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Soldier, a WWII POW who saved hundreds by defying Nazis, nominated for Congressional Gold Medal

February 15, 2017 (Photo Credit: Susan Walsh/AP)
WASHINGTON — Tennessee's two U.S. senators are hoping to get the federal government to honor a Knoxville soldier who is credited with saving the lives of more than 200 Jewish Americans during World War II.

Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker filed legislation Monday to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds, news outlets reported. The two Republicans were joined on the legislation by two Democrats: Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Ben Cardin of Maryland.

Edmonds was the highest-ranking noncommissioned officer at a German prisoner-of-war camp in January 1945 when he rejected a Nazi order to single out Jewish prisoners.

Edmonds ordered more than 1,000 Americans captives to step forward with him and brazenly pronounced: "We are all Jews here."

The Nazi officer pressed his pistol to Edmonds' head, but he didn't waver, and his captors eventually backed down after Edmonds warned they would be prosecuted for war crimes.

"Even when faced with death himself, Master Sgt. Edmonds and the men under his command stood united to protect their fellow soldiers," Corker said. "His moral fortitude and humility serve as an example for us all."

Edmonds, who died in 1985, has never been formally recognized by the U.S. government. Last year Israel awarded him the Righteous Among Nations award, the highest honor that Israel bestows upon non-Jews. At the awards ceremony, held at the Embassy of Israel in Washington, then-President Barack Obama praised Edmonds for going "above and beyond the call of duty."

Edmonds' son, Chris Edmonds of Maryville, told The Commercial Appeal that the family is thrilled he is being considered for the Congressional Gold Medal.

"The lives he saved — I know those families, and to see their smiles and to know their contributions to the world, that's our greatest reward," he said.

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