The 1944 D-Day landing in Walt Ehlers’ words
June 6 marks the 75th anniversary of Operation Overlord, the largest seaborne invasion in history. The success of the mission was central to the liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany’s control.
Reporter’s note: The interviews for this story were conducted in 2004, for the 60th anniversary of the Normandy invasion.
I was privileged to interview Walt Ehlers on several occasions about his experiences with the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division, the invasion and the days that followed.
The Allies had an estimated 10,000 casualties with 2,500 dead on D-Day; one death was Ehlers’ brother, Roland. Ehlers told me, “Getting my squad off that beach alive might be what I’m most proud of.”
Ehlers received the Medal of Honor for taking out German machine gun nests and saving wounded men in the fields of France a few days after the landings.
After the war, he worked for the Veterans Administration for 34 years. Ehlers died in 2014 at age 92 and is buried at Riverside National Cemetery.
Walt Ehlers’ D-Day landing
“Our purpose went well beyond aiding our allies as they faced the German blitz. It was to save our way of life, for our parents and siblings and home, for our children and the children we hoped to have and for their children.”
— From Ehlers’ speech at the 50-year anniversary of the invasion
Confusion on the beach
More than 10,000 troops were fighting during Ehlers’ landing. Few landed where they were supposed to on Omaha Beach. Ehlers and his squad were mixed in with members of the 116th, 16th and 18th regiments.
Sources: “Walt Ehlers, D-Day 1944” by Steven J. Zaloga, “Spearheading D-Day” by Jonathan Gawne, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Department of Defense
Portrait photo by Jebb Harris, SCNG