Semion Melamed was born in 1925 in Odessa. His father Iosif, a veteran of World War I, was a metalworker at a factory in the city. Semion had completed nine classes of school by the time the Soviet-German War broke out in June 1941. His father was drafted into the Red Army in the first days of the war, and was killed in action in October 1941, during the defense of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine. The family managed to be evacuated from Odessa in September 1941, and, after some wanderings, they settled in eastern Kazakhstan, near the Chinese border, where Semion began to work at a kolkhoz.
In 1943, as soon as Semion turned 18, he was drafted into the Red Army. As an "educated" person (i.e., one with nine years of schooling), he was sent to an infantry school in Semipalatinsk (present-day Semey in eastern Kazakhstan), but failed to complete his studies there. In August 1943, following an order that was ascribed to Stalin himself, all military school cadets born in 1925 were transferred to the frontline as privates, without being awarded an officer's rank. Thus, Semion was assigned to the 57th Rifle Division, which was stationed near Voronezh in southern Russia at the time. Despite having been trained as an infantryman, he asked to serve in the artillery, because his father Iosif had been an artilleryman, and had fallen in battle as an artilleryman. Thus, Semion Melamed became a cannon loader. He experienced his first days at the frontline as a vacation, when compared to the infantry school in Semipalatinsk – with its constant training and hard work, lack of food and sleep, the rudeness of the commanders, and (last but not least) the antisemitic atmosphere. According to him, he did not encounter antisemitism on the frontline 1.
Semion took part in the liberation of Kharkiv and in the westward march across northern Ukraine, but he would later regard the crossing of the Dnieper River between Kremenchuk and Dnepropetrovsk in September 1943 as his true "baptism by fire." The task of the artillery was suppressing the enemy defense on the west bank of the Dnieper. Semion would confess to having felt a surge of energy in his heart when he realized that he was shelling a mass of German infantry, and saw the bodies of enemy soldiers flying into the air after each salvo 2. He was shell-shocked there, and lost his hearing for ten days. However, he remained at his post, since he could load the cannon even while deaf. Semion would later admit that he did not know anything about the Holocaust during the war, even though most of his relatives were killed in Odessa. During his march across eastern Ukraine, he witnessed many instances of Nazi atrocities against Ukrainian peasants, and he could not imagine that the fate of the Jews was even worse. Only after the end of the war, when he began to listen to broadcasts of the Voice of Israel radio station, did he realize what had happened to Jews under Nazi rule.
In December 1943, Semion Melamed was seriously wounded near the town of Kryvyi Rih, and spent six months recuperating in hospitals. Because of various factors, he never returned to active service, despite being promoted to the rank of second lieutenant. He was awarded two medals, including "For Courage". He was discharged from the army in 1946, and returned to Odessa. He enrolled in the Odessa Medical Institute (having been rejected by the Military Medical Academy in Leningrad, just like the other Jewish applicants). The Stalinist anti-Jewish campaign was in full swing, and Melamed thought that Stalin was preparing a new genocide. After Stalin's death in 1953, he graduated from the Medical Institute and worked at the Odessa Second Psychiatric Clinic.
In 1979, Semion Melamed immigrated to the USA with his family. He regretted having failed to do so earlier. He settled in Los Angeles.