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Combat veteran to receive third Silver Star today

August 15, 1997

By ELLEN LYON

Staff Writer

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Antrim Township resident Warren S. Eichelberger Sr. will receive his third Silver Star today, this one for his "extraordinary heroism" 29 years ago on a spring day in Vietnam when his company came under intense fire.

The citation for the medal, which U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., will present at 8:45 a.m. at Waynesboro Borough Hall, honors Eichelberger, now retired from the Army, for "conspicuous gallantry in action at the risk of his own life above and beyond the call to duty."

When the headquarters company of the 1st Infantry Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, was attacked at Hue Pha Bi in northern South Vietnam on May 21, 1968, 1st Sgt. Eichelberger moved from tent to tent making sure the company was up, armed and ready to fight, according to the citation.

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While under fire, he made two attempts to recover the brigade colors before they were engulfed in flames and then moved throughout the company organizing patrols and groups to put out numerous fires in the area, the citation said.

"His actions throughout this extended period inspired his men to heroic efforts and were instrumental in saving the lives of many of his fellow soldiers while inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy," the citation said.

This will be Eichelberger's third Silver Star from his service during the Vietnam War, although this time he had hoped to receive a Distinguished Service Cross, he said.

Eichelberger, 66, had to fight twice to get this medal.

He was recommended for a Distinguished Service Cross shortly after the attack but nothing came of it, Eichelberger said.

About four months ago Eichelberger found on the Internet the address in Tennessee of his old company commander, retired Maj. Freeman B. Dallas, and contacted him to inquire about the fate of the medal, he said.

Dallas then wrote to retired Gen. John W. Collins III in Texas, saying he wanted "to correct a wrong" and resubmit the recommendation for the medal, according to his letter.

"It is my belief that the award is well deserved and long overdue," Dallas wrote.

Collins wrote back that he remembered Eichelberger as "a very fine soldier and a tower of strength" and that he would sign the recommendation for the medal.

The Army downgraded the Distinguished Service Cross to a Silver Star, Eichelberger said.

In his 27-year career in the Army, Eichelberger saw a lot of action.

He joined the Army in 1948 on his 17th birthday, after his father and sister signed the consent forms, he said.

"I looked at the people coming back from World War II, in particular my brother-in-law who was a paratrooper. I looked up to him. I wanted to be like him," Eichelberger said.

But when he first joined, he didn't weigh enough to become a paratrooper. "I probably weighed 108 pounds soaking wet," he said.

Eventually, Eichelberger passed the paratroopers' physical by taping pennies to his feet under his socks and drinking as many milkshakes as he could stomach before weighing in, he said.

Eichelberger served several years in occupied Japan, saw combat in both the Korean and Vietnam wars and received Green Beret Special Forces training, he said.

"I always liked to be in elite units. I always liked to serve with the best," Eichelberger said.

In 1957 he was the non-commissioned officer in charge of the soldiers who escorted black students into Little Rock High School during integration, he said.

In addition to his three Silver Stars, Eichelberger said he also earned four Bronze Stars and was decorated with medals by both the president and premier of South Vietnam.

Eichelberger was featured in a story on Americans at war in the Aug. 1, 1966, issue of Newsweek magazine and his photograph graced a 1967 cover of Parade magazine.

After retiring from the Army in 1974 at the rank of command sergeant major, Eichelberger worked as a Washington County Sheriff's Department deputy for 13 years, he said.

These days his passions include riding around the country with his wife, Mary Ann, on their Harley-Davidson motorcycles, snowmobiling in Canada and enjoying his classic silver tabby named Harley Davidson.

But it is as a soldier that Eichelberger wants to be remembered.

"I will be buried with my jump boots on," he said.

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