Valor Friday

| June 4, 2021

M/Sgt Roddie Williams

Poe sent me in the tip on Master Sergeant Rodrick “Roddie” Edmonds of the US Army. He’d come across the man’s incredible story and thought you all would appreciate it. I certainly did.

Born, raised, lived, died, and buried in Knoxville, Tennessee, Edmonds was 21 years old when he enlisted into the Army in 1941 just before the US entry to the war. He was rapidly promoted and is said to have been the Army’s youngest master sergeant (the top non-commissioned officer rank in the Army at the time) by 1943.

Stateside unit photo – M/Sgt Williams front row, 2nd from left

When the 106th Infantry Division’s 422nd Infantry Regiment was being organized in 1943, Roddie was the senior NCO in charge of the regiment’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC).

Edmonds was remembered by Staff Sergeant Lester Tanner, one of Edmonds’ soldiers, that despite being only 23, Edmonds was “all Army.” He seemed to have all the answers and came across like a much older man. Such was life for soldiers in World War II. They were forced to take on a role that just a few years before and a few years later would be done by someone with orders of magnitude more time in service.

As cadre for the newly forming 422nd Infantry, Edmonds was said to have been a real soldier’s soldier. He was a solid leader that didn’t ask more from his men than he himself would give, something that became abundantly clear later in the war.

Tanner, who had become one of Edmonds’ friends said, “He did not throw his rank around. You knew he knew his stuff, and he got across to you without being arrogant or inconsiderate. I admired him for his command. . . . We were in combat on the front lines for only a short period, but it was clear that Roddie Edmonds was a man of great courage who led his men with the same capacity we had come to know him in the States.”

The 106th ID was shipped out from New York in October, 1944. They arrived the following month in London, trained for a few weeks, and then went to France. The 106th ID was sent to Belgium and was to participate in the crossing of the Rhineland.

Arriving on December 10, the 422nd Infantry was on the German border in eastern Belgium. Up until now, the Allies had been making excellent time. Remember it has only been six months since the Invasion of Normandy which started on June 6. The Allies were now within spitting distance of crossing the Rhine and after that Berlin.

The Germans of course had different plans. Within a week they pushed a massive counter offensive in one last valiant stand to push the Allies back from Germany in a hope they could sue for peace.

The winter of 1944 into 1945 was brutally cold. Weather had been terrible, preventing accurate aerial surveillance of enemy positions. The Nazi German counteroffensive launched on December 16 saw them hurl all of their remaining Western Front resources at the Allied line. It would become known as the Battle of the Bulge for the “bulge” the attack caused in the otherwise straight line cut across the map of Europe. Overconfidence on behalf of the Allies combined with the lack of intelligence provided by aerial observations led to the German attack to be a complete surprise.

Edmonds’ 422nd Infantry Regiment was pressed into battle. Assigned to the regiment’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC), the 422nd was quickly cut off and surrounded by the enemy. After three days of fighting, the regiment’s commander, 36-year-old West Point graduate Colonel George Descheneaux, ordered the surrender of his men.

The HHC, in which Edmonds’ served, held out a little longer, surrendering on December 21. Edmonds would be one of more than 20,000 GIs captured during the Battle of the Bulge. They were marched 50 kilometers over the course of four days in the bitter cold. Men died along the way and were left behind. At the end of their march, they were loaded into railroad boxcars, 60 to 70 men per car. The only thing they had to eat and drink during this voyage was snow.

After several days of this horrendous rail travel, the prisoners arrived in Bad Orb, Germany at POW camp Stalag IX-B. This was one of the worst, if not the worst, of the prison camps that British and American servicemen were held in. By January 1945, as the Third Reich was losing on both fronts in the war and the large-scale bombings of the German homeland were in full swing, the conditions worsened.

The camp had previously housed Soviet prisoners of war. With the German victories in the Battle of the Bulge, the Western Front Allied prisoners were sent to the camp with little to no warning. The POWs were shoehorned into an already overcrowded camp. The camp would be grossly over capacity with the surge of new prisoners.

More than 4,000 men were held in just 16 barracks, three of these didn’t have any beds at all. In the buildings with beds, most had barely half the requisite number. Men slept on the floor, with no blankets. If the building was heated, which most weren’t, it was by a small camp stove. Wood was scarce enough they could only run the heaters for a few hours at a time.

The crush of men and lack of consistent heat led the buildings to be damp to the point the walls and roofs would cave in. The Germans provided little more than cardboard for repairs.

Prisoners had no cleaning supplies, rudimentary toilet facilities, and food rations were minimal. With these worsening conditions, it’s no surprise that vermin and pestilences ran through the poor souls held there.

As if it couldn’t be any worse, Jewish prisoners had been segregated and had their already meager rations reduced to starvation levels. Food for the Jewish soldiers was a slice of bread and a small bowl of soup to be shared among six men. Soup made of rotting potatoes and whatever else the Germans could come up with. Despite it being verging on inedible, the prisoners eagerly ate it because they were constantly hungry.

Stalag IX-A in 1942

Some weeks later the Germans started separating the men by rank. Officers, NCOs, and enlisted men were sent to different camps. Edmonds, an NCO, was sent with more than 1,000 other American NCOs to Stalag IX-A.

As a master sergeant, Edmonds was the highest ranking NCO and so was placed in charge of the American POWs. On the day of arrival, the German camp commander ordered Edmonds to separate out the Jewish prisoners and to have only the Jews muster in formation the following morning.

Obviously, the Nazi regime was not a fan of Jewish people. On the Eastern Front, where there was significantly more animosity between belligerent forces, it was routine for the Germans to take out the Jewish prisoners of war. They would be sent to the extermination camps or just summarily executed. This was far less common, but not unheard of, on the Western Front. On the Western Front, the Jewish POWs would often be sent to forced labor camps instead of POW camps.

By late 1944, the Allies had ostensibly known all about the Nazi’s extermination program for Jews and other “undesirables.” Reports had come in from as early as 1941, and the Witold Report (and here) and the Polish Major’s Report had been given to the Allies through the Polish government-in-exile earlier that year.

Staff Sergeant Lester Tanner, a Jew, said he and fellow prisoners knew that the Germans were exterminating Jews. The common Western Front Allied foot soldier certainly didn’t know the extent of the horrors that awaited Jews taken by the Nazis. When the concentration camps were first liberated in early-1945 the Allied soldiers and commanding officers were shocked. If intelligence was being disseminated on the Holocaust, the scale and savagery was decidedly not. What soldiers like Edmonds knew was that nothing good was going to happen to anyone singled out by the Nazis.

That night, after receiving the order to present his Jewish soldiers, Edmonds told his men that they weren’t going to hand some 200-300 American men to the enemy. He said to them, “We are not going to do that.” This despite the warning from the Germans that any Jews who failed to appear would be shot.

The next morning Edmonds instead had all 1,275 American GIs mustered. The German commandant was confused. Standing before Edmonds he said, “They cannot all be Jews.” Edmonds coolly replied, “We are all Jews.”

The camp commandant, Major Siegmann, drew his Luger sidearm, put the pistol against the master sergeant’s forehead, right between the eyes, and said “you will order the Jews to step out or I will shoot you right now.”

Roddie Edmonds was unfazed. Taking a few seconds that seemed to the assembled men to be an eternity, he told the Nazi officer, “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, because we all know who you are, and after the war you will be tried for war crimes.” Religious affiliation or ethnicity were not required then or now under Geneva.

The German major reddened in anger, but lowered his pistol. He stormed off to his office. After the tense standoff, Edmonds dismissed the company. The POWs returned to their barracks and weren’t messed with again by the Nazis.

One of the Jewish GIs in line near Edmonds that day was Paul Stern. Seventy years after Master Sergeant Edmonds’ valorous stand in the face of evil, Stern remembers the exchange vividly.

Stern told Yad Vashem, Israel’s official state-sponsored Holocaust memorial and historical center, “Although seventy years have passed, I can still hear the words he said to the German camp commander.” Edmonds’ act that day saved Stern and the other Jewish prisoners from a possible death sentence at the hands of the Nazis.

Stern also said, “That critical confrontation occurred in a few short moments, yet it remained vivid in my mind these many years, and I blessed Sergeant Edmonds for his heroic act of courage. Over these many years, that event went through my mind hundreds of times, highlighting Sergeant Edmonds bravery, and his sense of duty, and his extraordinary courage under fire, outweighing any fear he might have had.”

Restaurant Dreams from the POW camp

Restaurant Dreams from the POW camp

During their captivity, as the men were subjected to starvation rations, they fantasized about one day opening a restaurant. Edmonds, with a talent for cartoon drawing, made up several advertisements and menus to occupy their minds.

A few months later, as General Patton’s Third Army were nearing the camp, the commandant ordered all the prisoners to evacuate by foot or by trucks the Nazis had waiting. In another audacious move of leadership and courage, Edmonds ordered all the American men “to play sick, feign illness, eat dirt, and stay in the barracks, anything to prevent evacuation before the liberating forces arrived.”

The Americans watched as the British, French, and other Allied servicemen were moved from the camp, but they remained behind. Ultimately only the American prisoners under Edmonds’ command remained to be liberated. With how the Germans’ forced marches had gone for the men earlier in their captivity, he likely saved many GI’s lives.

Stern called Edmonds’ plan a “brilliant and courageous move on his part.” If it were to be discovered that Edmonds had ordered such, the Germans certainly would have singled him out for torturous punishment or summary execution.

Stern looks back, decades later, on the incident and says, “Sergeant Edmonds’ shining example is something for all of us to remember, and try to emulate in our own lives….”

Lester Tanner similarly recalls, “The lesson of that day has shaped my life for there have been times when you must take a calculated risk, however perilous, to stand up for the right thing for yourself and those for whom you have responsibility. It influenced me to attend Law School with the help of the GI bill and my wife’s job as secretary to one of the Professors at the school. An international law and a man’s courage had saved many lives, mine among them. When I look back at all the years since that fateful day, I find many occasions in my personal, family, business and professional life when I can link my decisions and action to my service in the war and that experience in particular. I am still doing that at age 89…”

Also among those saved by Edmonds was a familiar face. Longtime television game show host Sonny Fox was among the Jewish GIs captured during the Battle of the Bulge and at Stalag IX-A on that fateful morning.

At the time of their freedom, Edmonds had spent 100 days in Nazi confinement. After their liberation, the war soon ended. Edmonds returned to civilian life, but was called to active duty again for the Korean War.

Returning to civilian life for good after his second war, Edmonds never spoke of the events inside that prison camp. His family didn’t find out until after he’d died in 1985. On the occasion of his passing, his widow gave their son, Baptist minister Reverend Chris Edmonds, some of his father’s diaries.

It was in these diaries that some of the wartime heroics of the mobile home and cable television salesman were first given light. During his life, Edmonds had never gotten any official recognition for his deeds. As his son researched and confirmed the incredible stories, he took up the charge to correct that oversight.

In 2015, Yad Vashem bestowed on Roddie Edmonds the title of “Righteous Among the Nations.” This is the highest honor given by Israel to Gentiles (non-Jews) who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis for altruistic reasons.

Only 27,712 people have received the title, most awarded to people in German-occupied Europe. Edmonds is one of only five Americans (and the final thus far) to have received the honorific. Of the five Americans, only Edmonds was an active duty serviceman.

Chris Edmonds has tried, thus far unsuccessfully, to have his father’s valor recognized with a military medal. He has pressed, rightfully in my mind, for the Medal of Honor. The Army’s official position is that valor while a prisoner of war is “non-combat” and thus does not qualify for a combat bravery decoration like the Medal of Honor.

There is certainly precedent for award of combat medals to those taken prisoner. It has happened at least five times that I know of, once contemporaneously with Edmonds during World War II. Admittedly, the Navy and Army utilize different award processes, even when the medal or award itself is the same.

  • Rear Admiral Richard Antrim – As a Lieutenant in the US Navy, he received the Medal of Honor for actions as a Prisoner of War during WWII. In April, 1942, as a prisoner of the Imperial Japanese forces, he saw a fellow POW and naval officer being viciously beaten by the Japanese guards. In front of the full assemblage of both the Allied POWs and the full complement of guards, Antrim stepped in. According to his award citation, “When the other [officer] had been beaten unconscious by 15 blows of a hawser and was repeatedly kicked by 3 soldiers to a point beyond which he could not survive, Comdr. Antrim gallantly stepped forward and indicated to the perplexed guards that he would take the remainder of the punishment, throwing the Japanese completely off balance in their amazement and eliciting a roar of acclaim from the suddenly inspired Allied prisoners.” Antrim had earned the Navy Cross days earlier for coordinating the rescue of more than 150 sailors after the sinking of his ship, ensuring their survival for three days before they were captured. He also received a Bronze Star Medal w/ “V” for leading a forced labor party digging slit trenches for the Japanese while a POW. Somehow he convinced the Japanese to approve a change in the layout of the trenches to spell out “US” from the air. They agreed, thus allowing Allied reconnaissance aircraft to see the sign and know American prisoners were in the trenches. If he’d been discovered, he’d have immediately been executed.
  • Captain (Chaplain) Emil Kapaun – Earned a posthumous Medal of Honor in 2013 in part for his actions after being taken capture by Chinese forces during the Korean War.
  • Captain (posthumous Colonel) Donald Cook – A Marine Corps officer taken prisoner by the Vietcong in 1964. He took command of his fellow prisoners despite not being the ranking officer. Rigidly holding to the Code of Conduct, he was an inspirational figure to the other prisoners and a thorn in the side of their captors. He died while imprisoned and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
  • Vice Admiral James Stockdale – Also a prisoner during the Vietnam War, he was held for more than seven years, during which time he was the senior US Navy officer in captivity. He was a member and one of the leaders of the “Alcatraz Gang” that were notoriously troublesome for their enemy captors. He received the Medal of Honor for his time as a POW after he was released.
  • 1st Lieutenant (posthumous Captain) Lance Sijan – A US Air Force fighter pilot, shot down over North Vietnam. Despite crippling wounds in the ejection, he evaded capture by literally crawling through the jungle, for 46 days. He was then captured, but soon enough attacked a guard and escaped. Recaptured, he was brutally beaten and died in captivity without giving the enemy any more information that required by the Geneva Conventions. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
  • Lastly, Colonel Bud Day – Another US Air Force officer of the Vietnam War taken prisoner. After being shot down he was injured prior to being captured, tortured, and then, despite his weakened state escaping the enemy. He made his way to the demilitarized zone, surviving on foraged food, then wandered delirious for several days, before he was recaptured. He was severely sick and critically wounded, but still put up maximum resistance to the enemy. For this he received the Medal of Honor. Colonel Day also received the Air Force Cross (the only person thus far honored with both awards) for his continued resistance nearly two years later, while still a POW, he was subjected to the worst torture. The Vietnamese wanted detailed plans from officers such as Day in regards to escape plans, methods, and how they communicated. He gave them nothing. After more than five and a half years in captivity he was finally freed.

In 2016 and 2017, bi-partisan legislation was introduced to both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate to award Edmonds a Congressional Gold Medal. This is the highest civilian honor of the US Government (equal to and alongside the Presidential Medal of Freedom). It was referred to subcommittees, but did not make it to a wider vote. It has been reintroduced, most recently in 2021, but gone no further than subcommittee. Having researched the man and his actions, I feel that even a Congressional Gold Medal seems too little.

To be awarded the Medal of Honor, a US military member must “distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, while engaged in action against an enemy of the United States or while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force.”

Standing at the barrel of a Nazi’s pistol while refusing to surrender hundreds of your men certainly fits the Medal of Honor criteria of “involving conflict” if you ask me.

Category: Army, Historical, POW, Valor, We Remember

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“…a Soldier’s Soldier…”

Yep, I’d say that this Hero was deserving of the MoH.

Battery Gun Salute…PREPARE…FIRE!!!!

Great stories, Thanks Mason, Poetrooper.

Green Thumb



Hand Salute. Ready, Two!
Thanks again, Mason.


Great account of a brave and honorable man. He does deserve more than he received.


I fully agree!

The Stranger

Soon after I was commissioned, I was assigned to teach a class regarding the Code of Conduct and I used CPT Versace and 1st Lt. Sijan as examples in my presentation. I remember reading an article about Lance Sijan in Reader’s Digest when I was growing up and it was one of those formative moments in my life.


Hooah! Medal for this man, please!