30 Medal of Honor recipients in Chicago

July 22, 2011 (CHICAGO)

They have a packed schedule, but ABC7's Stacey Baca had a chance to sit down with one war veteran at the Pritzker Military Library.

Military hero Walter Ehlers got a standing ovation Thursday. The World War II Army vet is 90 now. He was 23 when he and the men he was leading stormed Normandy beach.

"It was a death trap," Ehlers said. "When we landed on the beach, the first thing they wanted to do is dig in because there was all this artillery going on. I said, No, you can't do that, if you do that, you'll be dead just like all the rest of them around here."

The Army staff sergeant pushed his men to move forward, and his heroism earned him our nation's highest military award, the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Ehlers, however, considers his older brother a hero. His brother, a fellow soldier, was killed on D-Day.

"He paid the supreme sacrifice. He laid his life on the line going down with that ship. He didn't know he was going to get killed," said Ehlers.

Ehlers was a guest this week at the Pritzker Military Library, where they are preserving veterans' oral histories, sometimes in front of a live audience. Ehler's story moved the crowd.

"I am so impressed," said library member Kay Cooper. "It brings tears to my eyes, because what they do to earn it is a big deal."

The library recently opened its brand new location on South Michigan Avenue. There are 38,000 books, more than 20,000 artifacts, and a Medal of Honor gallery, which includes a Medal of Honor and tapestry donated by World War II vet Woody Williams.

"For the casual visitor, it's a place to honor people who helped provide the freedom we all share. We are nonpartisan, and we put on programs everyone can participate in," said Edward C. Tracy, president & CEO of the Pritzker Military Library.

There are also Chicago connections, including a collection of items from World War II vet Charles Vann of Berwyn and history of the USS Chicago.

"It's nice they came together and did this for everybody," said Air Force veteran Tony Vincent. "It's beneficial if you're into military history or the history in general."

Visitors have a chance to read, research, or listen.

"The people in Chicago really need to have a place where they can understand what the citizens of Chicago have done to ensure our freedom," Tracy said, "and this is that kind of place."

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