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Boonsboro veteran leads Md. American Legion

September 03, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- Boonsboro resident Orlyn C. Oestereich has been drafted twice in his life.

The first time was in 1945 by President Harry S Truman. The second time was by the American Legion two months ago.

On July 17, Oestereich assumed the post of Maryland state commander of the American Legion during an American Legion Convention in Ocean City.

Oestereich said as state commander, he is responsible for 149 posts and about 70,000 members.

The 82-year-old Oestereich said he is the oldest person ever to hold the position.

"I felt very humble and very proud," Oestereich said. "There are milestones in your life. You think you've seen your last one and here comes another."

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Oestereich was drafted into the Army in 1945 and served after World War II as a medic with the 1st Infantry Division.

He said he didn't know it at the time, but his draft notice would mark the beginning of a 37 1/2-year military career that would include three wars. Oestereich would end his service in 1983 and hold every rank from private to colonel.

"I had a good, long military career," he said. "I've been good to the military, and the military has been good to me."

Oestereich said he was promoted from master sergeant to second lieutenant during the Korean War and served as a platoon leader. The 22 soldiers under his command drove the wounded in ambulances from battalion-aid stations on the front line to medical facilities in the rear, he said. After leading the platoon for about a year, Oestereich was transferred to Japan in 1952.

Oestereich said he returned to the states when the war ended in 1953 and served as an administrator and prosthetics researcher at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. During his almost two-decade tenure at the hospital, Oestereich would take temporary leaves to earn college degrees.

Oestereich said he also left Walter Reed to serve in Vietnam from 1964-65. While in Southeast Asia, Oestereich commanded 40 soldiers who provided medical aid to the Vietnamese in an effort to win their "hearts and minds."

"I think I had one of the most interesting military careers anyone can have," Oestereich said. "I had opportunities to work with some very decent people."

Oestereich said he joined the American Legion in 1983.

"I believe in it wholeheartedly," Oestereich said. "At 82 years of age, there a lot of things I could be doing. I choose this."

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