This month, Israel will honor Roddie Edmonds, the first U.S. soldier to be recognized among those called Righteous Among The Nations. The recognition is for an extraordinary act of courage in January 1945 in a German POW camp, an act where Edmonds stood face to face with pure evil and refused to yield.
Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds of Knoxville, Tenn., was a noncommissioned officer who participated in the landing of U.S. forces in Europe and was later captured in the Battle of the Bulge. That alone is an extraordinary accomplishment as a combat record. He became the highest ranking American soldier at a German POW camp near Ziegenhain.
Some seventy years ago, the Germans demanded that Jewish GIs step forward. It was clear what they intended to do with them. Edmonds ordered all of the U.S. soldiers to step forward and hundreds did. Edmonds said “We are all Jews.”
The commander was irate and said that they could not all be Jews and put a gun to Edmonds’ head and said “I’ll give you one more chance. Have the Jewish men step forward or I will shoot you on the spot.” Edmonds refused and responded “If you shoot, you’ll have to shoot us all.”
The Germans backed down and the Jewish GIs were saved.
Seventy years later, Edmonds is now one of only five Americans to have received this honor. It is well deserved. It is a shame that not everyone one of those American POWs cannot be similarly named and honored. Every man followed Edmonds in an act of defiance that defines not just who the Germans were but who we were. As we struggle in the face of terrorist attacks at home and abroad, it is a scene that should give all Americans strength that we have previously faced evil and prevail — not simply by strength of arms but by the strength of our national character and values.