June 12, 2009
Our hearts are heavy as veterans, volunteers and staff reflect on a remarkable man who tirelessly served veterans until the very end. Medal of Honor recipient George E. Wahlen, died June 5, 2009, after an extended illness. He was 84 years old. This reluctant hero truly exemplified the meaning of patriotism, commitment to service and love of country.
He earned the Medal of Honor as a Navy Corpsman at the battle of Iwo Jima where he is credited for saving countless lives. He was injured on three separate occasions but refused to leave the battlefield. Many who witnessed his heroics remain dumbfounded he survived. President Harry S. Truman presented the Medal of Honor to Mr. Wahlen in 1945. He later re-enlisted in the United States Army, where he served during the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He retired a highly decorated officer with the rank of Major. He then went on to a career with The Veterans Benefits Administration where he continued to serve our country and other veterans for fourteen years. His story of gallantry as a Navy Corpsman and subsequent years of dedicated service is truly inspirational.
In 2003, President George W. Bush signed legislation authorizing the naming of the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City. As federal buildings cannot bear the name of a living person, Congress approved special legislation allowing for an exemption in the case of Mr. Wahlen.
On November 10, 2004 the facility was officially renamed and dedicated in Mr. Wahlen’s honor. At the time George E. Wahlen was the only surviving Medal Of Honor Recipient from Utah.
Everyone has a story about George. At a recent memorial service at the medical center so many were compelled to stand, share stories, laugh, and cry. We learned a lot about this remarkable man beyond his war hero status. He was an adoring husband and father. He was a grandfather, and great grandfather many, many times over. He was funny, he was competitive and could take just about anybody on the racquetball court. Our hearts were in our throats as we all watched an old veteran, his VFW hat proudly perched on his head, struggle to speak. Bob Ramos’s hands were shaking violently, his words caught in his throat, but nothing was going to stop him from talking about his friend. Some things just need to be said.
George Wahlen went from saving the lives of his fellow marines 64 years ago to affecting the lives of every veteran, every person he would ever meet after that. Mr. Wahlen we can all learn from you, and we are all better people for having known you. For the final time, thank you for your service. We salute you.