Jewish World War I Hero May Receive Medal of Honor

Associated Press + More

"He witnessed my father's actions," said Shemin-Roth, who was then 12. "He told me, 'Your father never got the medal he deserved because he was a Jew.' I thought to myself how terrible that was."

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Shemin was 78 when he died in 1973. His sense of determination clearly rubbed off on his daughter. Her first husband died when she was just 43 and a mother of five. She went to college and became a nurse.

Since then, she's done volunteer work in war-torn areas around the world. Back in Labadie, she heads a nonprofit animal-rescue group, and her property on a rural hilltop is home to dozens of rescued animals, from cats and dogs to donkeys, geese and fish.

The new law may have arrived too late to recognize many Jewish heroes from World War I. They're all gone now — the last surviving American World War I veteran died last year. Even many of their children have died or are well into their 80s and 90s, Burtnick said, making it less likely that surviving relatives will have enough documentation to prove worthiness for the Medal of Honor.

So far, Burtnick said, the only veteran whose case will be presented for review is William Shemin.

A decision could come by spring. If the Pentagon approves, the president would present the medal on Shemin's behalf to his daughter in a White House ceremony. Just the thought chokes her up.

"I try so hard to think of what my father would think of this," she said. "He was such a humble man. All I can see in my head is this big handsome man sitting down, tears in his eyes."

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