The Ivy Hero: A Book for Children, A Book for Readers of All Ages


Sergeant Shemin served at a time when the contributions and heroism of Jewish Americans in uniform were too often overlooked. But William Shemin saved American lives. He represented our nation with honor. And so it is my privilege, on behalf of the American people, to make this right and finally award the Medal of Honor to Sergeant William Shemin.

–-President Barack Obama, at the White House Ceremony, June 2, 2015, awarding the Medal of Honor posthumously to William Shemin and Henry Johnson almost a century after their heroic service in World War I.

New York, NY—War stories are not the first thing you think of when you think of children’s books, but The Ivy Hero: The Brave Life of Sergeant William Shemin is a special case. Because it is not just a war story—it is a story of immigration and the American Dream; of racism and anti-Semitism and the fight to overcome them; of faith and family values and bravery, patriotism and service to country, and a history every child—and adult should know.

Although much progress has been made, racial and religious discrimination have been with American society from the birth of our country to the present day. The struggle for equality and freedom continues, as people try to make the United States a “more perfect union.” The pain and suffering of war and discrimination run through The Ivy Hero: The Brave Life of Sergeant William Shemin, but it has a hopeful ending.

Written with the young reader in mind, The Ivy Hero is the true story of Sergeant William (Bill) Shemin, child of immigrants, semipro baseball player as a teenager in Bayonne, NJ, who decided to volunteer for his country as an American soldier in World War I. Even though he was dedicated, fearless, and brave, he was not awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor during his lifetime for one reason alone: He was Jewish.

The Ivy Hero also shares the story of Henry Johnson, an African American soldier who, like Bill, fought bravely and heroically in World War I—not far away from the battlefields where Bill fought in France in 1918. Also, like Bill, Henry Johnson’s bravery in saving his fellow soldiers’ lives went unrecognized with a Medal of Honor in his lifetime, even though his actions certainly called for one. This hero was discriminated against because he was African American at a time when African Americans were severely discriminated against in the U.S. Army and throughout American life.

Long after his service in the Army was over, Bill’s daughter, Elsie Shemin-Roth, waged her own battle for many years to have the U.S. government award him the Medal of Honor that rightfully should have been awarded at the time of his service in World War I. Both Bill Shemin and Henry Johnson were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously in 2015 by President Barack Obama, due in no small measure to the efforts of Elsie and many other supporters of both men in numerous organizations, the military, and in Congress.

Why The Ivy Hero? Sergeant Shemin fought with the U.S. Army’s 4th Division, which is known as the “Ivy” Division because the Roman Numeral for 4 is composed of an I before a V—IV—so its nickname is “IVY.” The Ivy Division’s motto, mirroring the way the ivy plant itself grows, is “steadfast and loyal.” After serving in World War I in the Ivy Division, Bill Shemin used the ivy plant as the logo for his tree and plant business in the Bronx. And “steadfast and loyal” was how he lived his life. He passed along his values of patriotism, education, close family ties, and hard work to three children and 14 grandchildren.

During a time when historical truth is being challenged in our schools, and elsewhere, readers need to know actual events like The Ivy Hero imparts so that any progress made is not being lost to hate and ignorance. The book is expected to be widely used in schools—some way to get this idea across—and note that a curriculum and lesson plan is available to teachers. You may find out more about the book here:

About the Authors:
Sara Shemin Cass is the eldest grandchild of Sgt. William Shemin. She has many life-shaping and important memories of him and experienced firsthand the importance he placed on patriotism, hard work, and family. She has worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in Bank Supervision for over thirty-five years. A mother and grandmother, she was motivated to create this book to keep the legacy of William Shemin alive for the next generation of the Shemin family, as well as those too young to learn this story from those who had firsthand memories of the twentieth-century events described here.

Dan Burstein’s grandmother, Leah Shemin Burstein, was William Shemin’s first cousin. Dan’s father, Leon Burstein, got his first job as a teenager working in Bill Shemin’s greenhouse in the Bronx. Dan met Bill on several occasions, including once as a five-year-old when Bill told him stories from World War I. Dan is the author of fourteen nonfiction books, is managing partner of Millennium Technology Value Partners, a venture capital firm, and a father and grandfather. He traveled with his wife, Julie O’Connor, and son, David Burstein, on a 2018 family trip to the battlefields in France to mark the one hundredth anniversary of the battles in which both William Shemin and Henry Johnson fought.

More information: