Of the many things I've learned about the history of Syracuse University while writing this blog, the vast number of notable African-American athletes that have broken down color barriers while wearing the color orange is one of the most significant.
Of course I knew about Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little. But I really never knew the story of Tuskegee Airman Wilmeth Sidat-Singh until a few years ago. And I only recently learned about Bernie Custis, the first professional African-American starting QB who was so far ahead of his time in the 50's that he's still in Syracuse's top ten in passing yards. Then there's Avatus Stone, would have been at the forefront of a landmark civil rights moment in the 1952 Orange Bowl had he not been injured. And don't forget recently-departed Vinnie Cohen, who broke down walls in the legal field after graduating. And then there's Dave Bing, and so many others. It's pretty damn impressive.
But what about us Jews? All I need to do is look at the last names on dorm room doors up on the Mount to know there's a strong Jewish connection to SU and its history. Where are our groundbreakers?
How bout we start with William Shemin? Over on Yahoo! today, there's an article about Shemin's daughter, 82-year-old Elsie Shemin-Roth, and her fight to see that her father is posthumously given the Medal of Honor he so deserved when he was alive.
Why didn't he receive it despite saving his fellow soldiers, taking control of his unit as he rushed them to safety and even taking a bullet while in action? Apparently because he was Jewish.
But once, when another soldier paid a visit, Shemin's daughter was struck by something the man told her.
"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."
So why should Syracuse fans be so concerned? Well, Jewish or not, Shemin was one of us.
A tall, strapping athlete who played semi-pro baseball at age 15 and later played college football at Syracuse, Shemin was sent off to France.
He eventually left the military, got a degree from Syracuse and started a greenhouse-and-nursery business in the Bronx, where he raised three children.
The good news is that the William Shemin Jewish World War I Veterans Act now allows the Pentagon to review Jewish soldiers and sailors who may have been overlooked for the Medal of Honor simply because of their faith.
H/T: Dale W.