Friday, November 10, 2017

A Man of Courage Honored

In 2001, it was recognized that in the course of American history, numerous heroes had been denied consideration for the United States Medal of Honor for extreme valor in battle, due to prejudice against their race or religion (Read more about this here). In the opinion of his family, this was the case of Sergeant William Shemin. Although he had been awarded the Purple Heart for being wounded and the Distinguished Service Cross for battlefield valor, they believed that anti-Semitism had kept his incredibly heroic acts from being fully recognized. After 13 years of petitioning and campaigning, Congress agreed, and, on June 2, 2015, President Barack Obama presented a posthumous Medal of Honor to William Shemin.

Born on October 14, 1896, in Bayonne, NJ, Shemin enlisted in the U.S. Army by lying about his age, perhaps so believably because, in his young life, he had already played semi-professional basketball, graduated from the New York State Rangers School and worked as a forester. Shemin became a rifleman in the infantry.

The action for which Shemin was decorated occurred in August 1918 at the Vessle River during the Second Battle of the Marne (France). Through three days of trench warfare, Shemin and his comrades watched troop after troop fall in the No Man’s Land. Not once, but three times (!), Shemin dove through the machine gun fire to help bring back the wounded. After all the officers and non-commissioned officers were injured in the battle as well, Shemin jumped in to lead his platoon until he too was wounded with shrapnel and bullets. A head wound behind his left ear put him in the hospital for three months, after which he was assigned light duties until his discharge in August 1919.

After the war, Shemin attended and graduated from the New York State College of Forestry at Syracuse University, where he was an athlete, and then settled in the Bronx, where he opened a landscaping company. He was the father of two daughters and a son who also served in the military. William Shemin passed away on August 15, 1973.

Written in honor of Veterans Day, November 11th

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