Unidentified for decades, Texas soldier receives final rites
A funeral was held Jan. 10 for a Texas soldier whose 92nd Infantry Division was the only African-American Army division to fight in Europe and who was buried for decades as "unknown."
The service was held at Houston National Cemetery for Army Pfc. Lonnie Eichelberger, a 20-year-old from Waco who died in heavy fighting with German forces in Italy just months before Germany's surrender in 1945.
For decades, he was among nearly 73,000 U.S. service members from WWII who are unaccountable.
"It has brought closure that he has been identified," said his great-nephew, Cheyenne Eichelberger, who explained that family members knew only that his uncle was killed in action somewhere in Europe.
Army officials notified the family in 2016 that Defense Department scientists had identified the remains using dental and anthropological analysis and circumstantial evidence.
Pfc. Eichelberger enlisted at a time the Army was segregated and he was assigned to the 92nd Infantry Division, which, in 1944 and 1945, fought at the westernmost portion of the Allied line in northern Italy, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, an arm of the Defense Department.
"That's the forgotten piece," Cheyenne Eichelberger said Jan. 10. "Minorities have served in every war and conflict that America has been involved in."
Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division pursue the retreating Germans through the Po Valley, Italy, April 1945. (Photo from U.S. Army)
His uncle was declared missing after a battle near Strettoia, Italy. Remains recovered near there after the war in Europe ended could not be identified and eventually were buried in 1949 at the American cemetery in Florence, Italy, designated as remains X-193.
Decades later, information was obtained linking X-193 to two soldiers in the 92nd Infantry who still hadn't been identified, so the remains were disinterred in 2016 and ultimately one set was identified as Eichelberger's, according to DPAA.
Of the approximately 73,000 service members in WWII whose remains have not been recovered, more than 3,600 were from Texas.