While I never served in the military, my 95-year old father served in World War II in a series of fierce battles in the Hürtgen Forest, a painful experience he has only spoken of once, even after he was awarded a Bronze Star.
What follows is a story about another World War II soldier, Roddie Edmonds. The story is part of collection of stories from the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous. How Edmonds summoned the courage to stand-up to a German officer at gunpoint on behalf of his men, is a tale worth reading.
Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds Germany December 1944 – The Ardennes, The Battle of the Bulge – The 106th Infantry Division landed in France some ninety days after D-Day.
The division, which consisted of the 422nd, 423rd, and 424th Regiments, began an arduous journey by truck across France and Belgium.
The winter of 1944 was brutal – it was cold and wet. The 106th Division reached the Schnee Eifel area in eastern Belgium near the German border by December 10, 1944, and took up their positions, with the 422nd Regiment taking up a forward position.
On December 16, 1944, the 422nd was attacked by the Germans as part of their counter offensive, which became known as the Battle of the Bulge. The Regiment was quickly cut off and surrounded. In the afternoon of December 19, 1944, Colonel Deacheneaux, Commander of the 422nd Regiment, decided to surrender. Parts of the Regiment, including Headquarters Company, in which Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds served, held out until December 21, 1944, when they surrendered to the Germans.
The Germans captured more than 20,000 GIs during the Battle of the Bulge. The men of the 422nd Regiment were marched some fifty kilometers (31 miles) to Gerolstein, Germany where they were loaded into box cars, 60 to 70 men per car, with virtually no food or water.
They spent seven days and nights traveling to Stalag IXB in Bad Orb, Germany. After several weeks in Bad Orb, the American POWs were divided into three groups – officers, non-commissioned officers (NCOs), and enlisted men. The NCOs were taken to Stalag IXA in Ziegenhain. There were 1,000 men in this group. The highest-ranking NCO was Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds from Knoxville, Tennessee.
Upon their arrival in Ziegenhain, the commandant of Stalag IXA, Major Siegmann, ordered all Jewish POWs to present themselves the next morning. Master Sgt. Edmonds ordered all 1,000 American POWs to stand in formation outside of their barracks.
“All of us are falling out,” Edmonds told his men.
The next day, when Major Siegmann saw that all 1,000 GIs were standing in front of their barracks, he turned to Edmonds and demanded, “They cannot all be Jews!”
“We are all Jews,” Edmonds replied.
“The commander pulled out his gun and pressed it into Edmonds’ forehead, a fellow soldier recalls: “You will have your Jewish men step forward or I will shoot you on the spot,’ ” CNN wrote (December 21, 2015)
“According to the Geneva Convention,” Edmonds told Siegmann, “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.”
Siegmann turned around and left. There were 200 Jewish GIs among the 1,000 American POWs. This act by Master Sgt. Edmonds saved the lives of 200 Jewish GIs.
“Edmonds survived 100 days of captivity,” CNN reported, “and returned home after the war, but kept the event at the POW camp to himself.
While Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds died in 1985, his selfless act of courage, compassion, and duty is an example where one individual made a big difference to a thousand men.
The documentary contains interviews with some of Edmonds’ men who witnessed the event.
Copyright © Jewish Foundation for the Righteous