Published February 24, 2014
When Walter D. Ehlers was 23 years old, he charged through enemy fire to destroy two German machine gun nests, kill seven enemy soldiers, put a halt to a mortar barrage and carry a wounded buddy to safety – all after he had been shot in the side by a sniper.
The date: June 9, 1944.
The place: Normandy, France.
The mission: The D-Day invasions and the effort to liberate Europe from the grip of Nazi Germany.
Amid countless acts of bravery from young men like Ehlers, the Buena Park, Calif. resident's heroism stood out, and he received the Medal of Honor. He died of kidney failure Thursday at the age of 92.
His passing leaves only seven surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipients.
“Walt was the kindest, gentlest person, and you would never have known he could have done the things that he did,” his wife, Dorothy, told FoxNews.com on Monday. “He always said, ‘if it’s you or them, you make sure it’s them.’”
To Ehlers, however, the real hero in the family was his older brother Roland, who enlisted with Walter in 1940. The day before the Normandy landings, military superiors separated the two brothers to improve the odds that at least one of them would survive.
Walter, then a staff sergeant, made it off the boat on June 6 and helped all 12 of his men survive the landing. His brother, arriving on another boat, was killed.
In later life, Ehlers would say he wore the medal to honor those who didn’t come home – his brother included.
When he returned to his hometown of Junction City, Kan., he tried attending college on the G.I. Bill but found he couldn’t pay attention in class – he couldn’t settle down “after being in all that,” Dorothy said.
So he got a job as a benefits counselor with the local Veterans Affairs office, and when he had the chance, transferred to an office in southern California. He even landed a movie role, playing West Point cadet Mike Shannon in the 1955 John Ford film "The Long Gray Line."
California was where he met Dorothy ice skating, and the two of them would be married for nearly 59 years.
In peacetime, Ehlers stayed busy by volunteering with the local Boy Scouts troop and playing harmonica. He also was a regular visitor to local schools, where children would sit raptly and listen to his stories of patriotism and courage.
Ehlers was survived by his daughters Cathy Metcalf and Tracy Kilpatrick; his son, Lt. Col. (ret.) Walter D. Ehlers Jr.; sisters Leona Porter, Marjorie Gustin and Gloria Salberg; 11 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
But to the end, nearly 70 years later, there was another kinship that Ehlers held dear, Dorothy says.
“One of the last things he said before he passed away was, ‘tell my Medal of Honor brothers goodbye,’” she said.
Funeral services with full military honors will be March 8 at Riverside National Cemetery.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.