

From the cooks and non-combatants who grabbed rifles and fought tanks, to the outstanding leadership of Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe of the 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne who refused a German surrender demand by responding “Nuts!”, to the Third Army’s extraordinary rescue mission when Gen. George S. Patton, Jr pivoted three armored divisions in the most brilliantly executed and fastest redeployment of the war, to the horribly cold winter conditions, it is one of the greatest examples of courage under adversity in our history. (There are literally hundreds of books memorializing their sacrifices, if you are interested, I would recommend a recently published overview, well done by gifted historian Alex Kershaw: The Longest Winter, 2004, Da Capo Press.)

My hero of the month is Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds from Knoxville, Tennessee who was a member of the 422nd Regiment, one of more than 20,000 GIs captured and interned by the Germans during that huge battle. After a forced march of 50 kilometers, in miserable cold weather, he and his men were jammed into boxcars without food or water for four days and began a journey that eventually took them to Stalag IXA in Ziegenhain Germany. It was there that Roddie Edmonds saved the lives of countless men with his intelligence and his courage.

As the senior non-commisioned officer at the camp, Edmonds knew he was responsible for the camp’s 1,292 American POWs, including 200 Jews. The Wikipedia page dedicated to Roddie Edmonds explains the heroic lengths he went to in order to protect his men:

“On their first day in Stalag IX-A, January 27, 1945 — as Germany’s defeat was clearly approaching — the camp commandant ordered Edmonds to tell only the Jewish-American soldiers to present themselves at the next morning’s assembly so they could be separated from the other prisoners.

Instead, Edmonds ordered all 1,275 POWs to assemble outside their barracks. The German commandant rushed up to Edmonds in a fury, placed his pistol against Edmonds’ head and demanded that Edmonds identify the Jewish soldiers under his command.

Instead, Edmonds responded, ‘We are all Jews here,’—and told the commandant that if he wanted to shoot the Jews he’d have to shoot all of the prisoners. Edmonds then warned the commandant that if he harmed any of Edmonds’ men, the commandant would be investigated and prosecuted for war crimes after the conflict ended—since the Geneva Conventions required prisoners to give only their name, rank, and serial number; religion was not required. The commandant backed down.

Edmonds’ actions are credited with saving up to 200 Jewish-American soldiers from possible death.

Edmonds survived 100 days of captivity, and returned home after the war, but kept the event at the POW camp to himself.”

Edmond’s son Chris, an ordained pastor, never knew the full extent of his heroism until after Roddie died. Like James Bradley (Flags of Our Fathers, 2000, BantamBooks), he decided to find out what happened by talking to the survivors who were with his father and visiting the place where his father’s heroism occurred.

Roddie, your heroism was never publicized during your life, but your buddies know and their kids know and their grandkids know and now we know and your story has now been preserved for the ages. In February 2015, Israel honored Roddie Edmonds as the first American soldier in World War ll to receive the honorific “Righteous Among the Nations” for his heroism as a gentile in saving Jews from the Holocaust. — Jim

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