LFMS trio ‘Taking A Stand’

Student documentary set for national event

By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG christy.armstrong@clevelandbanner.com
Posted 4/27/17

Three Lake Forest Middle School students have created an award-winning documentary film and are preparing to take it to a national competition.

Eighth-graders Paige Frady, Chase Hagler and …

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LFMS trio ‘Taking A Stand’

Student documentary set for national event

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Three Lake Forest Middle School students have created an award-winning documentary film and are preparing to take it to a national competition.

Eighth-graders Paige Frady, Chase Hagler and Jaylin Viviano won first place in the Junior Group Documentary category of the Tennessee History Day competition. This summer, they will compete in the National History Day competition.

Tennessee History Day is a yearly competition sponsored by the Tennessee Historical Society encouraging students to research a topic and do a presentation. They can range from academic papers to more elaborate projects like documentaries.

“These students worked really hard to do research for and create their project,” said Lake Forest teacher Julie Mitchell, who helped the students. “They were extremely dedicated, and their hard work paid off.” 

This year’s competition theme was “Taking A Stand,” and the Lake Forest students chose to create a brief documentary on someone who took a stand when it mattered.

Their subject was U.S. Army Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds, a Knoxville native credited with saving the lives of American prisoners of war during World War II.  

“What he did was really, really cool,” Hagler said. “He saved about 200 Jewish people’s lives.”

Having participated in U.S. troops’ landing in Europe, members of Edmonds’ 422nd Infantry Regiment unfortunately were captured by Nazi soldiers and taken to a POW camp in Ziegenhain, Germany, known as Stalag IXA.

At one point, German soldiers asked Edmonds, the highest ranking American officer, to single out the prisoners who were Jewish and have only them report to the center of the camp.

This was during the Holocaust, and Edmonds knew the Germans had been putting many Jews to death. He refused to comply, instead ordering all the American soldiers to report.

An angry German officer pointed out to Edmonds that all of the approximately 1,200 men could not be Jews.

“We are all Jews,” Edmonds famously replied.

With a pistol reportedly held to his head, Edmonds argued the Geneva Convention did not allow captors to single out prisoners for their religions. Not wanting to kill every American POW present, the German officer let the matter drop.

This act of defiance saved the American soldiers from the tragic fate befalling many Jews in the Holocaust.

“This was just such a neat story for us to tell, and it’s about someone from just up the road here in Tennessee,” Frady said.

Edmonds has been recognized internationally for his heroics, but his story has only recently come to light.

LFMS students had the chance to interview Edmonds’ son, Maryville church pastor Chris Edmonds. He told the students his father had not spoken much about his military service while he was alive, but old journals and accounts from surviving U.S. POWs told the story.

The elder Edmonds was posthumously honored with several awards, including Yad Veshem’s Righteous Among the Nations award, the highest award given to non-Jews in Israel. He has also been nominated for a U.S. Medal of Honor.

The students said they were eager to share Edmonds’ story and are looking forward to sharing it nationally.

“It is an inspirational story that shows the importance of doing what’s right,” Viviano said. “The message is, ‘Don’t be afraid to do the right thing.’” 

They first began their planning for the short film in November, after Mitchell encouraged Frady to assemble a group to compete.

Frady, Hagler and Viviano are all members of the LFMS show choir, Revolution. Frady gained a great fascination for Holocaust history after the students got to visit a Holocaust museum while out of town for a competition.

The students agreed to tackle the project, and Mitchell shared the idea to feature Edmonds. The topic was received from a representative of the Tennessee Holocaust Commission.

Students worked long hours after school to research Edmonds, brainstorm project ideas and work on the documentary, all while balancing other commitments. They even worked over spring break.

“We had to work on all that balancing,” Frady said. “It was a lot. We did have a lot of fun though, and it was so cool to win!”

The end result is a documentary titled “Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds: Faith, Family, Friends, Freedom.” It leaves viewers with a good picture of what Edmonds did, incorporating numerous photos, narration from the students and video clips of people who knew Edmonds.

It won first place in the Junior Group Documentary category in both the Southeast Regional Tennessee History Day competition March 2 and the state competition April 8.

“I am so proud of them,” Mitchell said. “They really went above and beyond in their studies. This was all optional, something they wanted to do.” 

They are now using the regional and state judges’ feedback to make finishing touches to their documentary for the national competition.

The LFMS team will be one of only two middle school teams from Tennessee taking part in the Junior Group Documentary category. It’s set for June 11-15, at the University of Maryland at College Park.

Mitchell noted the students and their chaperones are raising money for the trip, and welcome donations from the public. Online donations can be made at https://www.gofundme.com/bcs-documentary-earns-trip-to-dc or through the school.

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