Late World War II hero could get Congressional gold medal

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- They say we should count our blessings, take stock of what we have.

So Pastor Chris Edmonds points to his father, a man the whole world can be proud of.

From the pulpit at Piney Grove Baptist Church in Maryville, Tennessee, Pastor Chris Edmonds reads a passage from the Bible and tells his congregation, "You are his masterpiece."

Perhaps in a way, he's also speaking about his father. Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds certainly was a masterpiece. During World War II, Nazis captured his men and sent them on a 40-day death march to a prisoner of war camp where several thousand soldiers were imprisoned.

His diary read, "We were marched 31 miles without food and water and as I said before, we were herded into a lot and lay in the mud until morning."

When Nazis held Edmonds at gunpoint and demanded that he give up the Jewish soldiers, he refused. Edmonds and 1,275 soldiers, 200 of them Jewish-American soldiers, stood together.

His son recalled, "My dad paused for a second and then he quietly said, 'Major, you can shoot me, but then you'll have to kill us all.' Roddie could no more give up his men than stop breathing; it was part of his fabric."

Upon seeing the soldiers united as one, a German officer angrily shouted, “They cannot all be Jews!” to which Edmonds replied, “We are all Jews here.” The German officer eventually left. The actions taken by Edmonds saved the lives of approximately 200 Jewish-American members that day.

Although he passed away in 1985, his story never died. Now, it could earn him the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the nation's highest honors.

U.S. Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Master Sgt. Rodrick “Roddie” Edmonds.

Chris Edmonds said Sen. Corker called him last week to tell him about the medal.

Senator Alexander said: “Master Sgt. Edmonds’ bold statement, ‘We are all Jews here,’ saved hundreds of Jewish-American soldiers who were captured after the Battle of the Bulge. It is one of the most inspiring stories I know. The heroism of this 20-year-old East Tennessee soldier is an example for every one of us.”

Senator Corker said: “The courage and foresight Master Sergeant Edmonds showed that day to save the lives of approximately 200 Jewish-American soldiers is truly remarkable. Even when faced with death himself, Master Sergeant Edmonds and the men under his command stood united to protect their fellow soldiers. His moral fortitude and humility serve as an example for us all, and I am pleased to join my colleagues to honor his life in this way.”

"He would think it's too much," son Chris Edmonds said.

But for many, it will never be enough.

If Congress votes to honor Master Sgt. Edmonds, the award will be one of a kind, designed and made just for him.

He's already been awarded the Righteous Among the Nations award among others. Master Sgt. Edmonds served in World War II and the Korean War.

The full text of the legislation is as follows:
To award a Congressional Gold Medal to Master Sergeant Rodrick “Roddie” Edmonds in recognition of his heroic actions during World War II.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
This Act may be cited as the “Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds Congressional Gold Medal Act”.
Congress finds the following:
(1) Rodrick W. Edmonds (in this Act referred to as “Roddie Edmonds” or “Edmonds”) was born in 1919 in South Knoxville, Tennessee, and graduated from Knoxville High School in 1938.
(2) Roddie Edmonds was a Master Sergeant in the United States Army and a member of the 422nd Infantry Regiment while serving during World War II.
(3) Roddie Edmonds landed in Europe in 1944 and fought to the border between Belgium and Germany. In December of 1944, while fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, Edmonds was captured by Nazi forces and detained in Stalag IX–A, a prisoner of war camp in Ziegenhain, Germany.
(4) Stalag IX–A was a site used to identify, segregate, and remove Jewish soldiers from the general population of prisoners of war and many of the Jewish soldiers who were so removed were sent to labor camps or murdered. Members of the Armed Forces were warned of this policy and aware that their fellow servicemen could be at risk.
(5) As the senior noncommissioned officer in Stalag IX–A, Master Sergeant Edmonds was responsible for 1,275 members of the Armed Forces at the camp. Approximately 1 month after the date on which Edmonds was detained, Edmonds was directed to order the Jewish-American soldiers under his command to fall out in order to separate the Jewish-American soldiers from their fellow prisoners.
(6) Disregarding the orders of the Nazis, Roddie Edmonds commanded all of his men to fall out and, the following morning, all of the 1,275 members of the Armed Forces under the command of Edmonds stood outside of their prison barracks.
(7) Upon seeing the soldiers, a German officer angrily shouted, “They cannot all be Jews!”, to which Edmonds replied, “We are all Jews here”.
(8) The German officer took out his pistol and pointed the gun at the head of Edmonds, but Edmonds refused to identify the Jewish soldiers. Instead, Edmonds responded, “According to the Geneva Convention, we only have to give our name, rank, and serial number. If you shoot me, you will have to shoot all of us and, after the war, you will be tried for war crimes”.
(9) The German officer turned away from Edmonds and the other soldiers and left the scene. The actions taken by Edmonds saved the lives of approximately 200 Jewish-American members of the Armed Forces.
(10) Lester Tanner, a Jewish-American member of the Armed Forces also captured during the Battle of the Bulge, witnessed the incident and stated that, “There was no question in my mind, or that of Master Sergeant Edmonds, that the Germans were removing the Jewish prisoners from the general population at great risk to their survival. The U.S. Army’s standing command to its ranking officers in POW camps is that you resist the enemy and care for the safety of your men to the greatest extent possible. Master Sergeant Edmonds, at the risk of his immediate death, defied the Germans with the unexpected consequences that the Jewish prisoners were saved”.
(11) Edmonds survived 100 days in captivity and returned home after the war. Later, Edmonds served the United States in Korea as a member of the National Guard. Edmonds died in 1985, but never told his family or anyone else of his brave actions outside the barracks of Stalig IX–A during World War II.
(12) Edmonds was posthumously recognized by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, as “Righteous Among the Nations”, the first member of the Armed Forces and 1 of only 5 people of the United States to be so recognized. Avner Shalev, Chairman of Yad Vashem, announced the selection of Edmonds by saying, “Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds seemed like an ordinary American soldier, but he had an extraordinary sense of responsibility and dedication to his fellow human beings ... The choices and actions of Master Sergeant Edmonds set an example for his fellow American soldiers as they stood united against the barbaric evil of the Nazis”.
(a) Award Authorized.—The Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate shall make appropriate arrangements for the posthumous award, on behalf of Congress, of a gold medal of appropriate design to Roddie Edmonds in recognition of his achievements and heroic actions during World War II.
(b) Design and Striking.—For the purpose of the award referred to in subsection (a), the Secretary of the Treasury (referred to in this Act as the “Secretary”) shall strike a gold medal with suitable emblems, devices, and inscriptions to be determined by the Secretary.
(c) Presentation and Award of Medal.—The gold medal referred to in subsection (a) shall be presented, and following the presentation awarded, to the next of kin of Roddie Edmonds.
The Secretary may strike and sell duplicates in bronze of the gold medal struck under section 3 under such regulations as the Secretary may prescribe, at a price sufficient to cover the cost thereof, including labor, materials, dies, use of machinery, and overhead expenses, and the cost of the gold medal.
(a) National Medals.—The medals struck under this Act are national medals for purposes of chapter 51 of title 31, United States Code.
(b) Numismatic Items.—For purposes of sections 5134 and 5136 of title 31, United States Code, all medals struck under this Act shall be considered to be numismatic items.

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