Remembering a man who exhibited extraordinary acts of courage and lived his life with generous humility
Longtime Buena Park resident Walter D. Ehlers, a World War II Medal of Honor recipient and true American hero, sadly passed away at the age of 92 on February 20, 2014. Celebrated for being an admirable patriot, decorated veteran, community activist and devout family man, Ehlers' legacy is an inspiration here in our community, as well as our country.
Originally from Ft. Riley, Kansas, Ehlers enlisted in the Army in 1940 with his brother, Roland. His exemplary military career included invasions in North Africa, Sicily, and Normandy. He also served as a member of the Honor Guard at the Casablanca Conference in 1943., and then bravely led his 12-man reconnaissance patrol across Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944, with no casualties. Ehlers was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for the extraordinary heroism he displayed. After learning that his brother gave his life on the beaches of Normandy, Walter went on to complete campaigns throughout Belgium and Germany, and received a battlefield commission.
By the end of the war, Ehlers had served eight campaigns and was awarded the Silver Star, three Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars, England's King George Military Medal, Belgium's King Leopold Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation with Two Clusters, the Combat Infantry Badge, and France's Croix de Guerre. He was also knighted by Belgium King Albert II. Ehlers was honorably discharged by the Army in 1945.
After the war, Ehlers moved to Buena Park, California. In 1955, he met his wife, Dorothy, and had three children. He worked for the Veterans Administration as a counselor and later as a Service Officer. After 34 years of government service, Ehlers retired. Locally, he served on the City of Buena Park's Park and Recreation Commission for seven years. He also served as keynote address speaker for the Buena Park Mayor's Prayer Breakfast in 1994 and again in 2004. On November 14, 1998, the City of Buena Park honored Ehlers by naming the Buena Park Recreation Center the Walter D. Ehlers Community Recreation Center.
Ehlers continued to serve when asked. In 1964, he was part of President Johnson's delegation. In June 1994, he spoke in Normandy at a D-Day 50th anniversary ceremony in front of international leaders, including the Queen of England and President Clinton. In 2002, Ehlers was awarded the National Order of the Legion of Honor award, the highest honor France bestows on its citizens and foreign nationals, for his heroism and valor in France during the war. In 2013, the U.S. Postal Service honored all 464 Medal of Honor recipients from World War II. The agency included photographic images of the 12 surviving recipients, including Ehlers.
"The Buena Park community is forever blessed with the legacy of Walt Ehlers," said then Buena Park Mayor Miller Oh. "We will always remember our hometown hero and his dedicated service to our country and our community." On February 25, 2014, the Buena Park City Council adopted a resolution declaring the day of his birth, May 7th, as Walter D. Ehlers Day in Buena Park.
Hundreds attended Ehlers' memorial service on March 8 at the Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, Calif. including former California Gov. Pete Wilson. "Generous, modest and plain-spoken, Walt Ehlers taught all of us who often take our freedom for granted that freedom is not free," said Wilson. "It was won for us through the courage and sacrifice of the young Americans who fought and won World War II."
Walter Ehlers was the last surviving recipient of the Medal of Honor to participate in the D-Day invasion of Normandy during World War II. Walter is survived by his wife of 58 years, Dorothy, his three children - Lt.Col Walt (David) Ehlers Jr., Catherine, and Tracy as well as several grandchildren.