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Family, Knoxville area leaders dedicate marker for veteran who stood up to Nazis and defended Jews

The Knoxville Jewish Alliance, working with a number of groups, secured a lease to display the plaque.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A marker honoring a Knoxville World War II serviceman's courageous stance against the Nazis while being held a prisoner of war was formally dedicated Friday.

The Knoxville Jewish Alliance, working with a number of groups that included the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation as well as the mayors of Knoxville and Knox County, secured a 50-year lease to place a marker for Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds on Market Street.

It's by the East Tennessee History Center south of Clinch Avenue.

On Friday at 2 p.m., Edmonds' family, the Knoxville Jewish Alliance and others joined Knoxville and Knox County leaders to formally dedicate the marker and honor the U.S. Army veteran's bravery.

The placard is meant to let all people -- Jews and Christians alike -- know what Edmonds did while serving as a master sergeant in 1945 during the war, according to Chip Rayman, alliance president.

In December 1944, 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.

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.

"He was pretty straight forward when it came to right and wrong. He was black and white, no in between and he tried to live it. He wasn't perfect, no one is, but he tried to be," his son Chris Edmonds said.

Roddie Edmonds never talked about his heroics. His son said he found out years after the death of his dad when Jewish soldiers shared and confirmed the story. Chris went on to write a book about his father's stance. It's called "No Surrender."

Roddie Edmonds died in 1985.

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