Former Army Staff Sgt. Walter Ehlers, the last living Medal of Honour recipient to storm Omaha Beach on D-Day during World War II, has died. He was 92.
Born in Junction City, Kansas in 1921, Ehlers enlisted in the Army in 1940 as a private and went on to serve in the 1st and 3rd Infantry Divisions, WCVB reports. Ehlers was among the thousands of other American and British forces invading the French coast on June 6th, 1944 in Operation: Overlord, known by many simply as D-Day.
His unit fought its way off the beaches and moved inland, where then-Staff Sgt. Ehlers would later demonstrate remarkable heroism that would lead to his Medal of Honour.
NBC has more:
During battle near Goville, France, Ehlers went ahead of his men to defend his squad against the enemy. He blocked his men from gunfire and even after he was wounded in the back, carried a rifleman to safety and then returned to the battleground to retrieve his rifle. Ehlers refused to leave his squad after his wound was treated.
“The Germans didn’t leave much of me untouched,” Ehlers said an interview with WWII Magazine in 2012.
Along with the Medal of Honour, the nation’s highest award, Ehlers also earned three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star, according to WCVB.
According to NBC, he is survived by his wife Dorothy, three children, 11 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
This is his full Medal of Honour citation, via the Congressional Medal of Honour Society:
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.
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