Elsie Shemin-Roth proudly flies a bright, sky blue flag with 13 white stars from the railing of her front porch in Webster Groves.
But it’s not just any flag – it’s the Medal of Honor flag, reserved for recipients (or their families) of the nation’s highest military award. The flag’s light blue color and five-pointed stars match the Medal of Honor ribbon.
Shemin-Roth, 90, traveled to the White House four years ago to accept the Medal of Honor that President Barack Obama posthumously awarded her father, Army Sgt. William Shemin, for his heroic acts in World War I.
Prior to her trip to the White House in 2015, Shemin-Roth received a personal phone call from then-President Obama delivering the news about her father’s award. During her visit to Washington to accept the medal on her father’s behalf, she also spoke at the Pentagon when his name was added to the Hall of Heroes wall with the names of other Medal of Honor recipients.
Shemin-Roth, a World War I history buff, spent more than a decade trying to get her father’s military records reviewed in the hopes that he would posthumously receive the Medal of Honor. She only recently learned of the flag dedicated to the honor. As soon as she discovered it, she had to have it.
She now proudly displays the flag in front of her home on Oak Street in Webster Groves. It complements the other flag hanging from her porch that also means so much – the “Lest We Forget” World War I Centenary flag. And there’s always an American flag waving in front of her home.
Even though the Medal of Honor has been existence since the Civil War, there wasn’t a flag for it until 2002. The flag commemorates the sacrifice and blood shed for freedom and emphasizes the Medal of Honor’s place as the highest award for valor that can be given to a U.S. military member.
“It can only be flown by the person who received it, or their direct descendants,” Shemin-Roth said.
The privilege isn’t lost on her – of the roughly six million men and women who fought in World War I, only 119 were awarded the Medal of Honor. And, of the approximately 250,000 Jewish men and women who fought in the war, Sgt. William Shemin was the fourth to receive the Medal of Honor, according to Shemin-Roth.
“And, he’s only the 17th Jewish man in the history of our country to receive it,” she added.
He almost didn’t. Shemin-Roth worked tirelessly for years to get her father the recognition she and her family believe he deserved for his bravery in World War I. They believe he was denied the Medal of Honor and given the Distinguished Service Cross instead because he was Jewish.
After reviewing Sgt. Shemin’s records, military and government officials decided his brave actions during a battle with the French in World War I merited the Medal of Honor. Shemin’s Medal of Honor is now displayed in the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, and his daughter will be getting a duplicate of it.
Shemin-Roth said she enjoys sharing her father’s story, and is especially proud to be among the handful of people who have the privilege of displaying a Medal of Honor flag. She also feels that it’s a relevant reminder in the current times considering the racial and religious tensions within the United States.
“I’m old enough to remember my grandparents and the terrible circumstances they faced ... and now here we are again worrying about ourselves,” Shemin-Roth said. “I think to have a Jewish man get the Medal of Honor is important. And when you go by my house, there is a live descendant sitting behind the flag right here to tell the story of a Jewish American hero who was honored to live and serve in this country.”