It’s been more than 50 years since Walter Ehlers risked his life during World War II, and the Buena Park resident said Wednesday that he was pleasantly surprised to find that anyone still cared.
Veterans across the Southland do, and on Wednesday began building eight concrete and bronze monuments that will individually honor Ehlers and seven other Orange County veterans who have won the Medal of Honor--the military’s highest honor.
“It’s nice to know there’s a lot of people that care and want to keep history alive,” said Ehlers, after helping to break ground at the future site. He received his medal at 23, after landing at Omaha Beach on D-day. “This will be a monument not only to us, but to all of the people that served our country,” he added.
Called the Walk of Honor, the new monument will be unveiled and formally dedicated on Memorial Day, as a testament to the soldiers’ valor in battle.
Ehlers was wounded four times, earning four Purple Hearts as well as several other medals for valor. His brother Roland, who was in the same battalion but in a different company, was killed on D-day.
“A lot of our children don’t realize that most of the men who served were younger than 22 or 23,” Ehlers, now 77, said solemnly, gazing at the existing World War II Memorial in Santa Ana’s Civic Center Plaza and gently clutching the medal hanging around his neck. “We were kids out there.”
Ehlers is proud that an Orange County monument will bear his name. “There’s also Ehlers Road, named after me in my hometown of Manhattan, Kan.,” he said, chuckling.
The monuments will stand in a semicircle around the Civic Center’s Veterans Memorial. Each will feature a bronze plaque with the veterans’ Medal of Honor citations.
The Orange County Medal winners who will be honored with a monument are: Nelson M. Holderman for World War I; Kenneth A. Walsh for World War II; Chris Carr for World War II; Donald A. Gary for World War II; Clarence B. Craft for World War II; William E. Barber for the Korean War; and John P. Baca for the Vietnam War.
Five surviving medal winners from Orange County will be at the Memorial Day dedication ceremony.
AmVets is accepting contributions to help fund construction of the Walk of Honor. Information: (714) 567-7457.