On June 9-10, 1944 as the 1st Infantry Division continued to fight their way inland off Omaha Beach where they had landed on D-Day, two men of the 18th Infantry Regiment distinguished themselves above and beyond the normal call of duty and were decorated with the Medal of Honor.
The 18th Regiment’s motto is “Vanguards”. Both of these men were vanguards of their units in the attack, putting their objectives and the soldiers they led before themselves.
Arthur Frederick DeFranzo was drafted on November 20, 1940. A native of Saugus, Massachusetts, he was a high school graduate and had been working in the rubber industry.
*DEFRANZO, ARTHUR F.
Rank and organization: Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, 1st Infantry Division
Place and date: Near Vaubadon, France, 10 June 1944
Entered service at: Saugus, Mass.
G.O. No.: 1, 4 January 1945
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, on 10 June 1944, near Vaubadon, France. As scouts were advancing across an open field, the enemy suddenly opened fire with several machine guns and hit 1 of the men. S/Sgt. DeFranzo courageously moved out in the open to the aid of the wounded scout and was himself wounded but brought the man to safety. Refusing aid, S/Sgt. DeFranzo reentered the open field and led the advance upon the enemy. There were always at least 2 machineguns bringing unrelenting fire upon him, but S/Sgt. DeFranzo kept going forward, firing into the enemy and 1 by 1 the enemy emplacements became silent. While advancing he was again wounded, but continued on until he was within 100 yards of the enemy position and even as he fell, he kept firing his rifle and waving his men forward. When his company came up behind him, S/Sgt. DeFranzo, despite his many severe wounds, suddenly raised himself and once more moved forward in the lead of his men until he was again hit by enemy fire. In a final gesture of indomitable courage, he threw several grenades at the enemy machinegun position and completely destroyed the gun. In this action, S/Sgt. DeFranzo lost his life, but by bearing the brunt of the enemy fire in leading the attack, he prevented a delay in the assault which would have been of considerable benefit to the foe, and he made possible his company’s advance with a minimum of casualties. The extraordinary heroism and magnificent devotion to duty displayed by S/Sgt. DeFranzo was a great inspiration to all about him, and is in keeping with the highest traditions of the armed forces.
DeFranzo’s remains were repatriated to the United States, and after lying in state in the Saugus Town Hall from December 8-11, 1944, he was laid to rest in the town’s Riverside Cemetery.
EHLERS, WALTER D.
Rank and organization: Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. Place and dare: Near Goville, France, 9-10 June 1944. Entered service at: Manhattan, Kans. G.O. No.: 91, 19 December 1944
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 9-10 June 1944, near Goville, France. S/Sgt. Ehlers, always acting as the spearhead of the attack, repeatedly led his men against heavily defended enemy strong points exposing himself to deadly hostile fire whenever the situation required heroic and courageous leadership. Without waiting for an order, S/Sgt. Ehlers, far ahead of his men, led his squad against a strongly defended enemy strong point, personally killing 4 of an enemy patrol who attacked him en route. Then crawling forward under withering machinegun fire, he pounced upon the guncrew and put it out of action. Turning his attention to 2 mortars protected by the crossfire of 2 machineguns, S/Sgt. Ehlers led his men through this hail of bullets to kill or put to flight the enemy of the mortar section, killing 3 men himself. After mopping up the mortar positions, he again advanced on a machinegun, his progress effectively covered by his squad. When he was almost on top of the gun he leaped to his feet and, although greatly outnumbered, he knocked out the position single-handed. The next day, having advanced deep into enemy territory, the platoon of which S/Sgt. Ehlers was a member, finding itself in an untenable position as the enemy brought increased mortar, machinegun, and small arms fire to bear on it, was ordered to withdraw. S/Sgt. 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 S/Sgt. Ehlers in the face of overwhelming enemy forces serve as an inspiration to others.
Walter Ehlers survived the war and later worked for the Veterans Administration and at Disneyland. He passed away from kidney failure earlier this year at age 92 on February 20, 2014. He has been laid to rest in the Riverside National Cemetery, Riverside, California.