Robert Lawrence Eichelberger
Graduate, U.S. Military Academy, Class of 1909
Engagements: • World War I (1914 - 1918)• World War II (1941 - 1945)
Robert Lawrence Eichelberger
General, U.S. Army
Robert Lawrence Eichelberger was born on 9 March 1886 at Urbana, OH. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in the Class of 1909, where he was ranked 68th among his classmates that included Jacob L. Devers (39) and George S. Patton (46). (Devers, Patton and Eichelberger all achieved 4-star rank.) He entered the Army as a Second Lieutenant of Infantry.
For the next several years, he saw service in Panama and at the U.S.-Mexico border before joining the American Expeditionary Force Siberia. In the years 1918 to 1920, Major Eichelberger observed the Japanese incursion into Siberia 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 Philippines and China, Eichelberger returned to the U.S. and attended the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, KS, and the Army War College. In October 1940 he was promoted to Brigadier General. Eichelberger became Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy in 1940 but left West Point for active duty in 1942.
World War II
After the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, many military men returned their Japanese decorations and medals by sending them to the U.S. Army Air Corps 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 Army Air Corps 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 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 Gona, the major Japanese beachheads in northeastern New Guinea, General Douglas MacArthur told Eichelberger to assume direct control of the division:
"Bob, I'm putting you in command at Buna. Relieve Harding ... I want you to remove all officers who won't fight. Relieve regimental and battalion commanders; if necessary, put sergeants in charge of battalions and corporals in charge of companies ... Bob, I want you to take Buna, or not come back alive ... And that goes for your chief of staff, too."
He replaced Harding with the Division's Artillery Commander, Brigadier General Albert W. Waldron. He also moved the I Corps 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, Brigadier General Clovis E. Byers asked him to remove them, but 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 Hollandia and Biak, in Dutch New Guinea.
As Commanding General of the newly formed Eighth Army, he led the invasion of the Philippines clearing the islands of Mindoro, Marinduque, Panay, Negros, Cebu and Bohol. By July 1945, Eichelberger's forces had defeated the Japanese on Mindanao.
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.
After nearly 40 years of service, he retired from active duty in September 1948 as a Lieutenant General.
Eichelberger wrote Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, the story of the Army's ground war in the Pacific. In recognition of his service, Congress promoted Eichelberger to full General in 1954 (Public Law 83-508, July 19, 1954).
Medals and Awards
Distinguished Service Cross with Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster
Medals and Awards (Usually not Worn)
Imperial Order of Meiji (Japan)
Distinguished Service Cross Citation (First Award)
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Lieutenant Colonel (General Staff Corps) Robert Lawrence Eichelberger (ASN: 0-2624), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism while serving on the General Staff Corps, A.E.F. (Siberia), in action in Siberia, from 28 June to 3 July 1919, while serving as assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, American Expeditionary Forces, Siberia. On 2 July 1919, after the capture by American troops of Novitskaya, an American platoon detailed to clear hostile patrols from a commanding ridge was halted by enemy enfilading fire, seriously wounding the members of the patrol. Colonel Eichelberger, without regard to his own safety and armed with a rifle, voluntarily covered the withdrawal of the platoon. On 28 June at the imminent danger of his own life, he entered the partisan lines and effected the release of one American officer and three enlisted men in exchange for a Russian prisoner. On 3 July an American column being fired upon when debouching from a mountain pass, Colonel Eichelberger voluntarily assisted in establishing the firing line, prevented confusion, and, by his total disregard for his own safety, raised the morale of the American forces to a high pitch.
General Orders: War Department, General Orders No. 9 (1923) Action Date: June 28 - July 3, 1919
Distinguished Service Cross Citation Synopsis (Second Award)
Lieutenant General (General Staff Corps) Robert Lawrence Eichelberger (ASN: 0-2624), United States Army, was awarded a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Second Award of the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving with the 77th Infantry Division, in action against enemy forces from 23 July 1942 to 8 January 1943, in New Guinea. Lieutenant General Eichelberger's intrepid actions, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 77th Infantry Division, and the United States Army.
General Orders: Headquarters, South West Pacific Area, General Orders No. 5 (January 11, 1943) Action Date: July 23, 1942 - January 8, 1943
Death and Burial
General Robert Lawrence Eichelberger died at Asheville, NC, on 26 September 1961. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, in Section 2, Lot 4737-C-L.
|Honoree ID: 53||Created by: MHOH|