by Jon Caroulis
Mitchell Trichon was in a room in Washington, D.C., in June with about 65 members of his extended family, but the relative who brought them together wasn’t there. They were gathered together to see President Barack Obama present the Congressional Medal of Honor — posthumously — to William Shemin for his actions in World War I at Vesle River, near Bazoches, France.
Shemin was a cousin of Trichon’s grandmother. “I didn’t know about Shemin until I learned about it in December, 2014,” said Trichon, a resident of Roxborough and professor of communication sciences and disorders at La Salle University.
“I’ve always been interested in learning about my family’s past but was more focused on my last name, Trichon. I have the genes of four of my grandparents and their parents, and everyone has stories to tell. I’m so glad that I learned more about William Shemin’s heroics and stories as well as the stories of the other 65 Shemin relatives who were at the ceremonies in Washington.”
While serving as a rifleman from Aug. 7-9, 1918, Shemin left the cover of his platoon’s trench and crossed open space, repeatedly exposing himself to heavy machine gun and rifle fire to rescue the wounded. After officers and senior non-commissioned officers had become casualties, Shemin took command of the platoon and displayed great initiative under fire until he was wounded on Aug. 9.
For this action, he could have been eligible for the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award given by the federal government. But some, including his family, felt that Shemin was overlooked for the honor because he was Jewish. His daughter, who was at the ceremony and received the medal from the president, spent many years trying to have her father acknowledged. Shemin died in 1973.
At the ceremony, another posthumous medal was presented to the family of Henry Johnson, an African-American soldier who also served in World War I.
While participating in the Aisne-Marne Offensive, Shemin was wounded from machine gun shrapnel that pierced his helmet and lodged behind his left ear. Following his injuries, Shemin was hospitalized for three months and later received light duty as part of the Army occupation in Germany and Belgium until he completed his tour. Shemin received the Purple Heart for his injuries during combat. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for battlefield valor in Dec. 19, 1919.
“The entire experience was surreal,” said Trichon. “There were three days of events with the U.S. Army at the White House and at the Pentagon. Being in the same room as President Obama, Senators Schumer and McCaskill and so many other people to honor these two soldiers for something they did nearly a century ago. The fact that one of them is my relative gives me great pride for knowing more about my roots.
“The greatest part about this whole experience was to have spent three days meeting, learning about and bonding with more than 60 relatives, many of whom I’ve never met before. To listen to President Obama describe the heroics of my cousin and to see the many other Shemins whom I experienced this with was one of those life scrapbook moments. You just don’t forget that feeling of family pride and thankfulness for being invited. My father, William Shemin Trichon, would have loved to have been there. I know my brothers and I represented him well.”
La Salle University was established in 1863. Money magazine named La Salle University a “Value All-Star,” ranking it the eighth-best college nationwide for adding the most value for a college education. More information at www.lasalle.edu or 215-951-1000. Jon Caroulis is Director of Public Relations for La Salle University.