Three eighth-graders at Lake Forest Middle school in Bradley County are being honored for producing a documentary about a little known Tennessee World War II hero.
The trio won first place in the junior group documentary division of Tennessee History Day, and will soon travel to Maryland for the national competition.
Lake Forest eighth-graders Chase Hagler, Jaylin Viviano and Paige Frady are proudly wearing blue ribbon medals in honor of an American hero you may have never heard of, until now. U.S. Army Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds, a Knoxville native, is credited with saving the lives of some 200 Jewish-American soldiers during World War II.
Lake Forest teacher Dr. Julie Mitchell said the theme of the history competition is "Taking A Stand," and her students were thrilled to learn their subject would be Edmonds.
Edmonds' story was largely unknown. He died in 1985, and had been reluctant to talk about his heroics. His son recently discovered diaries, and and found surviving US POW's to confirm what his father had done. Now the students have the opportunity to share his story with the world, in a documentary called "Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds: Faith, Family, Friends, Freedom."
According to a recent story in the Nashville Tennessean, "Edmonds' display of defiance and courage took place in 1945, when he was a prisoner of war. One day, the Germans ordered all Jewish POWs in his camp to report the next morning in front of their barracks. Edmonds, the highest-ranking officer in the camp, ordered all of the camp's POWs – Jews and non-Jews alike – to stand together.
An estimated 1,000 servicemen assembled in front of their barracks the next morning, Jan. 27, 1945. Upon seeing the mass of prisoners, the German officer in charge said, "They cannot all be Jews."
"We are all Jews," Edmonds replied.
Some of the men standing beside Edmonds that day remember him standing his ground, even when the German officer pulled out his pistol and threatened to shoot him.
"If you shoot me," Edmonds said, "you will have to shoot all of us, and after the war, you will be tried for war crimes."
The German officer gave up and left.
For his bravery, Edmonds, who died in 1985, was awarded last year with the Righteous Among Nations award, the highest honor that Israel bestows upon non-Jews. The honor recognizes the heroics of non-Jewish people who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
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.”
“His moral compass never wavered,” Obama said. “He was true to his faith."
Remarkably, Edmonds’ bravery has never been officially recognized by the U.S. government. The Congressional Gold Medal would rectify that oversight.
The students won first place in the Junior Group Documentary category in both the Southeast Regional Tennessee History Day competition in March and the state competition earlier this month.
The Lake Forest team will be one of only two middle school teams from Tennessee taking part in the national competition, starting on June 11th at the University of Maryland. Such trips are not covered in the school budget, so if you'd like to help, click here for their GoFundMe page.