Medal of Honor Recipients from D-Day
As we remember the many heroes who so bravely fought during World War II, we remember the acts of bravery and selflessness that happened on June 6, 1944. Referred to as D-Day, the Invasions of Normandy have been declared the ‘beginning of the end of World War II’.
More than 130,000 Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, the largest and most courageous amphibious attacks in military history. However, it was just the beginning for the over one million men who fought during the Allied Invasion of Western Europe. What was known as Operation Overlord, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his orders to send in 6,000 landing craft, ships, and vessels filled with 176,000 troops, 822 aircrafts with over 18,000 parachutists ready to jump.
Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force: You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.
But this is the year 1944! The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory! I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory! Good luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
—Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, 6 June 1944.
Of the hundreds of thousands of men, twelve soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions during the invasion of Normandy – nine of those were awarded posthumously. As we remember and honor D-Day and WWII Veterans, below we share three Medal of Honor recipients’ stories for their actions during the Allied Invasion.
Walter D. Ehlers
Sergeant Ehlers, always acting as the spearhead of the attack, repeatedly led his men against heavily defended enemy strong points exposing himself todeadly hostile fire whenever the situation required heroic and courageous leadership. Without waiting for an order, Sergeant Ehlers led his squad against a strongly defended enemy strong point, crawled forward under withering machinegun fire, and pounced upon the guncrew to put it out of action. Although greatly outnumbered, he continued to knock out two positions of mortar and two crossfires of machineguns.
The next day, having advanced deep into enemy territory, the platoon of which Ehlers was a member, was in a position of increased enemy mortar, machinegun, and small arms fire to bear on it, was ordered to withdraw. Ehlers, after his squad had covered the withdrawal of the remainder of the platoon, stood up and by continuous fire at the semicircle of enemy placements, diverted the bulk of the heavy hostile fire on himself, thus permitting the members of his own squad to withdraw. At this point, though wounded himself, he carried his wounded automatic rifleman to safety and then returned fearlessly over the shell-swept field to retrieve the automatic rifle which he was unable to carry previously. After having his wound treated, he refused to be evacuated, and returned to lead his squad. The intrepid leadership, indomitable courage, and fearless aggressiveness displayed by Sergeant Ehlers in the face of overwhelming enemy forces serve as an inspiration to others.
Carlton W. Barrett
On the morning of D-day Private Barrett, landed in the face of extremely heavy enemy fire, as he was forced to wade ashore through neck-deep water. Disregarding the personal danger, he returned to the surf again and again to assist his floundering comrades and save them from drowning. Refusing to remain pinned down by the intense barrage of small-arms and mortar fire from landing points, Private Barrett, working with fierce determination, saved many lives by carrying casualties to an evacuation boat offshore. In addition to his assigned mission as guide, he carried dispatches the length of the fire-swept beach; he assisted the wounded; he calmed the shocked; he arose as a leader in the stress of the occasion. His coolness and his dauntless daring courage while constantly risking his life during a period of many hours had an inestimable effect on his comrades.
John J. Pinder
On D-day, Technician 5th Grade Pinder landed on the coast 100 yards off shore under devastating enemy machinegun and artillery fire which caused severe casualties among the boatload. Carrying a vitally important radio, he struggled towards shore in waist-deep water. Only a few yards from his craft he was hit by enemy fire and was gravely wounded. Technician 5th Grade Pinder never stopped. He made shore and delivered the radio. Refusing to take cover afforded, or to accept medical attention for his wounds, Technician 5th Grade Pinder, though terribly weakened by loss of blood and in fierce pain, on 3 occasions went into the fire-swept surf to salvage communication equipment. He recovered many vital parts and equipment, including another workable radio. On the 3rd trip he was again hit, suffering machinegun bullet wounds in the legs. Still this valiant soldier would not stop for rest or medical attention. Remaining exposed to heavy enemy fire, growing steadily weaker, he aided in establishing the vital radio communication on the beach. While so engaged this dauntless soldier was hit for the third time and killed. The indomitable courage and personal bravery of Technician 5th Grade Pinder was a magnificent inspiration to the men with whom he served.