In the advance off the D-Day beaches, 23 year-old staff sergeant Walter Ehlers of the 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division, single-handedly knocked two German machinegun nests and forced a German mortar squad to retreat, before carrying a wounded soldier back to receive aid despite being shot in the back himself. S/Sgt Ehlers was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on Dec 19, 1944.
The citation reads:
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.
A veteran of the landings in North Africa and Sicily, Ehlers lost his older brother in the D-Day landings when his landing craft was struck by enemy fire. The officers had told them before the invasion that they were splitting the brothers up, to increase the chance of one of them living. Of his wartime experiences, he said that “I got all 12 of my men off the beach [Omaha Beach] without a casualty, which was the best thing I ever did in my life.”
Ehlers passed away of kidney failure on February 20, at the age of 92, in Long Beach, Ca. In addition to Dorothy, his wife of 58 years, Ehlers is survived by 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.
Funeral services with full military honors will be March 8 at Riverside National Cemetery.