Tony Rossi, Director of Communications
Chris Edmonds’ father Roddie never wanted to talk about his experiences as a German POW following World War II’s Battle of the Bulge. And since Roddie died in 1985, it seemed like his story was lost forever. But decades later, Chris became a history detective, determined to learn what happened. He has now turned his findings into a Christopher Award-winning biography called “No Surrender,” and we discussed it recently on “Christopher Closeup.”
Chris tracked down men who had served with his father, including Lester Tanner, who credited Roddie with saving his life. Roddie, Chris learned, was a respected and beloved Master Sergeant who led by example. He was also a man of faith, from the Methodist tradition, who harbored no prejudice against those who believed differently than him. Two of Roddie’s closest friends in the Army were Lester, who was Jewish, and Frankie Cerenzia, a devout Catholic. Chris told me, “They were men of character. They also were men of faith. They had their own specific faith, but they believed in God, and believed that God had created everyone equal in His sight. And, since God was a good God, they needed to be good to each other…Their diversity in unity was a fabric that could not be cut.”
One of the biggest tests of Roddie’s moral courage occurred when he and 1,300 of his fellow soldiers were prisoners in a Nazi prison camp. An order came over the loudspeaker, saying, “Tomorrow morning at roll call, all Jewish Americans must assemble…Only the Jews. No one else. All who disobey this order will be shot.”
Roddie turned to Lester, Frankie, and his other men and said, “We’re not doing that. Tomorrow we all fall out just as we do every morning.” Then, Roddie sat by himself and prayed, knowing this approach could get him killed. He also knew that following the order meant certain death for the Jewish soldiers in his command. All night long, Roddie reflected on Proverbs 28:1, “The wicked flee when no man pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.”
The next morning, all 1,300 American soldiers reported for roll call. The Nazi major stormed angrily toward Roddie, asking what was going on! He had ordered only the Jews to report. Roddie calmly looked the Nazi major in the eye and responded, “We are all Jews here.” Roddie’s defiance emboldened all his men. Though weakened from starvation or torture, they became resolute at their sergeant’s courage.
The Nazi pressed his pistol to Roddie’s forehead and demanded, “You will order the Jews to step forward or I will shoot you right now!” Seconds passed in complete silence, no one knowing how this standoff would end. Finally, Roddie responded, “Major, you can shoot me, but you’ll have to kill all of us because we know who you are, and you will be tried for war crimes when we win this war.” The Nazi major knew Roddie was right. He holstered his pistol and fled the compound. Roddie had saved the day.
Chris has now come to a new understanding of heroism. He said, “[Dad] was an unassuming person…But he lived heroically every day. All of us have that potential…There’s a scripture that says ‘the godly people in the land are my true heroes.’ So God says that about us if we live right. Dad lived right. He made right choices for the sake of others, and it didn’t matter what the risk was. He was going to make those choices for God.”