Republicans Take Brief Moment To Not Suck So Terribly
Here's a Nice Time break from all the ongoing madness: Congress is taking steps to honor a WWII hero, Roderick W. "Roddie" Edmonds, who after being captured during the Battle of the Bulge refused to tell a Nazi POW camp officer which of his fellow American soldiers were Jews. In 2015, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel recognized Edmonds, who died in 1985, as one of the "Righteous Among Nations," an honor given to non-Jews who helped Jews escape genocide.
Members of Tennessee's congressional delegation -- Republicans even! -- have introduced a bill to award Edmonds the Congressional Gold Medal, which is different from a Medal of Honor because that one's reserved for heroism in combat. But that doesn't take anything away from the courage Edmonds displayed in the face of very real danger.
Edmonds, a master sergeant in the 106th Infantry Division, was among the US troops who were overrun in the early days of the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive in Europe. He was captured on December 19, 1944, and along with other US POWs was taken to the Stalag IX-A prison camp. As the senior American non-commissioned officer in the camp, he was in charge of all 1,275 American enlisted POWs in the camp (officers were held elsewhere), and on January 27, 1945, the commandant of the camp, a Major Siegmann (can I find his first name? not quickly!) ordered Edmonds to have all the Jewish prisoners assemble the next morning separately from the rest.
Edmonds instead ordered all the soldiers to assemble together. And then what sounds like a scene from a movie played out:
When the German officer in charge saw that all the camp's inmates were standing in front of their barracks, he turned to Edmonds and said, "They cannot all be Jews." To this Edmonds replied, "We are all Jews." The German took out his pistol and threatened Edmonds, but the Master Sergeant did not waver and retorted, "According to the Geneva Convention, we have to give only our name, rank, and serial number. If you shoot me, you will have to shoot all of us, and after the war you will be tried for war crimes." The German gave up, turned around, and left the scene.
Yad Vashem verified the story with multiple soldiers who witnessed it, including Paul Stern, a Jewish soldier who had been captured before Edmonds and had initially been taken to a different camp, where Jewish enlisted men had been separated from the other POWs and sent off to slave labor camps. Stern, an NCO, was spared and later moved to the camp where Edmonds was. He was close enough to Edmonds and the German officer to overhear their exchange.
"Although seventy years have passed," said Stern, "I can still hear the words he said to the German camp commander."
Another witness to the exchange, Lester Tanner, said that by late 1944 it was common knowledge that the Germans were killing Jews, and said he was certain Edmonds knew what was up. In the Yad Vashem testimonial, Tanner writes:
There was no question in my mind or that of M/Sgt Edmonds that the Germans were removing the Jewish prisoners from the general prisoner population at great risk to their survival. The US Army's standing command to its ranking officers in POW camps is that you resist the enemy and care for the safety of your men to the extent possible. M/Sgt Edmonds, at the risk of his immediate death, defied the Germans with the unexpected consequences that the Jewish prisoners were saved.
Thanks to Edmonds, roughly 200 Jewish POWs escaped being sent to slave labor camps and likely death.
The bill to honor Edmonds, a native of Knoxville, Tennessee, was introduced in the House by Rep. Tim Burchett, a first-term Republican whose only national profile so far has come from his calling the impeachment hearings a "circus" and in an astoundingly bad interview on NPR in September insisting that Nancy Pelosi had only agreed to impeach Donald Trump because those mean ladies in the "Squad" forced her to. "I realize she's got to yield to her very liberal base, and they're four ladies who have a great deal of control." Just those four people, out of all of America.
Burchett also didn't see anything at all wrong with Donald Trump's phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, gosh no, because all foreign aid includes "some certain criteria attached to it," that's just normal. And as for Mitt Romney, who at the time was making mildly critical snufflings about Trump's pressure on Zelenskyy, Burchett dismissed that criticism, because "He didn't get appointed to a position. It's clearly spoiled milk."
In the Senate, the Gold Medal bill is being sponsored by both of Tennessee's Republican senators, Marsha Blackburn and Lamar Alexander, who tweeted this inspirational message:
This Congress, @MarshaBlackburn and I introduced a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to MSG “Roddie” Edmon… https://t.co/uTpPqlw5cz— Sen. Lamar Alexander (@Sen. Lamar Alexander)1578605999.0
This is actually Alexander's second effort to give official US recognition to Edwards; in 2017, he and then-Sen. Bob Corker introduced a similar bill to honor Edmonds. We aren't sure why that never went anywhere.
It's awfully nice of Burchett, Alexander, and Blackburn to seek recognition for Edmonds, a true hero who saw a clear offense against justice and basic human decency and refused to let it happen, no matter if it cost his life.
And now the senators can get on with the important work of today's justice. Sen. Alexander said yesterday he's open to the possibility of having witnesses testify at Trump's impeachment trial -- if he believes once the trial is underway that witnesses or documentary evidence might turn out to be necessary. Marsha Blackburn, on the other hand, told "Fox & Friends" today it's not the Senate's job to "expand the impeachment," because if the House failed to get Donald Trump's people to come and testify, it's none of her concern:
It is our job to review what they have sent forward, and that's exactly what we're going to do. We're going to do it in an expedient matter. We're going to be fair to the president, and to the process, and we're going to get this behind us.
At least in Master Sergeant Edmonds's case, history has already judged him to be among the best humanity can offer.
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