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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

May 22, 2015  RSS feed
World News

Text: T T T

Obama to award Medal of Honor to Jewish World War I hero


Sgt. William Shemin Sgt. William Shemin WASHINGTON (JTA) – A Jewish World War I veteran will be posthumously awarded the nation’s highest military honor 97 years after his heroic actions against the Germans.

The White House announced on May 14 that Sgt. William Shemin, who is Jewish and died in 1973, will be recognized with the Medal of Honor in a ceremony on June 2. Shemin’s daughter Elsie Shemin-Roth will accept the award on behalf of her father.

Shemin-Roth, now 86, from suburban St. Louis, sought to have her father included under a law that mandated a review of troops who may have been denied the highest service medal because of discrimination.

Last year, President Barack Obama awarded the medal to a number of soldiers believed to have faced discrimination, but Shemin was not considered because the law did not extend back to World War I.

At 19, on a French battlefield in 1918, Shemin crossed through gunfire three times to pull comrades to safety, taking a bullet in his head.

“While serving as a rifleman from Aug. 7-9, 1918, Sergeant Shemin left the cover of his platoon’s trench and crossed open space, repeatedly exposing himself to heavy machine gun and rifle fire to rescue the wounded,” the White House said in its announcement. “After officers and senior non-commissioned officers had become casualties, Shemin took command of the platoon and displayed great initiative under fire, until he was wounded, August 9.”

Shemin had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest honor, although at least one of his superiors had recommended the Medal of Honor.

Shemin-Roth believes her father was denied the highest honor because of anti-Semitism.

At a press conference following the announcement, she said, her feelings could be summed up in 11 words: “Discrimination hurts. A wrong has been made right. All is forgiven.”

With the help of the Jewish War Veterans and her local congressman, Shemin-Roth said she spent 13 years seeking recognition for her father’s heroism. It actually took an act of Congress. The William Shemin World War I Veterans Act provided for a special oneyear review period for any of these troops who may have been denied recognition based on discrimination.

While some 50 other cases were reviewed, only Shemin and an African-American soldier, Henry Johnson, were upgraded and will receive the Medal of Honor for their heroic actions in WWI.


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