WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 1, 2015) -- Elsie Shemin-Roth fondly remembers her father, Medal of Honor nominee Sgt. William Shemin, as a generous, hard-working man, who bravely fought in World War I and taught his family a strong sense of values.
Shemin-Roth will stand with President Barack Obama at the White House, June 2, and accept the nation's highest military award for valor on behalf of her father.
Shemin is being honored for his actions while serving as a member of Company G, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, American Expeditionary Forces. He distinguished himself during combat operations in the vicinity of the Vesle River, Bazoches, France, Aug. 7-9, 1918.
Shemin-Roth, of Webster Grove, Missouri, told a news conference in St. Louis, the awarding of the Medal of Honor is the culmination of a years-long process to have her father, who was Jewish, recognized for his valor nearly a century ago. He died in 1973.
"Though my father always told me his war experience was never about medals, I knew in my heart he was deserving of the highest military award for valor, the Medal of Honor," she said.
Her father's story can be told in 11 words, Shemin-Roth said: "Discrimination hurts. A wrong has been made right. All is forgiven."
At the ceremony, Obama will award the Medal of Honor to another World War I Soldier, who was overlooked for the honor, Pvt. William Henry Johnson of the 369th Infantry Regiment, who was African-American.
SERVICE TO THE NATION
Shemin was born in Bayonne, New Jersey, Oct. 14, 1896.
During his teenage years, Shemin played semi-pro baseball. He graduated from the New York State Ranger School in 1914, and went on to work as a forester in Bayonne.
He entered the Army, Oct. 2, 1917. He was assigned as a rifleman with Company G, 47th Infantry Regiment, which moved from Syracuse, New York, to Camp Greene, North Carolina, joining the 4th Infantry Division. The division arrived in France in May 1918.
While serving as a rifleman from Aug. 7-9, 1918, 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 during the Aisne-Marne Offensive.
After officers and senior noncommissioned officers had become casualties, Shemin took command of the platoon and displayed great initiative under fire until he was wounded, Aug. 9, 1918.
Shemin was wounded by shrapnel, and a machine-gun bullet, which pierced his helmet and was lodged behind his left ear. He was hospitalized for three months and later received light duty as part of the Army occupation in Germany and Belgium until he completed his tour.
He was honorably discharged in August 1919. He received the Purple Heart, and on Dec. 29, 1919, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
A WAR HERO RECOGNIZED
Shemin-Roth, who is 86, said she had a "lovely, lovely conversation" with Obama when he informed her of the award for her father.
"When the president called me last month to tell me that he had approved the Medal of Honor, I felt an enormous sense of pride as an American Jew, and for him and for our family, and for the entire Jewish community," she said.
In December 2012, U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer submitted a request to upgrade Shemin's Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second-highest military award for valor. A congressional review found Shemin's actions were worthy of the Medal of Honor.
Shemin-Roth said her father was fully satisfied with having received the Distinguished Service Cross. "He wanted only to serve his country," she said.
So many other brave Service members, she said, performed heroic acts, which were never witnessed or acknowledged. She said she will accept the medal on their behalf as well.
"This supreme honor is in the name of William Shemin," she said. "But it would please him if it were also dedicated to the fallen, the survivors and their families, who did not have the proper paperwork or representation depicting their valor."
MEMORIES OF A HERO BACK HOME
After the war, Shemin did not sleep much, was quick to anger and there were signs of what they called back then, a "nervous disorder," Shemin-Roth said. "Of course there was no help, nothing."
Doctors could not remove the shrapnel in his back, as it was too close to his spine, she said. The wound to his ear left him deaf in that ear as well.
But despite all of that, she said, he went back to college, and graduated from Syracuse University. He became very successful in the greenhouse and nursery business.
He remained in touch with other veterans throughout his life, especially the Jewish war veterans, she said.
"He did have a wonderful sense of humor," she recalled.
He taught his three children - a boy and two girls - well, instilling in them strong values and a great work ethic, she said.
After breakfast, he would look at his children and say, "Alright men, let's go to work." The grandchildren went through "basic training" with Shemin as well, Shemin-Roth recalled fondly.
"He taught us all to always give back more than you're asked to do," she said. "From my father came this wonderful generosity and this wonderful sense of honor. If our country needs you, you go. No discussion. You go and you do more than is asked for you."