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Robert Lawrence Eichelberger (9 March 1886 – 26 September 1961) was a general in the United States Army, who commanded the US Eighth Army in the South West Pacific Area during World War II. His Army was among the very first to engage the Japanese in the Pacific Theater of Operations.

Pre-World War II service

Eichelberger was born at Urbana, Ohiomarker. He entered the Army as an infantry lieutenant from the U.S. Military Academy. He graduated 68th among his classmates from the United States Military Academymarker in 1909, who included George S. Patton (46), Edwin F. Harding (74), Jacob L. Devers (39), John C. H. Lee (12), and William H. Simpson (101).

For the next several years, he saw service in Panamamarker and the U.S.-Mexico border before joining the American Expeditionary Force Siberia. In the years 1918 to 1920, Major Eichelberger observed the Japanesemarker incursion into Siberiamarker and studied Japanese military strategy. He was also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for repeated acts of bravery while assigned to the Expeditionary Force.

After further overseas duty in the Philippinesmarker and Chinamarker, Eichelberger returned to the U.S. attended the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworthmarker and the Army War Collegemarker, progressing through promotions to Brigadier General in October 1940.

Eichelberger became Superintendent of the Military Academy in 1940 but left West Pointmarker for active duty in 1942.

World War II service

After the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, many military men returned their Japanese decorations and medals by sending them to the U.S. Air Force so they could be attached to bombs marked "return to sender." Thrice decorated Eichelberger held on to his Imperial Order of Meiji, Order of the Sacred Treasure and Order of the Rising Sun. When asked about letting the Air Force return the honors, he is famously reported to have said, "Hell, no. I'm going to take them back myself."

Eichelberger was appointed Commanding General of US I Corps and left for Australia in 1942. In October 1942 he was promoted to Lieutenant General. When it was reported the 32nd U.S. Infantry Division, a poorly trained and ill-equipped National Guard unit, had proved ineffective in the Allied offensive against Buna and Gonamarker, the major Japanese beachheads in northeastern New Guinea, General Douglas MacArthur told Eichelberger to assume direct control of the division:

He replaced Harding with the division's artillery commander, Brigadier General Albert W. Waldron. He also moved the I corp HQ to Buna and ran it with a batman and radio operator. "Some of the 32nd Division's officers privately denounced Eichelberger as ruthless, Prussian. The men of the 32nd...called their division cemetery 'Eichelberger Square.'" Eichelberger concentrated decisive power, set an example by moving among the troops on the front lines, sharing their hardships and danger. Despite the risk, he purposefully wore his three silver stars while at the front, even though he knew enemy snipers targeted officers. His Chief of Staff Brig. Gen. Clovis E. Byers asked him to remove them, and he refused. Eichelberger wanted his troops to know their commander was present. He rewarded effective officers with increased command responsibilities and removed ineffective commanders.

Byers recommended Eichelberger for the Medal of Honor but the nomination was disapproved by MacArthur. Eichelberger led the Australian-US Advanced New Guinea Force to victory over the Japanese at Buna, in early 1943. In 1944, Eichelberger also had notable victories at Hollandiamarker and Biakmarker, in Dutch New Guinea.

As Commanding General of the newly formed Eighth Army, he led the invasion of the Philippines clearing the islands of Mindoromarker, Marinduquemarker, Panaymarker, Negrosmarker, Cebumarker and Boholmarker. By July 1945, Eichelberger's forces had defeated the Japanese on Mindanaomarker.

In August 1945, Eichelberger's Eighth Army began a three-year stint as part of the Occupation of Japan, where he was also responsible for the review of sentences passed to Class B or C war criminals at Yokohama.

Retirement and death

After nearly 40 years service, he retired in September 1948. He wrote Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, the story of the army's ground war in the Pacific. Congress, in recognition of his service, promoted Eichelberger to full General in 1954 (Public Law 83-508, July 19, 1954).

He died at Asheville, North Carolinamarker, on 26 September, 1961 and was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemeterymarker.

References

  1. "Uncle Bob", Time, September 10, 1945.
  2. Piccigallo, Philip The Japanese on Trial; Austin 1979; ISBN 0-292-78033-8; S 83-90


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