Early Life

Walter Ehlers



Dorothy Decker Ehlers was born in December 1931 in Long Beach, California and grew up there during the depression years. Even though she was an only child, Ehlers had many friends. Long Beach was a lovely place with many things to do. Things were getting bad elsewhere in the world, but it did not touch her until America's entry into the war. Ehlers's father ran a cemetery and her mother was a homemaker. Her hometown was nice. Ehlers loved living in Southern California. Ehlers was sick and lying on the sofa when she heard about Pearl Harbor. A neighbor shouted that they should turn on their radio for an important news flash. The feeling was exciting. The war was close for the family in Long Beach since there was an antiaircraft gun only blocks away from her home. During this time, she had a pen pal in Wales. She was in grammar school and bought war stamps to support the war effort. The class that bought the most stamps would lead a weekly patriotic parade organized by the school. There were vegetable gardens raised by families. To help with the rationing, there were two days a week that were meatless. Rationing of shoes, food, and other items took place. There were block mothers on every block who had refuges if children were caught away from home during an air raid. There were scrap drives to save paper and other things. Her father was not called up for the war because he was born in 1901. His age made her father too young for World War 1 and too old for World War 2. One of her cousins was drafted but he never went overseas. War news came mainly from the theater newsreels. Radio messages were only short briefs of the events. The news of events came much later after the actual action. News broadcasting was more secretive in an effort to prevent the enemy from learning planned strategies. The United States would not have won the war if the news back then had been as open as it is today.


Dorothy Ehlers met her future husband, Walt [Annotator's Note: Medal of Honor Recipient Walter Ehlers], while she was ice skating. They met through an aunt and cousin who knew Walt previously. The cousin was a great friend of Walt. The Ehlers met in late 1952 and were married in March 1955. It was exciting being married to a Medal of Honor recipient. Most of the time, the Ehlers handled the fame well. In the earlier days after World War 2, people were tired of war and did not talk much about it. By the 50th Anniversary of Normandy, many of the veterans began to open up. That was when families began to hear about the events of the war. Ehlers had known of her husband's war experiences because of his notoriety after being awarded the Medal of Honor. Walter Ehlers was just a normal human being who had over performed in critical situations. They did not talk much about the circumstances behind the award of the Medal. They met some wonderful people through the Medal. She met Pappy Boyington [Annotator's Note: U.S. Marine Corps Major Gregory Boyington] and Jimmy Doolittle [Annotator's Note: U.S. Air Force General James H. Doolittle] who were delightful people. She met Henry Schroder from the Philippines Insurrection [Annotator's Note: U.S. Army Sergeant Henry Schroeder] and Calvin Titus from the Boxer Rebellion [Annotator's Note: U.S. Army Musician Calvin Titus]. The Ehlers also met many veterans of World War 1. The recipients had yearly reunions. During those reunions, it seemed they have never been apart. Walt Ehlers had nightmares to the end of his days. It was amazing he stayed sane. Ehlers would wake him up when he had one of those episodes. He had PTSD [Annotator's Note: PTSD Post Traumatic Stress Disorder], but he never let it take over his life. Walt would wake up during the night and sit up to see who was beside him. Once, while under attack in France, Walt dove into a ditch. He had been told to move forward. He looked at the soldier next to him and shook him to get him going. He then realized that it was the body of a dead German soldier. He had many other horrible memories as well. It helped when he ultimately started talking about the wartime experiences. Walt Ehlers felt in the beginning that he might be judged as being weak if others knew that he was having nightmares. Though Walt and his siblings are passing, they have had long lives due to their good, strong German-Irish stock.


Dorothy Ehlers wants future generations to remember how the soldiers of World War 2 loved their country as much as her husband Walt [Annotator's Note: Medal of Honor Recipient Walter Ehlers] did. Walt Ehlers enlisted rather than being drafted. He did not like the direction the country was headed in when he died. He felt the patriotism of the country should be maintained and instilled in the youth of the country. Faith was important to him also. It disturbed him when people wanted to take God out of the country. The National WWII Museum is important because of the story it tells about the battlefronts and the home front. The people stateside were behind the country. Dorothy loves the fact that Walt Ehlers will be a major part of The National WWII Museum. Normandy was Walt's third D-Day. It was hard for Dorothy to give up artifacts from Walt's experience in the war but she has no way to display the items. With three children, it would be difficult to decide who would get the Medal of Honor that was awarded to Walt. It is good to know that the Medal will be on display in the Museum and others will see it. Walt enjoyed playing with his children and grandchildren. He was always a kid at heart. He also loved to travel. Dorothy went to the 20th Anniversary in Normandy with Walt, but the wives were kept in Paris because there was still damage in the battlefield sites. Some members of the family did go to Normandy, but she has never actually visited Normandy. [Annotator's Note: The interview concludes with Dorothy Ehlers holding the Medal of Honor that was awarded to her late husband, Walter Ehlers. She donated the Medal to The National WWII Museum where it is on display in the Road to Berlin gallery.]

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