Robert Ehlert: Remember the fallen, pay your respects

Robert Ehlert: Eyes on Idaho

May 25, 2014 

I have always had a soft spot for veterans, and especially World War II veterans, because my father, Robert H. Ehlert, was one.

Our large, extended family was never critical of the barbecues, car sales and three-day weekend extravaganzas associated with Memorial Day because these were among the manifestations of freedom for which he fought. To the contrary, the more free hot dogs in furniture showrooms and flags flying, the easier for him and his Band of Brothers to forget some of the things they saw and suffered. Uncle Louie Fisher escaped the battle fatigue of the war through his big band and polka music. Uncle Jimmy Carlin, my mother's brother, never came home - killed by a sniper in the "Hedges" of Normandy following D-Day. He is buried in France.

My father was fortunate to survive the action he saw serving with the 11th Armored Division in the European theater. He came home with a Purple Heart, shrapnel in his lower back (that was not removed until a decade later) and some haunting photographs from one of his last duty stations.

A few weeks after his unit crossed into Austria in April 1945, it entered Linz and liberated the Mauthausen Concentration Camp on May 5.

I don't give the time of day to people who doubt the Holocaust because my father and his buddies witnessed and photographed it. Our family still possesses horrific images Dad took of mass graves and the emaciated prisoners, who were forced into labor, whom he encountered during the liberation.

One of theses "trustees" was tending horses in a field - after hearing the war was over and the prisoners were free - and asked whether he could borrow a gun. Hesitant at first, the GIs supplied him with one. He turned it on one of the horses, shot it and butchered it for food.

This is important to relate today for several reasons. Our living veterans need us to recognize their service and their needs, not just occasionally, but forever. Our deceased veterans and our country need us to remember the sacrifice, the cost.

My family in eastern Iowa can readily visit my father's grave across the Mississippi River at the Rock Island Arsenal National Cemetery in Illinois. Uncle Jimmy typically is only visited by strangers in France.

I though of that when contacted by a Minnesotan named Paul Sailer who told me about a grave I would find in the Field of Honor section of the Morris Hill Cemetery in Boise: that of 1st Lt. James W. "Wally" Kerley.

Kerley had left his mother, stepfather and a fiancee to fight in the skies over France, where he was killed in 1944. You can read about him in Sailer's Guest Opinion.

If you are like me, you might be moved to pay a visit to an extended family member of the Band of Brothers and pay your respects.

Robert Ehlert is the Statesman's editorial page editor. Contact him at 377-6437, or on Twitter @IDS_HelloIdaho.

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