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Marker honoring Knoxville soldier who defied the Nazis to be placed downtown

Roddie Edmonds, while serving during World War II, defied a Nazi officer's efforts to single out Jewish-American prisoners of war.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A marker honoring a Knoxville man's courageous stance against the Nazis while being held a prisoner of war is set to be placed this summer along a downtown street.

The Knoxville Jewish Alliance, working with a number of groups that includes the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation as well as the Knoxville mayor and Knox County mayor, is securing a 50-year lease to place the marker for Roddie Edmonds on Market Street by the East Tennessee History Center south of Clinch Avenue.

Knox County Commission is considering the lease on their agenda this month.

Chip Rayman, alliance president, said the blue marker with gold lettering should be delivered any day. The placard will let all people -- Jews and Christians alike -- know what Edmonds, a Christian, did while serving as a master sergeant in 1945 during the war.

"He saved Jews in World War II who the Nazis were trying to murder, who were Jewish soldiers," Rayman said.

Credit: Edmonds family
A marker will be placed this summer on Market Street downtown to honor Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds

In his lifetime, the South Knoxvillian didn't talk much about his heroism. He died in 1985.

It's only now, through research conducted by his son, Chris, and others that the world is getting to learn about Edmonds' act.

Chris Edmonds has written a book about his father's stance. It's called "No Surrender".

In December 1944, Roddie Edmonds was serving in a regiment of the 106th Infantry Division that got caught up in and then surrounded by the enemy in the Battle of the Bulge. It was Germany's last grand offensive.

Edmonds, then age 25, and hundreds of others were take prisoner by the Germans, who were months away from being defeated by the Allies.

The men, some 200 Jewish-American soldiers among them, ended up in early 1945 in a prisoner of war camp in Germany. By then German leader Adolf Hitler's regime had exterminated millions of Jews. Jewish Allied soldiers were at particular risk.

A German officer of the camp ordered Edmonds, as a senior officer, to tell all Jewish-American soldiers to present themselves during assembly so they could be segregated -- and face certain hardship and possible death.

Credit: john becker

Edmonds refused. Instead, he ordered all 1,300 or so Americans to fall out, and when a German major threatened his own life, Edmonds declared, "We are all Jews here."

The major backed down; Jewish-American lives were spared. Edmonds and the men spent many months as prisoners but eventually came back home.

Edmonds, who also served during the Korean War, didn't talk much about his war experience. He died in 1985.

His son, however, vowed to learn more. Posthumously, Edmonds has since been recognized by the nation of Israel, by President Obama, and there's an effort in Congress to award him the Congressional Gold Medal.

The spot on Market Street was picked because Edmonds liked to hang out nearby, at his brother's store on Market Square.

Rayman said Tuesday perhaps the ceremony could be held in July.

"It's just to recognize Roddie," said Rayman, who becomes emotional when he thinks of the peril the young master sergeant placed himself in at that German camp. "It's to show solidarity with the Knoxville Christian and Jewish community and how we all need to work for each other and support each other."

Chris Edmonds said the family is honored by efforts of the Jewish Alliance, the city and county to recognize his father. His mother, Edmonds' widow, Mary Ann Watson Edmonds, died last week at age 85.

He said it would be appropriate to memorialize his father on Aug. 20. That's his father's birthday.

Efforts continue in other ways to educate the world about what Roddie Edmonds and the other soldiers went through in that time, including a possible motion picture.

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