MarketInsight | The Home of the Brave
He was born in 1919 outside Knoxville. It is doubtful that the farm boy from Tennessee ever met a Jewish person prior to enlisting in the Army as a private. He enlisted at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. in March 1941, before Pearl Harbor, before the U.S. entered World War II. He served for the entirety of the war. Along the way he rose to the rank of Master Sergeant and was in France after D-Day when his unit, part of the 106th Infantry Division, was overrun during the Battle of the Bulge. He and many of his brothers in arms were captured by the Germans.
That is how Master Sergeant Roderick “Roddie’” Edmonds found himself as the senior non-commissioned prisoner of war in Stalag IX-A. Unlike the movies, officers and enlisted personnel were normally held in separate camps by the Nazis. Stalag IX-A contained nothing but non-commissioned officers. Master Sergeant Edmonds was the ranking noncom in the camp, a camp that held 1275 American soldiers.
In January 1945, the Kommandant of the Camp, an SS officer named Major Siegmann, ordered Edmonds to have only the Jewish soldiers fall out for roll call the following morning. Edmonds realized that if he complied with the odious command, he might well be signing the death warrant for approximately 200 Jewish prisoners, all of them members of the U.S. Army. The next morning it was bitter cold. Edmonds ordered the whole camp to fall out.
Seeing all the prisoners standing in formation, Major Siegmann approached in a furor and bellowed, “They cannot all be Jews!”
Edmonds’ heroic response, “We are ALL Jews here,” still brings goosebumps.
The jack-booted Aryan was infuriated. He repeated his command for Edmonds to segregate the Jews under his command. Edmonds refused citing the Geneva Convention. The enraged Nazi then pulled his Luger pistol and placed the barrel against Edmond’s forehead and repeated his demand. At that point, Roddie Edmonds of Knoxville, Tennessee performed one of the bravest acts of man ever committed.
“You can shoot me,” he told the frothing Nazi, “but if you do, you are going to have to shoot all of us because we know who you are and you’ll be tried for war crimes when we win this war.”
Major Siegmann, an SS Officer, a man used to terrorizing the weak, holstered his weapon and stormed off with his tail between his legs. Two hundred Jewish-American G.I.s were saved from near certain death.
Edmond’s story was not told for decades. Like many of his generation, he was quiet about his experiences during the war. It was not until long after his death that he was recognized for his bravery by the State of Israel in 2015. Bills seeking to award him a Congressional Gold Medal have stalled in Congress for more than three years.
Roddie Edmonds is a poignant reminder of the fact that we are always stronger when we stand together.
Scott A. Grant is a local author, historian, columnist, and speaker. He is President of Standfast Asset Management in Ponte Vedra Beach. He welcomes your comments or questions at email@example.com.