In his remarks at the New York City Veterans Day parade Monday, President Donald Trump singled out in the audience 96-year-old former Staff Sgt. Lester Tanner, one of the Jewish World War II prisoners of war saved by Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds' heroic defiance of a Nazi camp commandant.
Tanner bore witness to Edmonds' refusal to identify the Jewish soldiers at the camp despite a gun being held to his head.
As Trump told it, Tanner and Edmonds were among the Americans taken prisoner by the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge offensive aimed at splitting the allied lines in late 1944.
"After they arrived at a prison camp, the German commandant sent an order over the loudspeaker. The Jewish-American soldiers were all told to step out of line during the roll call the next day," Trump said. "Knowing the terrible fate that would come to his Jewish comrades, Roddie immediately said, 'We're not doing that.' He sent orders to have every American step out of line with their Jewish brothers-in-arms.
"The next morning, 1,292 Americans stepped forward. The German commander stormed over to Roddie and said, 'They cannot all be Jews.' Roddie stared right back. He said, 'We are all Jews here,'" the president continued. "At that point, the German put a gun to Roddie's head and demanded, 'You will order the Jews to step forward immediately or I will shoot you right now through the head.'
"Roddie responded: 'Major, you can shoot me, but you'll have to kill us all.' The German turned red, got very angry, but put down his gun and walked away," Trump said.
Edmonds, of Knoxville, Tennessee, died in 1985. He was posthumously given the "Righteous Among Nations" award in 2015, Israel's highest honor for non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Tanner was among those who gave testimony to Israel's Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center to verify Edmonds' actions.
In his testimony, Tanner said he knew Edmonds as the "all-Army" senior non-commissioned officer in the 442nd Infantry Regiment.
Edmonds was loved and respected by the troops "for his skills, his reputation among the commanding officers of the regiment and the other officers whom we came to know, but mostly because of his concern for the men in the regiment," Tanner said.
At the event in Manhattan, Trump also singled out in the audience Lauren Matthews, Edmonds' granddaughter.
"Like so many of our veterans, Roddie never talked about the war. Lauren never knew her grandfather's story until she embarked upon a school project about 10 years ago," he said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.