HOLSTEIN, Iowa | The late John G. “Bud” Ehler got a 22-gun salute from his buddies with the Dessel-Schmidt American Legion Post 225 on Saturday following his funeral service at St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church in Holstein.
Twenty-two? It was supposed to be the standard 21-gun variety, but one gun discharged accidentally as Gerald Pallesen played Taps inside the church.
Call it an exclamation point for Ehler, past commander of this Legion unit and an integral figure in Holstein since World War II.
“John would enjoy a 22-gun salute,” a Legion member said to a round of laughs and nods.
It was the first military salute I’d seen in a church parking lot.
“It happens about once every other year,” said Nicklas Jensen of Jensen Funeral Homes.
The family preferred a private burial later Saturday at Holstein Cemetery. So, military rites played out at the church.
The funeral service, for me, at least, featured a couple of other firsts. Each of Ehler’s five children received a folded U.S. flag in honor of Ehler, 91, a medic for the U.S. Army’s 53rd Medical Battalion who drove an ambulance on the beach at Normandy in the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.
“As close as we can tell, he drove up on the beach between 8 and 10 a.m. that day,” his son, David Ehler said. “And he drove all across Europe.”
Ehler, a mechanic possessing an eighth-grade education, was credited with saving lives in his three and a half years overseas in World War II, thanks to a bracket system he devised that allowed stretchers to be locked across the front and back of a jeep. It allowed more soldiers to be carried from battle in a quicker fashion.
U.S. Army Major Gen. John C.H. Lee presented Ehler a letter of commendation for his casualty-carrier attachment, saying the handiwork increased the efficiency of medical service in the field.
Ehler said the letter was nice; the salute from Gen. Lee was better, highlight of his military career.
“I’m sure my brackets helped save lives,” Ehler told me prior to a Memorial Day parade at Holstein three years ago.
Ehler returned to Ida Grove, Iowa, following the war and wed Doris Mae Hermecke of Holstein in 1946. They raised five children and contributed mightily to their community, via their church, the American Legion and, especially, through Holstein Hose Co. No. 1, the volunteer fire department Ehler served for 30 years, many of which were spent as chief. Son Dan Ehler is the current chief in Holstein, closing out his own 40-year volunteer career with the department.
And that represented another funeral first for me. Ehler’s family members donned fire department dress uniforms for the funeral. All told, the family has 165 years of service logged for units in Holstein and nearby Arthur, Iowa.
A Holstein ambulance unit and a fire and rescue truck parked at the church served as a most appropriate backdrop for those veterans delivering that 22-gun salute.
David Ehler said his father often derided his own ability, constantly saying he was a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none.
“That’s not true,” David Ehler said to 201 family and friends present. “There was one thing he was a master at; and that was being a father.”