By Judge Brian Addington, Kingsport
I have written before about my interest and love of heroes, mentioning Alvin York and Tom Lee, both great Tennesseans. They exemplified courage in distinctly different ways and both were widely recognized for their accomplishments during their lifetimes. I am proud they called Tennessee home and are part of our great volunteer heritage.
Not every hero is recognized in his or her lifetime. Some just never seek the spotlight or are humble at heart. Others may have done something great, but the events of the time were so large that their heroic act is swallowed up in other occurrences.
Roddie Edmonds was such a man. Mr. Edmonds never spoke about his heroic act; it was his grandchildren and others who later made it public.
Mr. Edmonds was born in Knoxville in 1919 and graduated from Knoxville High School in 1938. He served in the 422 Infantry Regiment as a Master Sergeant during World War II. Unfortunately for Mr. Edmonds and several other servicemen, they were captured on December 19, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge and sent to Stalag IXA prison camp.
Mr. Edmonds was the highest ranking serviceman in the camp. Therefore, he was responsible for the others.
One evening in January 1945, the German commandant told Mr. Edmonds that he wanted the Jewish soldiers to line up outside the barracks the next morning. He further told him that if the Jewish soldiers refused, they would be shot. The Germans intended to take the Jewish soldiers to Berga work camp where they planned to work them to death.
Instead of complying with the commandant’s order, Mr. Edmonds told all the servicemen to turn out in the morning regardless of their ethnicity or religious faith. All 1,292 servicemen complied. The commandant put a gun to Mr. Edmonds’ head and told him to identify the Jews. He replied with his name, rank and serial number and told the commandant that all the servicemen present were Jews. He also warned the commandant about war crimes if he should carry out his plan. The commandant backed down, saving around 200 Jewish soldiers’ lives. After several months in captivity, Mr. Edmonds made it back home after the war and lived until 1985.
This story went untold until his granddaughter read Mr. Edmonds’ journals for a class project, contacted some of the survivors of the camp and confirmed the story.
On February 10, 2015, Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, recognized Mr. Edmonds as “Righteous Among the Nations,” the honor bestowed upon non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews — a great honor for a quiet, humble Tennessee hero.
So, what does this have to do with workers’ compensation?
Well, for starters, at the Bureau we often encounter heroes: co-workers and first-responders who come to the aid of injured workers and sometimes risk their own health and safety doing so. They, like Mr. Edmonds, put others ahead of themselves. They inspire us and deserve our sincere gratitude.
Second, the safety of one is the safety of all. Who were the Germans going to ask Mr. Edmonds to single out next? Soldiers with Polish or Russian heritage? By standing up in the first instance, Mr. Edmonds ensured the safety of all. The same thing can be said of work safety. Regardless of whether it is the last person on the production line or the chairman of the board, an employer should be constantly looking for ways to improve safety and workplace morale for every employee and then taking action to make sure it happens.
But beyond workers’ compensation, Mr. Edmonds’ story is a reminder in these troubled times of the importance of sticking to your principles and standing up for your community. In Tennessee, that is why we are known as the Volunteer State.