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Interview with Walter D. Ehlers [No date]

Unidentified interviewer:

Now for the editor, I need you to just state your name, spell your last name and tell me where you're from.

Walter D. Ehlers:

I'm Walter D. Ehlers. My last name is spelled E-h-l-e-r-s. And I'm from Buena Park, California. Originally I was born and raised in Kansas. And I went into the military service from Kansas in 1940.

Unidentified interviewer:

And what was your rank when you left the service?

Walter D. Ehlers:

When I left the service. [OFF-MIKE OFF TOPIC]

Walter D. Ehlers:

When I left the service, I was a second lieutenant. I got a battlefield commission.

Unidentified interviewer:

Now we're gonna start from the beginning. Tell me a little bit about your childhood, about your hobbies, what you did, who you looked up to.

Walter D. Ehlers:

Well, of course I was born and raised in Kansas and - on a farm. And my dad was a farmer. Of course my mother was a farmer's wife. And mother - and she did everything. She helped with the farming and everything. And set a fine example for the - for our family. And we always were very proud of our parents. And about the only thing that most of the - I tell children that I talk to today that I lived on a farm and we had the biggest playground of any people - bigger playground than any people in the cities do. The fact is the last farm I lived on had 400 acres of playground. 200 acres of pasture and the rest of it was in farmland and of course we had to farm that. And so we raised cattle and hogs. Did diversified farming. We raised wheat, corn and barley. And oats and all that stuff for our horses and things that we were raising. And -

Unidentified interviewer:

What made you decide, when you became 17, what made you think about enlisting.

Walter D. Ehlers:

Well when I was 17, I was still in high school. And I graduated from high school in 1940. And then in October 1940 I enlisted in the military service. I went in because my brother said he was going in because he didn't want to be drafted. So he was going to enlist. I told him I was going to enlist with him. So I went down and enlisted with him.

Unidentified interviewer:

Where did you enlist?

Walter D. Ehlers:

At Ft. Riley, Kansas.

Unidentified interviewer:

And do you remember the enlistment at all.

Walter D. Ehlers:

Well, when I went down there, my brother, of course he - they signed him up right away but I had to go home and get my mother's signature and my mother and dad's signature. And when I went home, my dad said well, he would sign but my mother said well, I'll only sign on one condition. She says if you promise to be a Christian soldier. And she said that with tears in her eyes. And kind of took me back a bit. But I said well I'll do my best. [CHIMES] And I did. [OFF-MIKE OFF TOPIC]

Unidentified interviewer:

So you enlisted, you go to boot camp. Tell me about boot camp. is that harder than being on a farm. A lot of the guys tell me it wasn't. It was easier than a farm.

Walter D. Ehlers:

Well being on the farm, when I - when I enlisted in the military service, I came directly from the farm. And I was lifting bales of hay - weighed 60 to 90 pounds, throwing them up on a rack and things like this. And I was strong, Physically strong and everything. And I wasn't fat. I was skinny. And so when we enlisted, we went out to - we enlisted at Ft. Riley and they sent us - put us on a train and sent us out to California. And we ended up in the Presidio of Monterey. And [CLEARS THROAT] at the Presidio, they had a introduction to camp there, into the military service. And then from there they sent us out to the unit that we'd signed up for. See, when we enlisted, we were supposed to be able to pick our own unit. So they said well they had this mechanized division forming out in California called the 7th infantry division at that time. And so that's what we enlisted for. It was a mechanized outfit. When we got out there to California of course, the first thing we get into is close order drill. That was - I had a pretty rough time. NOt really but for instance - I wasn't too good of a marcher. Because I never did any marching or like that before to music or anything like that. They used to call me the hayseed and so forth. And we had this sergeant. And he'd come around, he was telling - he said wipe that smile off your face. Well he had this face that always had a smile on it. So I'd be smiling back at him. And I couldn't hardly help it but I almost laughed in his face and I couldn't wipe the smile off. So he made me double time with my pack around the field. Just because I was smiling. But that didn't bother me. And at first, one night we just, we were having a close order drill. And then we had these fire alarms at night when we first went in. And we had to go up and - go up to the dump back of the Presidio there. And one night I and my brother and the guys were out and we got in kind of late and so I went to bed. And they had this - they had this alarm again. And I just stayed in bed sleeping. Some guy came in and he shook me. And says soldier, he says, you're supposed to be out on a fire drill. And I said, on that fire alarm. And I said well, they're just having a drill. They just run us up the hill to look at the fire and then they'll go back down. I said I was tired. I didn't know who it was. So the next morning, the company - the first sergeant called me in and said, private Ehlers, he goes what - he says how come you didn't go out for the fire drill last night? I said I was tired. He says well, the company commander came in and woke you up. I said well, somebody woke me up but I didn't know it was the company commander. He was in civilian clothes. [ASIDES]

Walter D. Ehlers:

i didn't even know who the first sergeant was at that time, that time. Anyway I got the KP job. And I always remember seeing that cartoon that Bill Mauldin did. In fact I just saw Bill Mauldin the other day. And the old GI peeling potatoes. I was doing the same doggone thing. Sitting down there in the rack and I was peeling potatoes when I got - the CP called and wanted me to come down there to try out for a typist's job or secretary job or something in the office. Because I had secretarial training when I was in high school. I was typing and shorthand and all that stuff. And so - they took me off of KP so I got off that KP stuff.

Unidentified interviewer:

Tell me about your first action. Where did they send you and where did you see -

Walter D. Ehlers:

WE went to - well, I joined - let's see, 17th infantry. I was the 7th division. And then they were bringing in the selective service and they said and it didn't, by the way it didn't turn out to be a mechanized outfit. It was nothing but hiking and running and -all over the hills. Anyway they - when they started to bring in the selective service people, they decided to use the 7th division for training of the selective service people who were just coming into the military service. So they shipped out all of the regular army men to the 3rd infanty division which wanted the regular army people because they didn't want all the selective service people. And so I was shipped to company K of the - I and my brother, my brother went in together - we were shipped to company K of the 30th infantry regiment. Which was at the Presidio San Francisco. And then we went from there and rejoined the outfit in Ft. Lewis, Washington. And then in November after we had all this amphibious training and ju jitsu and all this kind of stuff, we thought we were gonna go to the islands or somewhere in the Pacific. And we were in khaki uniforms and they brought us back from Camp Pendleton after our maneuvers up to Ft. Ord and put us on a train and we went across the United States and ended up in Camp Pickett, Virginia. And they put us on - gave us new uniforms and everything else and put us on a boat and sent us out on the water and gave us French translation books and they thought we thought, well we were going to France. And - but we found out, this was in November of 1942. And they finally came around on the ship and said we have French translation books because we're gonna land in French Morocco. Because the people there spoke French. So that's where we landed, in Fidela. We landed in these little Higgins boats that had this rounded nose. And you had to jump over the side. It wasn't the same ones. So it wasn't too bad of a landing. However I was so seasick when we were landing that I had my head hanging over the side and the French were shelling us. And those shells were just barely going over our heads when - And I was thinking oh, if one of those shells hit my head, I'd be out of my misery. And I mean seasick is horrible. I was out on the water and I was doing fine. Of course I felt a little queasy but then sergeant come down and said well, you gotta go up and do KP. I said oh, you gotta be kidding. And he says yeah. I said well, I said I don't think I'll last long. So I went up there and of course we were supposed to eat first - KP people were and so I went in there and I got on the line and I saw that old greasy bean soup they had for us. And I got so sick. I was out of there. They never seen me again. And then even when we got into - close to the African coast, we had to go over the side of the ship into the Higgins boats, you know on that rope ladders. And I was still sick. And I was sick, got even sicker when I was out there because those little boats were just wobbling all over the place. And we finally landed. And as soon as we landed though, my seasickness went - I don't even remember being seasick after that. But the only, it wasn't a funny thing but the thing is is that just thinking about it, how sick I really was. And then all of a sudden it's gone because when I landed, everything else took over. Because they were still shelling us. And the first person I saw killed was on - on the beach. And I knew that he was, had been hit pretty bad because is leg was - instead of being - layikng straight out, why it was bent clear sideways you know. It was terrible. And that was the first death I ever saw.

Unidentified interviewer:

That was from a shell?

Walter D. Ehlers:

Well he was hit from the artillery blast, yeah. And we got in. They strafed the beach once. But we captured that place. It wasn't too many casualties on that landing. Then we became honor guard for the Casablanca conference for President Roosevelt. And we were in - I'm in the 3rd division mind you, at that time. 30th infantry regiment. And our company was selected to do the honor guard and so we were lined up on both sides of the street. Roosevelt's coming down the street to meet Churchill. And DeGaulle and Eisenhower down at the end of the street there and as he's coming down, he's smoking his little cigar. And looking around. Then he said these are mighty fine looking troops. They'd make good replacements for the first infantry division. So that's how I got transferred to the first division. Because he said, they'd make good replacements for the first infantry division because they had so many casualties at Casarene[?] Pass. And so we got transferred to the first infantry division within a couple weeks. And we were up there and I joined the first in Africa so I fought through Africa and Sicily with them.

Unidentified interviewer:

Let's talk about your medal. Tell me about the day leading up to your action and tell me about the actions and then let's talk a little bit about it.

Walter D. Ehlers:

My - I landed on D day. So we were supposed to be on the second wave. The first wave got pinned down so they wanted more troops on the beach immediately. So they brought us in. And we came in about 2 hours ahead of the second wave. So we were right there in amongst with the first wave on the beach. And when we landed, we weren't prepared for the chaos that we saw on the beach that day. And it was just bodies and boats sinking and things like this all over. And shells landing all around. And of course when we were going over there, we saw all of these planes going over. The bombers, we could hear the bombs dropping inland. And we saw the ships shelling and shooting those big rockets and 8, 10 of them go off at a time. And you'd see the ship list to the side when they'd go off and things like this. You know with all that firepower going on there, there ought not be anything based on that beach. But it wasn't that way. They missed our beach entirely. There wasn't any shell craters, there wasn't any bomb craters or anything like that. We had to go across that beach and my squad and I went across the beach and we got up to the last row. A beach master told us to follow this path because it was made by people who had stepped on the mines and cleared it. And that's true. They were right and left of the path. Anyway when we got up to the last row of wire had been blow and there was a bangalore torpedo. Two guys there that had a bangalore torpedo that they hadn't blown the last row of wire yet. So we asked them to blow it. They said they were pinned down. They couldn't. So we said well we'll fire up into the trenches if you will - up on the hill anyway. We couldn't see the trench itself because when you looked up the hill, all you could see was grass. But that there was trenches all along from pillbox to pillbox. And so we did fire up there. But the guys got up to move and the one guy got killed immediately because they did have them pinned down. And of course we started firing in that direction and the other guy got the bangalore torpedo under him and blew the wire. Then we rushed through. We never saw those guys again. We don't know what happened to them. But we rushed up into the trenches and we started chasing the Germans. We captured the pillbox there and sent 4 Germans back down on the patrol and then we started out inland. Then we got - my objective was to [ ? ] the city of Treviers when I landed and they didn't change just because they brought me in early. So I just took the squad and was going on trying to do what I was supposed to be doing. And so I didn't meet up with our company until the next day after we landed. And then after that, we went inland and on the night of the 7th of June, I had to take a patrol out after - END SIDE A BEGIN SIDE B, EHLERS CONTINUED [OFF-MIKE OFF TOPIC]

Unidentified interviewer:

So your original mission, tell me again what you were assigned to do.

Walter D. Ehlers:

Oh my original mission was that - when we were briefed, that I was supposed to take my squad when we landed on the beach and head inland on a reconnaisance patrol to go to Treviers and that's about six miles inland. And of course the beach was supposed to be secured when the second wave landed. But that wasn't the case. We came in ahead of it. But my - nobody told anything different about what I was supposed to do when I got on the beach except that I still had my original orders. So that's what I was doing. And then - so I just headed in. Took my squad in right away. And in fact the best thing I ever did on D day was get all my squad off the beach without a casualty when the first waVe had 50 percent and the second wave had 30 percent. But when you talk about percentages of casualties on the beach, that percentage doesn't pertain to the companies and theis squads. There were whole companies wiped out. There were whole squads wiped out. Whole platoons wiped out. And a platoon is 30, over 30 men and a squad is 12 men and a company is 200 and some men. So what the heck. To them that rate doesn't work at all. They had 100 percent, some of them did. And so yeah, the whole operation yeah, we had 50 percent casualties. But it was - you know those guys that were landing on the beaches were taking the casualties. Putting up the percentages I guess.

Unidentified interviewer:

So you made it through the first row of pillboxes.

Walter D. Ehlers:

Right. Well we got - after we get back to that part, after we got up into the hedgerows, my -as I said, my objective was to go into Treviers. And because of the resistance, we couldn't get through. We couldn't get through the German lines. And so -

Unidentified interviewer:

Describe for me the terrain of the hedgerows -

Walter D. Ehlers:

Well the hedgerows are - the hedges that are formed by hundreds of years of farms that were divided by trees originally. And then as the years went by, the grass and hedges grew up in there. And the dirt filled in. And so eventually they had just almost like a hedge fence you know. Only it was filled with dirt and so forth. And so they'd be maybe 3 or 4 feet high actually before - solid with dirt and vegetation and so forth. And then on the top was, you had all these trees or hedges and things like this. And that's what they were actually. And so they were pretty difficult to get through. But they were also very good for any armies fighting in defensive position which the Germans were. And so we had to attack them. And we - in order to attack, you get exposed. And you know that when you're going across those fields, it's a horrible feeling. Because you know they've got guns pointed at you. But until the first shot's fired, you have a sick feeling about going across a field in the open or anything like this. So we quickly learned that we don't go across the middle of the field. We went up along the hedgerows. But even then it was dangerous. Because I'll tell you, as I go along here that - I started to tell you that on the night of the 7th, I had this patrol. And they had - the Germans who came in, they had a patrol. And they ran their patrol through our perimeter but when they came in, they got fired upon. But when they got inside, we couldn't fire on them because we'd be firing on one another. And so we let them go through. But then the company commander wanted the squad - patrol to follow them. And so I got the job. And so I went out where - actually they ran right over our position. And so we went out the gate there and then followed them down a road. And it was dark. It was - you couldn't see. And we just followed them by sound. We came up on a briefcase that they dropped. So we picked it up and we went on further. And we got out there about a mile or so and I told the squad - I said we're not going any further. We got this briefcase. We'll just turn around and go back because we don't know where we're going and we'd be lost. As soon as we leave this road we'd be lost. And so we turned around and came back. Took the briefcase. We found out they had maps in that briefcase that had - - and the briefcase had blood on it from one of the guys that got hit when he entered the perimeter apparently. And he dropped it. And it had the maps in there of the second and third line of defense of the positions that the Germans would withdraw to if they had to withdraw from the beach. They had it all set up. They had it all zeroed in and everything even for the fields that they would - if we came across, they knew exactly what the ranges were and everything like that.

Unidentified interviewer:

So you were able to radio their positions.

Walter D. Ehlers:

And so we, so then on the 9th and 10th of June, this was when I got my medal - so on the 9th and 10th of June, when we started out, we startd hitting these positions on the head. And so we were going out - our - I had my spot way out in the middle of the field. This was - I started to tell you about it - we were out in the middle of this field and -another platoon was over on the other side. And our squad was leading our platoon on the -it was third platoon and I don't know what platoon was first or second on the - in the other field across the hedgerow from us. And they got fired on. So I rushed my squad up to the hedgerow in front of us. And because I knew if we got fired on out there in the field, we'd get pinned down. So when we got up there, I went down the hedgerow to see where this machine gun firing was coming from. And so I started to go up the hedgerow and I came to a German patrol was coming down the side - other side of the hedgerow. And I'm about from here to that lamp there from the first guy. And so I shot him. And I had to shoot all 4 of them. And then we - and their machine gun was still up there firing. Of course the machine gun didn't know that their patrol had gotten knocked out. Because there was bullets coming from both directions from the troops out in our field there. And so I went up the hedgerow and I saw the machine gun nest and I - first of all before I did that, when I shot these guys, I thought -I looked down at my rifle - I only had one round left in the chamber. I took it out and put in a new clip and I told all the guys to fix their bayonets. Because we were too close to the GErmans. We were right in amongst them. And if we ran out - you shoot 8 rounds and you'd better be ready to use that thing if you're right that close together. So they fixed their bayonets. So we got there. And then I got the machine gun nest. I knocked it out. I shot them all. I didn't use my bayonet but I shot them all. And then we heard another machine gun firing further up along this same row of hedges. And so we went from that field up to - - I was going up the hedgerow and I was leading my squad and the reason I was leading my squad all the time because they had never been in combat before. And I had. And by that time I could smell Germans before I could see them. But anyway, so I was going up there. And I saw this other machine gun nest. And so we went out, came out and I just shot all 3 guys that were on it. Went up on the bank there. They were in front of a bank and so actually what they were doing, they were protecting their mortar position. And of course I didn't know that when I went up on that baNk. So when I went up on there -here's two big mortar positions down there. There was about 12 men in there. And when I went up on the bank with my bayonet, the guys looked at - The Germans saw me and their eyes got big and they took off. They wouldn't stop. We wanted to capture them but they wouldn't stop so we had to shoot them because otherwise we'd have had to fight them again. And so we got that one. Then when another machine gun nest - even another row up. But that was the first day. Then the second day -

Unidentified interviewer:

When you were crawling up there, I know it's kind of a funny question, but you guys must have been scared to death. How did you keep the morale up. How did you lead them -

Walter D. Ehlers:

The guys -

Unidentified interviewer:

I mean what are you going through -

Walter D. Ehlers:

From the very beginning, from the beach, remember I told you, I got all 12 men across the beach. Well they were with me. Everybody wanted to be in my squad. When I could get 12 men off of that beach without a casualty, they thought that was a miracle. It was a miracle. It was with God's help I'm sure. But anyway, and so I had no trouble with the guys. They always followed everywhere I went. And they'd come up to the assistance and so that's how we got the Germans knocked out as we went along. But on the second day, I'm taking my squad again. We're up, this is on the 10th of June. I'm going up alongside the hedgerow, not out in the middle of the field. That's when I started to tell you, we learned our lesson. We don't go out across the field, go along the hedgerows. And so as we're going up the hedgerow, we started getting fire from both sides, from the hedgerows that were going down those fields on the side. And there's - the hedgerows, there's a field on this side and a field on this side. We're on this side. And so they fired on this side. Then they were firing at us on this side. And then across the front, there was all - Germans all across the front. So we got up there and my scout - he got killed up in the hedgerow. And I was just right there almost next to the hedgerow myself. And so company commander called - passed the word up, passed it by word of mouth. UP from the back of the squad to the front and said to withdraw from that position back to the hedgerow behind us. So - well [ ? ] if we withdrew, if we turned our back on them, they'd shoot us. And so I was staying up, I went, I told the squad when I stand up on that - when I go out here, you guys start withdrawing us and I'll try and keep these guys pinned down. Of course my automatic rifleman knew what his job was. So he came up to help me keep them pinned down. So he's firing rounds to the right and I'm firing rounds to the left and the guys all went back and as soon as we started back, I saw them putting a machine gun down in the corner. So I was - I just about got back to our hedgerow where we were supposed to go over the hedgerow and back out of the field of fire there and knocked out 3 guys that were putting in a machine gun. And I got hit in the back at the same time. And it spun me around. I saw a GErman up in the hedgerow. I shot him. And then I looked up and saw my automatic rifleman laying up there on the field. So I got up and went over and got him and carried him back. And as soon as I got him back on the other side, to the medics side, I rushed up there on the field and got the automatic rifle that I couldn't carry before. Because I needed that for firepower. And everybody said that's a crazy thing to do. I guess it was. But I was just going after my weapon. A weapon that we needed. And so I brought it back. I guess that's, that was -

Unidentified interviewer:

And you had been wounded though.

Walter D. Ehlers:

Oh yes, yes. And then I refused to be medivacked because I got hit in the back. It went in, hit my rib and it went out. The rib blasted the bullet, it ricocheted the bullet into my pack and it hit a bar of soap. And it came through the back of my pack. And through my trench shovel. So when I got back there, I got the guy - automatic rifleman, they brought up an ambulance and they were putting him on the ambulance and I told them, I said before these medics leave, you ought to have them look at my wound on my back. Company commander said you got hit on the back. I said yes. And so he turned me around. He seen this bullet hole coming through my pack and he said my God, you should be dead. You've been shot clear through. I said no, sir. And they took it off and they saw what happened. So it just went in there and it hit the - and when it hit the bar of soap it turned the bullet and it went straight out my trench shovel. Looked like it had been shot clear through. For a while they, when they said that, they said my God, you should be dead. You've been shot clear through. And so the sergeant Ehlers was killed or something and they went around and everybody thought I'd gotten killed on that day. But no. And so I refused to be medivacked. And I didn't have to carry my pack anymore because it would have rubbed on that thing. But I had a [ ? ] the bandolier of ammunition that you carry round the shoulder so that the wound was over here. So I didn't have to worry about it.

Unidentified interviewer:

Tell me about when you're in that kind of a danger and you know you've got Germans on both sides and in front of you and if you back up, they're gonna get you and you're right in the middle of - [OFF-MIKE OFF TOPIC]

Walter D. Ehlers:

I don't know. I was, you know I had - I attribute part of it to my faith. But also I attribute part of it to my training because I had over 2 years of training before combat, before I ever went into combat. And so it was only the natural thing for me to do was the job I had to do. And so I was just really doing my job is what I was doing. And I was doing it because I had to, not because I wasn't scared. I was scared all the time. I mean if you were - you - the only people that do those things must be a Rambo that's not scared because certainly if you're gonna be a Rambo, you're gonna end up dead. And if you're not scared and don't have respect for what the other guy can do to you too, you're not gonna live very long.

Unidentified interviewer:

Tell me about when you found out about - where were you when you found out you were gonna receive the medal.

Walter D. Ehlers:

Oh, I was - I didn't know I was getting the medal at that time or anything like that. The fact is I got wounded again in France and went back to hospital. And then I got, went back and rejoined the - I was in a hospital in Cherbourg and I went back, rejoined the outfit in Belgium. And then we crossed the German border, went into Hurricane Force. I got wounded again there. Then I went back to the hospital in Paris, France. Then I was on my way back to the front line again. This is in December of 1944 and on the train, I was reading the Stars and STripes, another person on the bunk across from me on the train was also reading the Stars and Stripes. And he knew my brother and I by our last name because he was in my brother's company. And he said hey, Ehlers he says I'm reading here where your brother got the medal of honor. He just presumed it was my brother he was reading about since I was reading the paper too. I said yeah, I'm reading that too. But I didn't tell him he was reading about me. Because I hadn't gotten it yet. That's the first time I knew about it. So we got back to the outfit and I was walking up to the - to the hedge - to the front up there and a colonel called me by my last name and said Ehlers, Sergeant Ehlers, what are you doing here? I said well sir, I'm reporting back to duty. He said well you're supposed to be back in the States getting the medal of honor from the president. And I said yes, sir, I read about it in the Stars and STripes. So that's how I found out about it. After a quick news conference a couple days later, General Hubner came out of the news conference and he put his arm around my shoulders, we went down, Sergeant he says, I'm prmoting you to a second lieutenant. And I said sir, I don't know if I qualify or not. And he says you qualify. I said yes, sir. So that's - I wasn't gonna argue with the general. So I got my battlefield commission. Then they started this breakthrough at the Belgium bulge there. What they'd done, they'd landed some paratroopers behind the lines and then there were people dressed in American uniform, Germans in American uniforms speaking perfect English - - out there directing our traffic. They'd infiltrated our lines. And so they came in, woke up one night and says Lieutenant Ehlers, we gotta get you out of here. I said what's the big hurry? And he said well, he says - he told me the Germans were landed beyind our lines. And he said and we gotta get you out of here to get your medal of honor before you get killed. And I said well it's all right with me. So I went back to Paris and got my medal.

Unidentified interviewer:

So you got it in Paris.

Walter D. Ehlers:

Yes.

Unidentified interviewer:

And who presented it?

Walter D. Ehlers:

General John C. H. Lee. He was the Com C commander at that time. Com C was the communications on all of [ ? ]. He was a lieutenant general. And the interesting part about that, General John C. H. Lee went to the same high school I did. And when he told me that, I said that must have been when my mother went there. She went to the same high school too. But I was, I was 23 years old then.

Unidentified interviewer:

That's great. Tell me about the medal. What effect did it have on your life?

Walter D. Ehlers:

The medal.

Unidentified interviewer:

Did it change your life?

Walter D. Ehlers:

Well, people have asked me that and I said I don't know. I never had a life before that so I - I was just doing what everybody else was doing. You're living. And I had no idea what I was gonna do in the future. And so I just live my life as it comes along. And the medal might - probably did change my life. It's made a lot of things - things easier for me. I got a job that required a college education. It was a GS 7 rating. And so I got a job by - President Truman said that anybody that had the medal of honor could become a contact representative for the Veterans Administration. So that's what I did. And so I interviewed veterans for - after 34 years of government service, I retired. And I've interviewed veterans all the way from Spanish American war through up the Persian gulf. So I still kind of stayed in the business after I got out of the service. I got out in 45 and went to work for the VA in January of 46. Never drew an unemployment check in my life. But that was the one thing that my parents didn't like was welfare. [OFF-MIKE OFF TOPIC]

Walter D. Ehlers:

So I never wanted to be on welfare.

Unidentified interviewer:

IN terms of the medal, what do you think it means to you personally -

Walter D. Ehlers:

Well it, to me the medal that was given to me, I received it as a result of what I did. But also because I was recommended by the men of my squad and my company commander and so forth. And so I wear it in honor of them and in honor of the people who actualy made the supreme sacrifice during the war so that we could all be here today or something like this. And I'm - the only reason I'm here is because a heck of a lot of guys sacrificed their lives on the beach in Normandy. And a lot of lives since then and many wars since then. So I go back to Normandy. I've been back about 4 times now. And every time I go, it's very emotional. And - but it's something that we need to do is to remember what - - these were not old soldiers. Those were young men and they're still there. They haven't aged a bit. And I can still see them just as plain as day, a lot of them that they're still there.

Unidentified interviewer:

Did you see Saving Private Ryan?

Walter D. Ehlers:

Yes, I did see that, yes.

Unidentified interviewer:

And what was your feeling?

Walter D. Ehlers:

Well, about the same thing as everybody else had about it. You know it's a very emotional film because it shows the humanitarian part about war. We - the soldiers on the front lines the only, isn't the only one that suffers. Actually you know every solder that got wounded or killed, their families were worried and suffered just as much back home. You know I - we gotta hand it to our mothers because some mothers gave up 4, 5 sons. And it doesn't make any difference if you have one or 5. Whatever one - it's just, it's the same feeling. I mean - and they don't want to give up any of them. And of course my mother had, lady said well, she said you lost one son but you got 2 others. That didn't make a difference. It don't make anything more or less painful.

Unidentified interviewer:

Tell me about where you were when you learned about your brother. [OFF-MIKE OFF TOPIC]

Walter D. Ehlers:

I was still on the front line in July, the 14th of 1944. And his company commander come over and told me. And that kind of broke me up. Anyway it - he was killed on D day.

Unidentified interviewer:

On the beach?

Walter D. Ehlers:

He was in the second wave. He came in on the second wave because he came in with the company I was with when I came in. They took me off of the ship, I was on - be the extra fodder for the cannon fodder for the beach. I call it cannon fodder. But that - in the infantry we always figured we're cannon fodder. They threw everything at us. Bombs, shells, mortars.

Unidentified interviewer:

Do you have children and grandchildren?

Walter D. Ehlers:

Yes, I do. I have 11 grandchildren. I have a boy and 2 daughters. And my son has 4 girls and a boy. And then my daughter, the oldest daughter has 2 boys and a girl. And my youngest daughter has one boy and 2 girls.

Unidentified interviewer:

What do you tell them about the medal whenthey ask.

Walter D. Ehlers:

I don't tell them much. They've heard everything I think that's - they've seen films and things. And - I just - I know one thing that my grandchildren are very proud of it. And that I go to their schools and I speak to their class. .

Unidentified interviewer:

What do you tell them?

Walter D. Ehlers:

Well one of the things I tell them, you know I've had - now I went to grade schools for instance. And I was talking to second and third graders. And one of these little second graders one time asked me, how many people did you kill. I told her, honey, I don't kill, I didn't kill any people. And she said well what happened. And I said well, I said I was trained to kill the enemy. And I said, and I was killing the enemy. And if I didn't kill the enemy, they would kill me because I was their enemy. And so that's - you have to - if you're fighting an enemy, why you have to kill them and that's what I was trained to do. Not to kill people though. I said God forbid, if I had to ever kill any people. In other words there's no reason for going out and killing people. But when there's people fighting you and they're your enemy, that's a different story.

Unidentified interviewer:

What did your mother mean by saying be a Christian soldier?

Walter D. Ehlers:

Well what she meant was that - well she was a Christian and of course I was Christian too. But a kind of a loose Christian. Because I went to Sunday school when I was a kid and I believed and I always have. And she knew that I did. But she still knew what it was like. Because after all, we lived close to a fort and we've seen the actions of GIs and things like this and what they do when they get loose from their families. And sometimes they kind of lose their way. And they go out and do things that they wouldn't normally do. And so I knew she didn't want me doing any sinful things and things like that that would bring dishonor on the family and certainly I wouldn't bring dishonor on her or - and above all, I wouldn't bring dishonor on God. And so that's - and I think that's a good faith to live by. Because after all, if we didn't have that as a built for the basis of our society, we wouldn't have a society. We'd be all animals.

Unidentified interviewer:

How would you rank the medal of honor as a milestone in your life compared to other milestones.

Walter D. Ehlers:

Second. My brother was my biggest - he was my hero.

Unidentified interviewer:

Why was he your hero?

Walter D. Ehlers:

Because he was older, he was 4 years older and  he and I were buddies from the very beginning you know. And that's the reason I went into the service with him. I just wanted to be with him. And he kept me straight. He - and when we went in the service, he kept me - - we had, he and I were in competition all the time for honor guard when we'd go on guard duty because honor guard was easier. That was in the daytime only. Where the other guards had to walk during the night and so forth. And so we'd get the honor post or something like this. And so we always had our rifles and clothes the cleanest and neatest and of course he was the one that taught me how to do it. He was an immaculate person.

Unidentified interviewer:

What lesson do you think the country can take from not just you but all recipients.

Walter D. Ehlers:

I think that we have to remember that all the recipients that I know are very humble. And they know that they wouldn't be here if it hadn't been for all the rest of the guys who paid a supreme sacrifice and that freedom's not free. And that the medal of honor recipients represent that fact because they're here. But they're here because other guys paid the supreme sacrifice too. And a lot of guys, like the guy that throws himself on a grenade was never expecting to come back. But he somehow survived throwing himself on a grenade. We have 3 or 4 of them at this meeting.

Unidentified interviewer:

I'm gonna be interviewing a couple of them. Yeah, they're incredible.

Walter D. Ehlers:

You know Rick Sorenson.

Unidentified interviewer:

Yes, actually - [OFF-MIKE OFF TOPIC] BEGIN TAPE 5, EHLERS CONTINUED

Unidentified interviewer:

It's one year to the day of the September 11th attack. Can you tell me what your thoughts on that are.

Walter D. Ehlers:

It was horrible thing to have happen to us. September 11th. It was - an incredible thing that they did. No one could really believe that anybody would really be crazy enough to do something like that. Not people in the United States anyway. We've had a lot of weird things happen in the United States but we've never had anything like that. And no other country's ever had it happen to them in that particular manner. And it's just goes to show you how terrible some people are in this world. And but they hate and because of hatred, they go out and my mother told us never to hate anybody. She'd wash my mouth out with soap if I told her I hated my sister or somebody like that. She said that's the most terrible thing that can happen. She says it destroys you, it destroys other people and so forth. Well it goes to prove that it does. It destroys people and it destroys countries and the guy who - the hijackers, they were haters. Because they - they hated so bad it destroyed them and it destroyed a whole lot other people - even their own nationality and the buildings that they hit. And we can't have that going on around this world today. And so September 11th has really brought us together again but it also makes us realize how vulnerable we can be. And we just have to keep up our guard. There's no doubt about it. And we have to try and rid the world of the fact that terrorism is not a way of life. And we shouldn't have to be afraid of it. And we have to go on living and we do not want to have to be living in fear all of our life. Of course this is the only country you can walk around free without having somebody question you everywhere you go and everything. It's fabulous. But people around the world, especially these people who are terrorists, they don't, they just don't know anything about freedom. They're afraid of freedom. You know if they had freedom over in Saudi Arabia, if they had freedom over in Iran or Iraq and in the Bosnian countries - - this is where we're at, if they had complete freedom, the guys would be thrown out that were leading their countries. And so Hussein don't want freedom in his country, he'd be thrown out. And that's what they're afraid of.

Unidentified interviewer:

One last question, talk about the bonds that you have with the people you served with.

Walter D. Ehlers:

Oh, I still - well we just came from a reunion down in New Orleans the last month, in August. And it's a great - our first infantry division that I was in in World War II is a great division. And it's one of the finest divisions in the world and it's still very active over in Europe. And I go over and I talk to the troops there. And I have a great bond with the division and I have a great bond with - I don't know of very many people that are still living from World War II though. From the division itself. Except some of the higher ranking officers. Of course I know more generals now - that's one thing about the medal of honor, I know more generals now than I knew as a rank of people in military service.

Unidentified interviewer:

Is there anything else you want to say.

Walter D. Ehlers:

My - is that we should have a lot of love for one another and we should have faith in God and that if we don't have that, we're gonna lose it all. That's the backbone of our country. And I believe that we should be criticizing religions of any kind. As long as they're in this country and they're living under our laws and regulations for being a good society and so forth. And as long as they're not trying to overthrow us, why they can have their relation, but just don't mess with us. In other words they can live here but being American as you're gonna be, if that's what you want to be when you come here, why be an American and don't try to overthrow us for something else. Because we don't want to be overthrown. We don't want to be, we don't want to be - we didn't want to be a nazi, that's the reason we're still here. We didn't want communism. And we didn't want - and we don't want any of these - a Satanic type religious taking over our country or anything like that. They destroy people. They destroy one another. And it's not what we want. We want freedom and the only way we can have freedom is under God.

Unidentified interviewer:

Thank you very much.

Walter D. Ehlers:

Okay. [OFF-MIKE OFF TOPIC] END INTERVIEW END TAPE

 
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  October 26, 2011
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