A couple Saturday mornings ago I organized a group bike ride, the bulk of which featured a number of stops in the historic West Adams District of the city. In the course of my research for the excursion, I discovered that the house at 2279 W. 20th Street became the post-World War II home of one Army Staff Sergeant Walter Ehlers, who moved here from his home state of Kansas after the war in Europe ended — that’s him there below, in front of his convertible in front of the house (click to enlarge a bit):
As it was Memorial Day Weekend, I couldn’t help but include a brief stop at the two-story craftsman and recognize Ehlers as a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
I’m taking these moments a couple weeks later to share what I know about him because 65 years ago on this day he and the rest of 18th Infantry, First Infantry Division, L Company, stormed Omaha Beach as part of the D-Day invasion force at Normandy, France. Walter’s older brother Roland landed up the beach with K Company and was killed in action when a mortar struck a direct hit on their craft.
Ehlers’ orders were to lead a 12-man reconnaissance team to a town about five miles inland. Under his leadership, the entire squad made it off the beach and up into the bluffs, where they captured a German pill box.
Then the real heroics began, which you can read in Ehlers’ official Medal of Honor citation, after the jump:
Ehlers’ official Medal of Honor 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. Staff Seargeant 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, Staff Sergeant 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, Staff Sergeant 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 Staff Sergeant 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. Staff Sergeant 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 Staff Sergeant Ehlers in the face of overwhelming enemy forces serve as an inspiration to others.