Walter D. Ehlers, the last living Medal of Honor recipient from the Allied invasion of Normandy during ‘Operation Overlord’ in 1944, passed away in Buena Park, California on Thursday of natural causes at the age of 92.
Ehlers was born in 1921, during the post-World War I recession era that soon became known as the ‘Roaring Twenties,’ and in 1940, both he and his brother, Roland enlisted in the U.S. Army.
On June 6, 1944, Staff Sgt. Ehlers was one of more than 160,000 Allied troops who took part in ‘Operation Neptune,’ the code name commonly referred to as D-Day. During the Battle of Normandy, he led a 12-man reconnaissance patrol across Omaha Beach, in Nazi-controlled France, without sustaining a single loss or casualty to his team.
Staff Sgt. Ehlers was later award the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest and oldest military decoration that may be awarded by the United States government. On December 12, 1944 Staff Sgt. Ehlers received the Medal of Honor, “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.”
While sustaining significant injuries and after learning that his brother Roland was killed in action during the Normandy invasion, Staff Sgt. Ehlers refused to be evacuated and instead continued to lead his squad.
By the war’s end, Staff Sgt. Walter Ehlers had fought in eight campaigns. In addition to the Congressional Medal of Honor, he received the Silver Star, three Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars, the Presidential Unit Citation with Two Clusters, and the Combat Infantry Badge. Additionally, he received the King George Military Medal from the United Kingdom, France’s Croix de Guerre, Belgium’s King Leopold Medal and was knighted by King Albert II, according to a release by the City of Buena Park, California.
Staff Sgt. Ehlers received the following citation, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, for his personal bravery and self-sacrifice:
“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.”
The Congressional Medal of Honor, was established by General George Washington on August 7, 1782, and is “awarded in the name of Congress to a person who, while a member of the Army, distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States.”
On behalf of a grateful nation and for your honorable and faithful service, Lt. Walter D. Ehlers – America thanks you.