Walter Ehlers belonged to the “Greatest Generation” — men like my dad who left the warmth of homes to fight the tyranny of Naziism, fascism and imperialism. They are the men for whom our eyes well up when we meet them and hear their stories.Today unfortunately we bid farewell to a piece of American history: World War II Medal of Honor recipient, Walter D. Ehlers.
When Ehlers was 23 years old, he charged through enemy fire to destroy two German machine gun nests, killed seven enemy soldiers, put a halt to a mortar barrage and carried a wounded buddy to safety – all after he had been shot in the side by a sniper. The date was June 9, 1944 at Normandy. His mission was to liberate Europe from the grip of Nazi Germany.Ehlers’ passing leaves only seven surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipients.
His wife, Dorothy, told Fox News, “Walt was the kindest, gentlest person, and you would never have known he could have done the things that he did. He always said, ‘if it’s you or them, you make sure it’s them.’”
Ehlers leaves behind his daughters Cathy Metcalf and Tracy Kilpatrick; his son, Lt. Col. (ret.) Walter D. Ehlers Jr.; sisters Leona Porter, Marjorie Gustin and Gloria Salberg; 11 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. “One of the last things he said before he passed away was, ‘tell my Medal of Honor brothers goodbye.”
To Ehlers, however, the real hero in the family was his older brother Roland, who enlisted with Walter in 1940. The day before the Normandy landings, military superiors separated the two brothers to improve the odds that at least one of them would survive. Walter, then a staff sergeant, made it off the boat on June 6 and helped all 12 of his men survive the landing. His brother, arriving on another boat, was killed. In later life, Ehlers would say he wore the medal to honor those who didn’t come home – his brother included.
Walter D. Ehlers served in the US Army 1st Infantry Division — The Big Red One — landing on Omaha Beach. Decades after Ehlers, I served in the First Infantry Division as a young captain and deployed in Operation Desert Storm. We have a simple motto, “No Mission too Difficult, No Sacrifice too Great, Duty First.”
Farewell Sir, see you on the high ground. Duty First!