JERUSALEM – The Nazi soldiers made their orders very clear: Jewish American prisoners of war were to be separated from their fellow brothers in arms and sent to an uncertain fate.
But Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds would have none of that. As the highest-ranking noncommissioned officer held in the German POW camp, he ordered more than 1,000 Americans captives to step forward with him and brazenly pronounced: "We are all Jews here."
He would not waver, even with a pistol to his head, and his captors eventually backed down.
Seventy years later, the Knoxville, Tennessee, native is being posthumously recognized with Israel's highest honor for non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during World War II. He's the first American serviceman to earn the honor.
"Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds seemed like an ordinary American soldier, but he had an extraordinary sense of responsibility and dedication to his fellow human beings," said Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and memorial. "The choices and actions of Master Sgt. Edmonds set an example for his fellow American soldiers as they stood united against the barbaric evil of the Nazis."
It's a story that remained untold for decades and one that his son, the Rev. Chris Edmonds, only discovered long after his father's death in 1985.