Jewish World War I hero posthumously awarded Medal of Honor


(Washington Jewish Week) — A World War I Jewish soldier was posthumously awarded with the Medal of Honor nearly a century after his heroic acts.

Sgt. William Shemin was honored Tuesday by President Barack Obama in a White House ceremony before several of the soldier’s relatives, including two daughters and three great-granddaughters.

Obama said it was discrimination that prevented Shemin, who performed his heroism on the battlefields of France, from being recognized with the highest honor of the U.S. military.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s so exciting,” said one of the great-granddaughters, Alice Philips-Roth of Missouri.

A black soldier, Army Pvt. Henry Johnson, who also had been discriminated against, received the Medal of Honor on Tuesday as well.

More than 96 years ago, Shemin ran across an open field through heavy machine gun and rifle fire to help wounded soldiers during World War I.

“That open space was a bloodbath,” Obama said.

Shemin’s choice was to try and rescue those he served with “or watch them die,” the president said. “William Shemin couldn’t stand to watch them die.”

Shemin, a rifleman, had received the Distinguished Service Cross. But like other Jews who served, they “were too often overlooked,” Obama said, adding that honoring Shemin helps “make this right.”

Shemin’s daughter, Elsie Shemin-Roth, beamed from her wheelchair. She had fought for at least four years to see this day.

With a broad smile that did not fade, she shook hands and kissed relatives, military officials and politicians alike.

Her sister, Ida Shemin, stood beside her, holding the framed Medal of Honor.

(Reporting by Suzanne Pollak.)

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