Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds’ is recognized by Yad Vashem as the only American soldier to receive the honor of “Righteous Among the Nations” for his heroism in World War II. Like German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Dutch citizen Corrie ten Boom during World War II, his story of courage in a newly released book NO SURRENDER is destined to become a classic.
Sgt. Edmonds’ remarkable story lay untold for decades in his frayed diary tucked away in a cigar box. That is, until his granddaughter used the true story for her college history project. Years later, his son, Rev. Chris Edmonds was compelled to track down any still-living Jewish soldiers his Dad saved; a legacy far bigger than he imagined. A series of “divine coincidences” shapes NO SURRENDER, a newly released Harper One book by Chris Edmonds and Douglas Century. Each page is gripping; woven together with bravery, humility, and a message for today.
The Battle of the Bulge sets the stage where Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds stepped into history 74 years ago. He and his men in the 106th Infantry, 422nd Regiment – the Golden Lions – found themselves in the Ardennes Forest only nine days after they arrived in France in late 1944. A miscommunication between commanders on a faulty phone line turned into one of the worst intelligence disasters in World War II. Seventy-five hundred Americans were forced to surrender to the Nazis. With seven Panzer divisions and surrounded by 13 German infantry divisions, American bravery was plentiful but big weapons were scarce.
Reading NO SURRENDER came closer to marching me straight into the Ardennes Forest in World War II history as any book I have ever read. Vicariously connecting with the horror, I heard the clattering treads of German tanks. I lost feeling in my feet walking through the December 1944 snows, one of the coldest and wettest winters on record. I agonized looking into the shattered faces of dead American soldiers. In a delirium of exhaustion, I wondered if I would fall dead in the middle of a forced march. I smelled uniforms worn for months coated in mud and excrement. Then reading about the capture and imprisonment of the Golden Lions in Nazi POW camps, Stalag IX-A, and IX-B, I discovered the valor of Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds and “his boys.” Like most of The Greatest Generation, Edmonds returned home unwilling to talk about it. When family and friends asked about the war, he would only comment, “We were humiliated.”
Years passed. Chris Edmonds, Senior Pastor of Piney Grove Baptist Church in Maryville, Tennessee was a family man, a father and grandfather, a busy pastor, and ran a charity which helped teenagers. Although his Dad had passed away in 1985, his interest about his Dad’s service later took center stage. Chris explains the unexpected turn-around in his own life. “One evening my wife Regina and I watched a TV news program where we learned that nearly 300 World War II veterans died every day. I was shocked.” His Dad’s diary quickly filled his thoughts. That night the pastor sat at his computer and googled his Dad’s name, “Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds.” A tiny one-off fact in a New York Times article from the 1970s caught his attention. Chris prayed right there sitting at his computer. “Lord, your timing is always perfect. Please lead me.”
“My Dad was a leader who wouldn’t ask his men to do anything he wouldn’t do,” Chris Edmonds
Chris’ detective work later resulted in a trip to New York City where Lester Tanner, one of “Roddie’s boys,” warmly welcomed Chris and his wife Regina to the Harvard Club. “When we started talking, I was shocked to learn that not only did my Dad save Lester Tanner’s life, but he saved other men as well!” The first meeting with Lester opened more relationships, and more stories of men on Roddie’s list; among them Paul Stern, Sydney “Skip” Friedman, and Sonny Fox. Chris said, “My dad’s story was becoming my story too.”
Over the months Chris followed the leads and learned about the defiance against evil in Stalag IXA and IXB. One story stood out. On January 27, 1945 – an ice-cold morning with hundreds of prisoners lined up outside – Nazi Major Siegmann ordered Edmonds to identify all Jews in his command. Every man knew it would mean death for the American Jewish soldiers. Master Sergeant Edmonds had ordered his men the night before not to surrender any of the aptly named “Golden Lions.”
At the risk of his life, the Tennessee-born Christian soldier uttered these words to Siegmann in a firm, strong voice. “We are all Jews here.”
These heroic comments changed not only the personal history of the Jewish soldiers but the lives of more than a thousand non-Jews under his command. Eventually liberated, they arrived back in the USA on April 28th, 1945. Roddie had jotted in his diary, “I’m just a little guy but war isn’t right. Lives upon lives are lost. People forget God more and more. It seems as if someone should get wise…and let God be our commander.”
“I know that my father was willing to die to save Jewish men under his command because he believed a Jewish man, Jesus Christ had died to save him.” Rev. Chris Edmonds
Having already spoken throughout the United States and Europe in Jewish and Christian settings, Chris is completing an extensive book signing schedule for NO SURRENDER, giving media interviews, and adding many more speaking engagements for Jewish and Christian audiences. A documentary film entitled “Footsteps of my Father” created by The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous has also been nominated for many awards.
Chris has established the Roddie Edmonds Foundation and Roddie’s Code LLC: Choose goodness, Oppose hate, Dignify life, and Express love to all. “I think Dad would be surprised at the recognition he’s receiving since he would say he was ‘just doing his job.’ “
Chris is also pursuing in the U.S. Congress a Medal of Honor for his Dad. “I want the Jewish community to know that my Dad’s actions in World War II mean something today as they face more hatred again all over the world. And I want to inspire others, people like my dad, like me, ordinary people, Christians who care about our Jewish friends. You don’t have to be perfect to do something extraordinary.”
Master Sergeant Edmonds’ message, “We are all Jews here,” is one that is significant today. While Nazi POW prisons and concentration camps are relics of evil, the Nazi ideology of hatred is resurrecting the hatreds that “Never Again” wanted to quell. Spreading far beyond the past, the hatreds are infecting worldwide news, college campuses, textbooks, governments, and social media.
I predict NO SURRENDER will become a classic story of heroism.
I pray that “We are all Jews Here” is on our lips and in our actions to confront the world’s oldest hatred.
No Surrender is available to order at: www.nosurrenderbook.com