Following the Footsteps of My Father
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, were captured by the Germans later that day.
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 to Gerolstein, Germany where they were loaded into box cars, 60 to 70 men per car, with virtually no food or water. They spent four days and nights traveling to Stalag IXB in Bad Orb, Germany, arriving on Christmas Day. 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 1,292 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 1,292 American POWs to stand in formation outside of their barracks.
The next day, when Major Siegmann saw that all 1,292 GIs were standing in front of their barracks, enraged he turned to Edmonds and demanded: “They cannot all be Jews!” To this, Master Sgt. Edmonds said, “We are all Jews here.” Siegmann immediately drew his pistol and pressed it into Edmonds’s forehead. Roddie Edmonds did not back down and replied: “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 when we win this war you will be tried for war crimes.” Siegmann turned around and left. There were 200 Jewish GIs among the 1,292 American POWs. This act by Master Sgt. Edmonds saved the lives of these 200 Jewish GIs.
Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds died in 1985. He was the fifth American to be recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations.
On Monday, November 28, 2016, The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR) honored Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds with the Yehi Or Award – “Let There Be Light” and recognized Jewish GIs saved by Master Sgt. Edmonds.