A World War II soldier’s frayed diary is tucked away in a cigar box. His granddaughter uses the true story for her college history project. His son, Rev. Chris Edmonds is compelled to track down any still-living Jewish soldiers his Dad saved; a legacy far bigger than he imagined. A series of “divine coincidences” shapes NO SURRENDER, a newly released Harper One book by Chris Edmonds and Douglas Century. It is destined to become a classic.
The Battle of the Bulge sets the stage where Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds stepped into history 74 years ago. In 2015 Yad Vashem recognized him as the only American soldier “Righteous Among the Nations.” He and his men in the 106th Infantry, 422nd Regiment-the Golden Lions-found themselves in the Ardennes Forest only nine days after they arrived in France in late 1944. A miscommunication between commanders on a faulty phone line turned into one of the worst intelligence disasters in World War II. Seventy-five hundred Americans were forced to surrender to the Nazis. With seven Panzer divisions and surrounded by 13 German infantry divisions, American bravery was plentiful but big weapons were scarce.
Reading NO SURRENDER came closer to marching me straight into the Ardennes Forest in World War II history as any book I have ever read. Vicariously connecting with the horror, I heard the clattering treads of German tanks. I lost feeling in my feet walking through the December 1944 snows, one of the coldest and wettest winters on record. I agonized looking into the shattered faces of dead American soldiers. In a delirium of exhaustion, I wondered if I would fall dead in the middle of a forced march. I smelled uniforms worn for months coated in mud and excrement. Then reading about the capture and imprisonment of the Golden Lions in Nazi POW camps, Stalag IX-A, and IX-B, I discovered the valor of Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds and “his boys.” Like most of The Greatest Generation, Edmonds returned home unwilling to talk about it. When family and friends asked about the war, he would only comment, “We were humiliated.”
Chris Edmonds, Senior Pastor of Piney Grove Baptist Church in Maryville, Tennessee eventually felt gripped to learn more about his Dad’s service. By then, Chris was a family man, a father and grandfather, a busy pastor, and ran a charity which helped teenagers. Although his Dad had passed away in 1985, Chris explains the unexpected turn-around in his own life. “One evening my wife Regina and I watched a TV news program where we learned that nearly 300 World War II veterans died every day. I was shocked.” His Dad’s diary quickly filled his thoughts. That night the pastor sat at his computer and googled his Dad’s name, “Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds.” A tiny fact in a New York Times article from the 1970s caught his attention. Chris prayed right there sitting at his computer. “Lord, your timing is always perfect. Please lead me.”
Chris’ detective work later resulted in a trip to New York City where Lester Tanner, one of “Roddie’s boys,” warmly welcomed Chris and his wife Regina to the Harvard Club. “When we started talking, I was shocked to learn that not only did my Dad save Lester Tanner’s life, but he saved other men as well!” The first meeting with Lester opened more relationships, and more stories of men on Roddie’s list; among them Paul Stern, Sydney “Skip” Friedman, and Sonny Fox. Chris said, “My dad’s story was becoming my story too.”
For several years Chris followed the leads and learned about the defiance against evil in Stalag IXA and IXB. One story stood at the pinnacle of courage. Nazi Major Siegmann had ordered Edmonds to identify all Jewish soldiers in his command. At the risk of his life, the Tennessee-born Christian soldier uttered these words in a firm, strong voice. “We are all Jews here.”
These heroic comments changed not only the personal history of the Jewish soldiers but the lives of more than a thousand non-Jews as well. Eventually liberated, they arrived back in the USA on April 28th, 1945. Roddie had jotted in his diary, “I’m just a little guy but war isn’t right. Lives upon lives are lost. People forget God more and more. It seems as if someone should get wise…and let God be our commander.”
“I know that my father was willing to die to save Jewish men under his command because he believed a Jewish man, Jesus Christ had died to save him.”
Rev. Chris Edmonds
On a personal note, Pastor Chris’ detective work revealing his Dad’s legacy was brought to my attention when I worked for nine years with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) as their Southeast Regional Christian Outreach Director before retiring. Larry Goldstein, a New Yorker and AIPAC activist, knew Lester Tanner and also worked hard alongside Chris to make sure his Dad’s legacy was recognized.
Larry and I chatted via phone then met at AIPAC’s Policy Conference. That’s why in 2014 I asked Chris to speak on Yom HaShoah at Temple Emanu-El in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It was his first “official” speaking engagement. His Dad’s story swept through the small synagogue with awe, gratitude, and tears. Later, AIPAC asked Chris to speak at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC at the 2016 annual Policy Conference. Eighteen thousand pro-Israel Americans-Jews, Christians, African Americans and Hispanics-sat with tears in their eyes and rose with a standing ovation when Chris repeated his Dad’s now-famous words on January 27, 1945: “We are all Jews here.”
For several years, Chris has engaged members of Congress to recognize his Dad with a Medal of Honor. It’s not happened yet but Chris, much like his Dad, is determined to see it through. Having already spoken frequently throughout the United States and Europe in Jewish and Christian settings, Chris is now appearing at book signings for NO SURRENDER and giving media interviews.
He’s pursuing his Dad’s Congressional Medal of Honor saying, “I want the Jewish community to know that my Dad’s actions in World War II mean something today as they face more hatred again all over the world. And I want to inspire others, people like my dad, like me, ordinary people, Christians who care about our Jewish friends. You don’t have to be perfect to do something extraordinary.”
With his goals in mind, Chris is CEO of the Roddie Edmonds Foundation and Roddie’s Code LLC; Choose goodness, Oppose hate, Dignify life, Express love to all. I think Roddie would be surprised at the recognition saying,” I just did my job” yet surely proud of his son.
Books come and books go but I predict NO SURRENDER will become-and remain-a classic story of heroism. A documentary film entitled “Footsteps of my Father” created by The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous has been nominated for many awards. It’s fitting that Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds’ story of courage is included in “Righteous Among the Nations” with two more of my favorites, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Dutch citizen Corrie ten Boom.
When asked about his book and all the discoveries he’s made, Chris says,much like his Dad might,“I work for God so I’ll give him the credit.” Chris recalls one of his Dad’s favorite gospel songs by Albert E. Brumley in the 1950s. “It really expresses who he was.” Here are the lyrics:
“I’m a private in the army of the Lord. Jesus is my captain. He leads me all the while. I’m not a hero but I’m in the rank and file. I’m a private in the army of the Lord.”
To order NO SURRENDER and find Chris Edmonds’ book tour schedule visit www.nosurrenderbook.com