Like so many who fought for America during World War II, Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds didn't readily tell of the things he experienced during the war. In fact, it wasn't until Sgt. Edmonds passed away that his son learned of his father's heroic actions that saved nearly 200 Jewish-American POWs from death at the hands of the Nazis. JNS' Jeffrey Barken tells how an American Baptist pastor learned of his father's bravery:
Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds never spoke about his experiences as a prisoner of war during World War II. Captured during the Battle of the Bulge, Roddie survived an arduous march through frozen terrain and was interned for nearly 100 days at Stalag IXA, a POW camp near Ziegenhain, Germany.
“Son, there are some things I’d rather not talk about,” Roddie would tell his boys, Kim and Chris Edmonds, when they were young. “We were humiliated.”
When Roddie died in 1985, Chris, now a Baptist pastor, inherited his father’s war diaries...
Answers to Chris’s questions about his father’s war record finally began trickling in when he discovered a New York Times article published in late 2008, in which Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds is mentioned. The article rehashed the difficulty that disgraced former President Richard Nixon experienced in the 1970s, when he sought a place to live in New York and found that most prospective neighbors despised him. Oddly enough, a lifelong Democrat named Lester Tanner, although fundamentally opposed to the former Republican president’s policies, found space in his heart to forgive Nixon and offered to sell him his house. In the 2008 article, Tanner reflects on how his experiences as a Jewish prisoner of war during World War II, and specifically the bravery of Roddie Edmonds, saved his life and inspired his worldview.
Several years passed before Chris Edmonds managed to track down Tanner.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t thank Roddie,” Tanner told Chris during their 2013 meeting. The portrait of Roddie that has emerged from their subsequent conversations, as well as meetings with other associated veterans, has unlocked the stories behind the mysterious notes in the margins of Roddie’s diary. “Before the Commander,” it turns out, refers to a display of extraordinary bravery that saved the lives of nearly 200 American-Jewish POWs.
In January 1945, Tanner explained to Chris, “all the Jewish POWs in Stalag IXA were ordered to report to the parade ground.” Since Roddie was the highest-ranking non-commissioned officer at the camp, he had assumed command of the prisoners. Unwilling to sell out his fellow soldiers, Roddie ordered his men, both Jews and non-Jews, to report in solidarity. The American POWs dutifully followed his order.
The sight of all the camp’s inmates standing at attention in front of the barracks stunned and infuriated the German officer, Maj. Siegmann, who had issued the sordid order. “They cannot all be Jews!” he barked.
“We are all Jews,” Roddie replied.
Blinded by rage, Siegmann pointed his pistol at Roddie’s head.
“Your father didn’t waiver,” Tanner recalled when speaking to Chris. Roddie told the German commander, “[Per] the Geneva Convention, we only have to give our name, rank and serial number. If you shoot me, you’ll have to shoot us all and when we win the war you will be tried for war crimes.” At this point, Tanner remembered that the German commander “turned white as a ghost. Then he began to tremble.” Eventually, Siegmann lowered his weapon and retreated from the scene. In the final days of the war, the POWs ultimately self-liberated the camp and rejoined the approaching American army...