At its core, State Funeral for World War II Veterans is about your family’s story. Perhaps that is the story of an unmarried teenager on a cramped boat with thousands of other Marines, shipping off to Iwo Jima. Perhaps it is the story of a woman in her twenties, a member of the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP), or of a military nurse treating a wounded soldier from the Battle of the Bulge or Omaha Beach.
Nationally acclaimed ideas come from the most unlikely places. On February 25, 1945, the most famous American photograph from World War II was published on the front page of the New York Times. It is the photograph of the Marines raising the American flag over the Japanese island of Iwo Jima. Mr. A.B.R Shelly of Raleigh, North Carolina, saw the photo and immediately wrote a letter to the editor of the Times, who published it three days later on February 28. The letter read:
“On the front page of the Times of Feb. 25 is a picture which should make a magnificent war memorial. It is the picture of the Marines of the 5thDivision, raising Old Glory atop Mount Suribachi. There are war statues aplenty, but most of them are fictional. Reproduced in bronze, this actual scene should make good art and a fitting tribute to American men and American valor.”
Texas elementary school student Rabel McNutt was blessed to have a godfather in Mr. Walter D. Ehlers, who was the oldest holder of the Congressional Medal of Honor at the time of his death. The New York Times wrote the following on February 21, 2014, one day after he died: “Walter D. Ehlers, who received the Medal of Honor for his exploits as an Army sergeant in the D-Day invasion of France and came to personify the heroism of the G.I.s who stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, died on Thursday in Long Beach, Calif. He was 92.”
Rabel McNutt had never been to a military funeral, so her father, Bill McNutt, showed her YouTube videos of the state funerals of President Ronald Reagan and General Douglas MacArthur. As they watched, Rabel turned to her father and asked, “Are they going to do a big funeral in Washington D.C. for Uncle Ehlers and his friends?” Somewhat awestruck at his daughter’s idea, McNutt replied, “They should! Let’s see what we can do.” From the mouth of a child the idea was born to convince the President of the United States to designate a state funeral for the last Medal of Honor holder from World War II. This funeral would be a final salute to a hero and a way to honor the 16 million men and women who wore the uniform during World War II.
A farm boy from Kansas, Walter Ehlers and his brother, Roland, joined the American Army before Pearl Harbor because they were upset when they read the Germans were burning “bibles and books.” By the time Roland and big brother Walter arrived at Omaha Beach, they had already invaded North Africa and Sicily. The farm boys from Kansas fought side by side until the U.S. military changed its policy, and the boys were placed in separate units while training for the invasion of Hitler’s Europe in England during the Spring of 1944.
Roland was killed approaching Omaha Beach when a mortar shell struck his landing craft. Walter, staff sergeant and squad leader in the 18thInfantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, landed between the first and second wave on June 6, 1944. “I got all my men across the beach that day,” he said. “It was the best thing I ever did in my life.” They fought their way off the beach during the next three days, and by June 10, they were eight miles inland near the town of Goville. Ehlers was awarded the Medal of Honor for his exploits.
PLEASE CLICK ON THE FOLLOWING LINKS TO LEARN MORE:
Ehlers’ Medal of Honor citation
Ehlers’ story from the Medal of Honor Society News
Walter Ehlers display at the World War II Museum in New Orleans
Former California Governor Pete Wilson’s remarks at Walter Ehlers’ funeral
At State Funeral for World War II Veterans, we aim to create a groundswell of petitions to the President to designate a single state funeral for the last Medal of Honor recipient, honoring your family’s story and the nation's love and respect for America’s Greatest Generation.