The Exceptional Gallantry of William Shemin

Born on the 14th of October 1896, William Shemin was an American Army Sergeant during the First World War. For his bravery at Vesle River in France, he was given the Medal of Honor. He was awarded the Medal of Honor on the 2nd of June 2015. President Barack Obama presented the award to his daughters Elsie Shemin-Roth and Ina Bass at the White House.

He obtained his degree from the New York State College of Forestry at Syracuse University. This was after his honorable discharge in 1919. Later, he raised three children and started a landscaping and greenhouse business in the city of Bronx.

Military valor

William Shemin had enlisted in the United States army on the 2nd of October 1917. He completed his basic training at North Carolina’s Camp Greene. Following the completion of his training, he was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division of the American Expeditionary Forces.

He served in France under Company G of the 47th Infantry Regiment. During his service as a rifleman between 7th and 9th August 1918, he showed exceptional bravery. Shemin had left the cover of his platoon to rescue the wounded. In this process, he was repeatedly exposing himself to the firing from rifles and heavy machine guns.

As many senior non-commissioned officers and several other officers had been killed, he took command of the platoon. He took all this initiative while under fire and was wounded on the 9th of August.

The Distinguished Service Cross

As a result of the wounds he had suffered while rescuing the wounded, he was hospitalized for three months. The injuries included the ones from a machine gun bullet and shrapnel. The bullet had pierced his helmet before getting lodged behind his left ear. After his recovery, he served on light duty in Belgium and Germany until the completion of his tour.

For his combat wounds, he received the Purple Heart. His valor in France won him the Distinguished Service Cross on the 19th of December 1919. The Distinguished Service Cross award was upgraded about 96 years later to the Medal of Honor.

Elsie’s efforts

Shemin died in the year 1973. About three decades after his death, his daughter came to know about a new review process for veterans. This was for the veterans from the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. They were the ones who might have been denied the Medal of Honor because of race or religion. Elsie Shemin-Roth wondered why the same process was not included for the veterans of World War I.

She then worked for years to expand the review process and get the case of her father revisited. Owing to her efforts, the William Shemin Jewish World War I Veterans Act was signed by President Barack Obama. This was done in the year 2011. Four years later, Elsie Shemin-Roth and her sister Ida Shemin traveled to Washington along with their other family members.

In a ceremony held at the White House, President Obama presented the posthumous Medal of Honor for William Shemin. Sergeant William Shemin’s story has been shared in museum exhibits since then. His story was also shared in a book about the winners of the Medal of Honor.

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