Walter W. Heline, an Army Ranger and forward observer operator who landed with the 29th Division on Omaha Beach on D-Day on June 6, 1944, died April 13 after a long illness at the Veterans Administration Loch Raven Community Living and Rehabilitation Center in Northeast Baltimore. The Parkville resident was 98.
“One of Walter’s favorite habits when he went out socially was telling people his age and that he was the oldest veteran in the room. He bragged about his age but never his military career,” said Victor Fuentealba, commander of VFW Post 9083 in Parkville and a World War II veteran.
“He was a proud career soldier, and I think D-Day was the highlight of his military career,” said Mr. Fuentealba, a Beverly Hills resident. “He was also the oldest member of our post and was very active. He was a very loyal member.”
Walter Wilton Heline, son of Charles Heline, who was a Commission District vegetable purveyor, and his wife, Lillian Heline, was born in Baltimore and raised on McKean Avenue in West Baltimore.
He was a 1939 graduate of City College and the next year enlisted with the Maryland National Guard as a member the 110th Field Artillery, A Battery, which was headquartered at the Pikesville Armory.
“At the time we were at peace and I can’t remember why I joined but I do remember getting $2 for each meeting,” Mr. Heline wrote in a biographical sketch of his military career. A friend suggested he join the Army’s 29th Division, and he was sworn in Feb. 3, 1941.
After completing training at A.P. Hill near Bowling Green, Virginia, and Camp Blanding in Starke, Florida, Mr. Heline and his fellow soldiers were returning to Baltimore on Dec. 7, 1941.
“Of course, that was when Pearl Harbor was bombed and as we were passing through Virginia in open-backed canvas trucks that were pulling cannons, people along the roads were shouting at us about Pearl Harbor,” he wrote.
The soldiers were taken to Camp Kilmer, near New Brunswick, New Jersey, which was the embarkation point for European-bound troops.
“I was shipped overseas on October 5, 1942, with A Battery, 224th Field Artillery Battalion, 29th Division. I trained in Scotland with the British Commandos to become a Ranger. We would be responsible for conducting raids on the enemy,” he recalled. "I served as a Ranger until disbanded by orders of the War Department. At that time, I then returned to the 224th Field Artillery, which was in England in October 1943."
Said Dave Ginsburg of Owings Mills, commander of the 29th Division Association: “What they didn’t know was that while other divisions were sent to North Africa or the Italian campaign, the 29th stayed behind in England because they were training for the Normandy invasion.”
“Walt had been trained as a Ranger and a forward observer radio operator,” he said. “He set a record during Ranger training for doing the obstacle course in record time.”
Mr. Heline did not go in with the 29th Division in the initial morning wave that landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, with elements of the 224th held back because of chaos on the beaches.
“A small piece of the 224th went in on the evening of June 6 and Walt was with them,” Mr. Ginsburg said, “with the rest of the unit landing on D + 1.”
“We were taken onto the beach in a landing craft in rough water. The sky was filled with U.S airplanes which gave us some comfort," he wrote. “I don’t now and have never talked about that day.”
“The 29th was then sent to western France,” Mr. Ginsburg said.
Eighty-three days after stepping onto French soil, Mr. Heline was wounded in Brest in August 1944. “I was evacuated to a hospital in England and was there for 37 days,” he wrote. “After being discharged from the hospital I was reassigned to the 224th Field Artillery, 29th Division.”
By war’s end, he had participated in campaigns in Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland and Central Europe.
"After being discharged, he came back to Baltimore and tried to get a job with the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co.
“They turned him down because he had a hearing problem and he told them, ‘I’m a veteran and I was shot in the head,’ but they wouldn’t give him a job, so he reenlisted in the Army,” Mr. Ginsburg said.
Mr. Heline served at Fort Monroe in Virginia and Fort Holabird in Baltimore. While in Germany, he served with the 7th Army in Stuttgart and Mannheim. He also was stationed in Italy at Camp Darby near Pisa.
He retired from the Army with the rank of sergeant first class and his decorations included two Purple Hearts, World War II Victory Medal, French Legion of Honor Medal, Army of Occupation Medal European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, Army Commendation Medal and National Defense Service Medal.
Mr. Ginsburg said Mr. Heline was the last surviving Ranger from the 29th Division who took part in D-Day.
“Some exciting news is forthcoming,” his daughter, Cheryl Heline Schafer of Parkville, wrote in an email. “Congress is awarding Rangers from the 29th Division a Congressional Gold Medal. Unfortunately, that had been delayed by the coronavirus, so he will receive it posthumously.”
He was also a member of the Towson chapter of Disabled American Veterans, 29th Division Association and the Honorable Order of St. Barbara.
After leaving the Army, the longtime Parkville resident worked as a manager for Loomis Armored and several predecessor companies until retiring in the late 1980s.
Mr. Heline was an accomplished roller skater and skated until his early 90s. He also was an avid bowler.
In 1946, the former Joanna Lazo, from Drums, Pennsylvania, an anthracite coal mining town, visited a relative in Baltimore who took her to a Monroe Street roller skating rink.
“I was wearing a Gibson Girl blouse and a fingertip skirt,” Mrs. Heline recalled. I could skate pretty good, but here was Walter who could dance on skates. He could do it all."
Mr. Heline noticed the attractive young woman and, after being introduced by her relative, asked whether she would skate with him.
“We went around twice and then my skate got caught in his and he tripped,” she said. “He then took me back to the bench. It was love at first sight and we’ve been married for 72 years.”
Mr. Heline was present when the World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington was unveiled in 2004, and he was a supporter of the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. “He found peace there,” his daughter said in a telephone call.
In 2013, he laid the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
As her husband lay dying, Mrs. Heline and her daughter were allowed into his room to be with him.
“She held his hand and he’d squeeze back hard,” Ms. Schafer said. "She was holding his hand and kissing his lips when he died."
Mr. Heline will be interred with military honors Aug. 12 at Arlington.
In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by his son, Douglas Heline of Hamilton; a sister, Beverly Brown of Parkville; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.