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May 17, 2024

Profiles of Valor: The Jewish Medal of Honor Recipients

“The Medal of Honor stands for the highest degree of heroism; its recipients risked their lives [for] freedom, liberty, and the lives of their fellow soldiers.”

I recently profiled World War II Army MSG Roddie Edmonds, 106th Infantry Division, 422nd Infantry Regiment. Edmonds and almost 20,000 other Americans had been taken Prisoners of War after Adolf Hitler launched his “Battle of the Bulge” counteroffensive in December 1944.

On the evening of January 17, 1945, Edmonds was the senior noncommissioned officer in the German POW camp, Stalag IXA, when the Nazi camp commandant demanded that the next morning he identify all the Jews among his men so they could be segregated and likely murdered. On the cold winter morning that followed, Edmonds, a devout Christian, rallied his 1,292 American POWs and ordered them to turn out in defiance of the commandant’s orders. When confronted by the commandant, he declared, “We are ALL Jews.”

Edmonds did so at great risk to his life and was recommended for a Medal of Honor, but his actions were in a POW camp rather than in the midst of combat and, thus, did not meet the combat criteria. As I noted in a previous profile of SGT Fred Mayer, though his actions against the Austrian Nazi regime in 1945 reflected “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty,” like Edmonds, Mayer’s actions were not in combat.

However, he was recognized with the title of “Righteous Among the Nations,” Israel’s highest award for non-Jews who risked their own lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

With the actions of these Veteran POW’s as a backdrop, what follows are links to the citations of 18 Jewish Medal of Honor recipients.

The National Museum of American Jewish Military History has a Hall of Heroes noting, “The Medal of Honor stands for the highest degree of heroism; its recipients risked their lives [for] freedom, liberty, and the lives of their fellow soldiers.”

The list of the Jewish recipients by conflict, some of whom I have profiled individually, follows:

American Jews have served our nation from its earliest days, including as militiamen during the American Revolution. Francis Salvador was the first Jew who died fighting for independence.

During the War Between the States, four Union general officers were Jewish: Brigadier General Frederick Salomon, Brevet Brigadier General Leopold Blumenberg, Brevet Brigadier General Frederick Knefler, and Brevet Brigadier General Edward S. Salomon. The first official Jewish chaplain in the U.S. Army was Jacob Frankel. Of the 150,000 Jews in the United States at the time, about 10,000 served, 7,000 with the Union and 3,000 with the Confederacy. It is estimated that 600 Jewish soldiers were killed in battle.

During World War I and World War II, there were a combined 650,000 Jews among the enlisted and officer ranks, the most well-known of WWII officers being Connecticut native Major General Maurice Rose, killed in action in March 1945 while commanding the 3rd Armored Division.

Notable WWII scientists were the Manhattan Project’s Albert Einstein, Leó Szilárd, and J. Robert Oppenheimer.

More than 150,000 Jewish Americans served during the Korean War and 30,000 during the Vietnam War.

To the 18 Jewish Medal of Honor recipients and many others who demonstrated heroic actions in combat: Your examples of valor — humble American Patriots defending Liberty for all above and beyond the call of duty, and in disregard for the peril to your own life — is eternal. “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

(Read more Profiles of Valor here.)

Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776

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