By: Rabel McNutt
“We are the land of the free, because of the brave,” my godfather Walter Ehlers told me.
As a little girl, I vividly remember visits to see him in Anaheim, California, where he would sit in his big wooden rocking chair, which croaked as it swung front to back.
I remember his big, strong hands picking me up, propping me up on his knee, and telling me stories about his time during World War II.
He received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his gallantry, fighting the Germans in Normandy in June 1944, but most of his stories were not about his experiences, but about the people he met along the way.
Godfather Ehlers once told me that people die twice: first when their last breath leaves their body, and second when their name is last uttered on Earth.
He preached it was our job to keep alive the stories of those who died in uniform for our freedom, men like his brother, Roland, who died on Omaha Beach on D-Day, and to honor those veterans still living among us.
I was 7 when Godfather Ehlers passed away and had never been to a military funeral.
To prepare, my father and I sat down to watch examples on YouTube, including the State Funeral for Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
I asked if my godfather’s friends were going to have that same big funeral in Washington, D.C.
My father replied, “I do not see why they should not.”
A few years later, we began our nonprofit, State Funeral for World War II Veterans.
Our mission: to have a State Funeral for the last Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, not just to honor him, but to honor all the 16 million men and women who fought to save our country.
Our family endeavor turned into a nationwide effort with chairmen recruited in all 50 states to advocate with their senators and representatives.
After 5 years, a combination of people from different cultures and political backgrounds came together to have our mission pass through Congress.
On July 14, 2022, Hershel “Woody” Williams, MOH Iwo Jima 1945, was laid in honor under the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol – the first time in our nation’s history that an enlisted man received the honor.
Godfather Ehlers always said that he never wore the Medal of Honor for himself. He wore it for the soldiers who did not make it back home, for veterans who risked their lives for our country, and for the Gold Star families who lost a child in the War.
It is up to us and future generations to keep these memories and stories alive. Veterans have and will continue to risk their lives for our country and the well-being of people they do not even know.
This is why I believe in honoring veterans everyday but especially on Veterans Day.
Rabel McNutt, a 10th grader at The Hockaday School and resident of University Park, received the Freedom Foundation’s national award: the George Washington Honor Medal. Visit worldwar2salute.org to learn more about State Funeral for World War II Veterans.