Walter ehlers still remembers the day.
The Army staff sergeant was leading his men against heavily fortified positions on Omaha Beach. It was June 6, 1944. D-Day.
Mr. Ehlers ended up knocking out two machine gun nests and two mortar emplacements. He killed seven enemy soldiers and, though wounded himself, carried another rifleman to safety. Then, after being treated, he returned to lead his squad.
"We had 50 percent casualties the first round," says Ehlers, who now lives in Buena Park, Calif. "And 30 percent the third. I came in between."
Under azure skies, Ehlers was recalling his day of valor at a recent celebration in this heartland city honoring winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
It was a day of patriotism and poignancy, heroism and hagiography. Ehlers and 92 other recipients of the congressional medal were on hand for the unveiling of a memorial dedicated to all past winners of the nation's highest award for military valor dating back to the Civil War.
Although a regular work day for most, thousands turned out Friday to support and honor the medal recipients. The day was punctuated with a joint service color guard, a Navy band, a jet fly-by, and, for a finale, fireworks bursting in red glare.
The memorial is made of 27 curved blue-green glass panels, each 7 to 10 feet high. The names of the 3,410 Medal of Honor awardees will be etched in the glass. A total of 3,429 medals have been given (19 received it twice). Only one woman, Mary Walker, a women's right advocate, was awarded the medal for her efforts as a volunteer surgeon during the Civil War.
The memorial is more than a mute wall. At dusk, speakers broadcast recipients' names and describe the locations of heroic acts. As each story is told, lights illuminate a portion of the memorial to highlight the conflict. Planners hope to have living recipients, of which there are 156, record their own stories.
IPALCO Enterprises, a local energy company, funded the $2.5 million memorial, located in a state park downtown. It is the brainchild of IPALCO chairman John Hodowal and his wife, Caroline."It's an opportunity to say thanks for the sacrifices they made," says Mr. Hodowal. "And it's a chance to show the next generation what true heroes look like...."
They look like Raymond Murphy of Albuquerque, N.M. He led five operations during a cease-fire attempt at Ungok in the Korean War. Later, he was wounded. "It's not something one can easily talk about," he says."My memory of it has dulled since I'd really rather not think about it."
He and others do appreciate the medal and recognition, though. As Ehlers puts it: "It's the highest honor people have to live up to. I try to live up to it every day."