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Remembering a Hero – Medal of Honor Winner Walter D. Ehlers

When I was in basic training some 12 years ago, one of my drill sergeants advised that it would behoove us to, after we finished our training, take time and go to VFW’s and military halls and talk to old time veterans.  Those that punched Nazism in the face and saved the world from evil.  His reasoning was simple enough, they won’t always be there to talk to and year after year more and more finish the long march to their reward.

While I did heed my drill sergeants advice, I sometimes regret that I didn’t give more of an effort to seek out the old dogs of war and hear their tales.

So, when I hear that another of the greatest generation has shuffled off this mortal coil I like to take a moment and highlight the heroism, now seven decades past, that should still reverberate in the hearts of any true American.

Last Thursday, one of the last surviving Medal Of Honor recipients of World War II died of kidney failure at the age of 92.

Sgt Walter Ehlers was just 23 years old when, from June 9th to the 10th 1944 during the invasion of Normandy, Ehlers displayed heroism above and beyond the call of duty.

His Medal of Honor Citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 9-10 June 1944, near Goville, France. S/Sgt. Ehlers, always acting as the spearhead of the attack, repeatedly led his men against heavily defended enemy strong points exposing himself to deadly hostile fire whenever the situation required heroic and courageous leadership.

Without waiting for an order, S/Sgt. Ehlers, far ahead of his men, led his squad against a strongly defended enemy strong point, personally killing 4 of an enemy patrol who attacked him en route. Then crawling forward under withering machinegun fire, he pounced upon the guncrew and put it out of action. Turning his attention to 2 mortars protected by the crossfire of 2 machineguns, S/Sgt. Ehlers led his men through this hail of bullets to kill or put to flight the enemy of the mortar section, killing 3 men himself.

After mopping up the mortar positions, he again advanced on a machinegun, his progress effectively covered by his squad. When he was almost on top of the gun he leaped to his feet and, although greatly outnumbered, he knocked out the position single-handed. The next day, having advanced deep into enemy territory, the platoon of which S/Sgt. Ehlers was a member, finding itself in an untenable position as the enemy brought increased mortar, machinegun, and small arms fire to bear on it, was ordered to withdraw. S/Sgt. Ehlers, after his squad had covered the withdrawal of the remainder of the platoon, stood up and by continuous fire at the semicircle of enemy placements, diverted the bulk of the heavy hostile fire on himself, thus permitting the members of his own squad to withdraw.

At this point, though wounded himself, he carried his wounded automatic rifleman to safety and then returned fearlessly over the shell-swept field to retrieve the automatic rifle which he was unable to carry previously. After having his wound treated, he refused to be evacuated, and returned to lead his squad. The intrepid leadership, indomitable courage, and fearless aggressiveness displayed by S/Sgt. Ehlers in the face of overwhelming enemy forces serve as an inspiration to others.

After 2 days of intense bravery and heroic actions, charging machine gun nests wounded and carrying out comrades on his shoulders, Sgt Ehler could have just rested on his laurels for the rest of his life.  Instead he returned home and lived the next 69 years as a good man, a good husband and a good father.

He was a benefits counselor at the VA helping other veterans, volunteered with the Boy Scouts of America, married his wife Dorothy with whom he spent 59 wonderful years and raised 4 children, one of which, Walter, would rise in the army to the rank of Lt. Colonel.

War did not define Walter Ehlers, it revealed his spirit and the following 70 years simply reaffirmed what was shown near Goville France so many years ago.

Godspeed Sgt. Ehlers.

 

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