Editor’s note: We regret to note that Walter Ehlers passed away on Feb 20,2014.
In the spring of 1944, Staff Sergeant Walter Ehlers led his squad against an enemy stronghold. Crawling forward under machine gun fire, he destroyed the gun crew. After eliminating a mortar position, he destroyed a second machine gun nest. The next day, after his squad was ordered to withdraw, he diverted the bulk of the heavy hostile fire to himself, permitting his men to pull back unharmed. Though wounded, he carried another injured rifleman to safety and returned to retrieve his weapon.
In December of that year, Ehlers was recognized for his bravery with the highest combat honor an American serviceman can receive, the Medal of Honor. Almost 70 years later, Ehlers is one of only eight living Medal of Honor recipients from that war. But when the time is right, he still wears the medal proudly, as he did recently when Santa Ana District leaders visited him at the Veterans Administration hospital in Long Beach, where the Buena Park resident is slowly recuperating from a broken leg.
On behalf of the Postal Service District Manager Larry Munoz and Buena Park Postmaster Margaret Staley presented Ehlers with a framed edition of the recently issued World War II Medal of Honor Forever stamps along with commemorative envelopes and several sheets of the new postage.
The occasion was made significant by the fact that Ehlers’ name and photograph are featured prominently on the front of the Prestige Folio in which the stamps are presented. Alongside 11 other Medal of Honor recipients who were living at the time the stamps were designed, Ehlers is now in virtually every Post Office in America.
Photographers, newspaper reporters and a TV camera were on hand to capture Ehlers’ gracious acceptance of the keepsake. “You can’t know how much I appreciate this,” Ehlers said before a crowd of fellow veterans and visitors. “This wouldn’t mean so much to me if it weren’t for all of the other men who are honored on these stamps,” he added, his voice choked with emotion.
Ehlers, who has met every President since World War II and attended almost every Presidential inauguration, went on to share his perspective on the medal that hung around his neck. “I didn’t win this,” he said soberly. “I earned it for just doing my job.”