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"When we landed, we weren’t prepared for the chaos that we saw on the beach that day." (Video interview, 13:52)

   Walter David Ehlers
Collection image
Walter Ehlers [detail from video interview]
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: Army
Unit: 7th Infantry Division; 3rd Infantry Division; 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division
Service Location: Fort Ord, California; Fort Lewis, Washington; Camp Pickett, Virginia; Africa; Sicily; France; European Theater
Rank: Second Lieutenant
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The son of a Kansas farmer, Walter David Ehlers followed his older brother into the service, enlisting in the Army with him in 1940. Both of the Ehlers brothers served with the 1st Infantry Division, though they were in different companies, and fought in North Africa and Sicily before landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day. Miraculously, Ehlers managed to get his entire squad of twelve men off the beach without a single casualty, a fact which he cites with great pride in his oral history interview. In the days that followed, he led his squad inland and through multiple encounters with the enemy. He was eventually awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery in combat on June 9 and 10. Tragically, on July 14, 1944, Ehlers received word that his brother had died on D-Day, when his landing craft was hit by a mortar shell.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (9 clips)
» Part 1 |  Part 2 
Download: video(1) | 
Download: video(2) (120 min.)
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 Video (Interview Excerpts) (9 items)
Seasickness on journey overseas; landing in Morocco; going over the side of the ship into Higgins boats; seeing the first casualty. (02:04) Landing on D-Day; chaos of beach; moving inland. (02:43) How it felt to fight among the hedgerows; learning how to navigate the Normandy terrain. (01:28)
Encountering German patrols; night missions; combat on June 9; taking out German machine gun nests. (05:26) Combat on June 10; rescuing a fellow soldier. (02:31) Wounded; refused to be evacuated from field. (01:29)
His approach to surviving combat; importance of solid training; scared all the time. (00:53) Finding out he was to be awarded the Medal of Honor; being pulled from the field in order to receive it. (02:56) Impact of receiving the Medal of Honor; enabled him to get a job with the Veterans Administration after the War; worked for the VA for 34 years. (01:07)

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  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
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