By Guest Contributor Chris Carter
Walter D. Ehlers, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient for the Normandy campaign, was laid to rest March 10 at Riverside (Calif.) National Cemetery.
Ehlers was born in Junction City, Ks. on May 7, 1921. He enlisted in the Army with his brother Roland and the two served together throughout the North Africa and Sicily campaigns, but anticipating high casualties, their company commander separated the brothers for the Normandy invasion due to fears that the two would perish together. Walter learned on June 14 that his brother perished when a mortar struck his landing craft at Omaha Beach on D-Day.
As Walter’s reconnaissance squad fought through France on June 9 and 10, 1944, he repeatedly moved far forward of his men, leading a bayonet charge and assaulting multiple heavily defended strongpoints – at times, single-handedly. While covering the withdrawal of his platoon from heavy fire, and despite being wounded himself, Ehlers crossed a killzone to retrieve his wounded automatic rifleman. Once his man was secured, he returned for the soldier’s weapon. Ehlers’ full citation is posted at the Victory Institute.
He was wounded three more times as the First Infantry Division fought across Europe. In addition to his Medal of Honor and Purple Hearts, he also earned the Silver Star and Bronze Star. He served as a counselor for the Veterans Administration, and his son Walter Jr. retired as a lieutenant colonel, also having served with the First Infantry Division. Ehlers spoke in 1994 at the 50th anniversary commemoration of the D-Day invasion and walked alongside President Bill Clinton on Omaha Beach.
Many who worked alongside Ehlers never knew he was a Medal of Honor recipient. “This was a man who was a warrior,” recalled former California governor Pete Wilson. “There’s no doubt about that, but this was also one of the most gentle, kindest, most modest human beings I’ve ever encountered.” Hundreds attended his funeral.
Of the 12 Medals of Honor awarded for Normandy, all but three were posthumous. With Ehlers’ passing, only 75 living Medal of Honor recipients remain. However, the Marine Corps Times reports that former Marine Corporal Kyle Carpenter will receive the award for shielding his comrades from a grenade blast in Afghanistan in 2010.
Ed. Note: The Congressional Medal of Honor was enabled by a bill introduced by Iowa Sen. James W. Grimes, a Republican, in 1861 (S. 82).
(Published with permission from Unto the Breach/The Victory Institute)
Chris Carter’s work appears at The US Report, International Analyst Network, Human Events, Canada Free Press, Family Security Matters, Deutsche Welle, NavySEALs.com, Blackfive and other websites and print publications. He also served on the 2010 National Medal of Honor Convention project. Carter is a veteran of the US Air Force and he currently works as a firefighter. He is also on the U.S. Counterterrorism Advisory Team.