Edward H. Lahti, Colonel, United States Army (Retired), 88, who made an unmatched record as a parachute infantry regimental commander in World War II, died September 2, 2001 after a long illness at Northern Virginia Community Hospital. At time of his death, he resided in Herndon, Virginia, having lived there over 45 years.
Colonel Lahti was born in Portland, Oregon of Finnish parents. He graduated from Benson Tech as an honor student and was President of the January 1931 Senior Class. He joined Oregon National Guard at 15 and made Color Guard for 162nd Infantry Regiment, 41st Division. At age 18, Colonel Lahti enlisted in the Army as Private and made West Point in 1938.
In 1942, he volunteered for parachute duty and after graduating from jump school, joined the 511th Parachute Infantry Regt as a Battalion Commander. In the Leyte campaign, his battalion led the 11th Airborne Division across jungle-covered mountains to Ormoc, which contributed to the end of that campaign in December 1944.
After Leyte, as the new Regimental Executive Officer, he jumped on Tagaytay Ridge south of Manila on February 3, 1945. On February 11th, Colonel Lahti was placed in command when the commander was mortally wounded. Five days later, Colonel Lahti himself was severely wounded, but stayed in command. On February 23rd, his troops spearheaded the liberation of 2,147 allied internees from Los Banos POW camp, 30 miles behind enemy lines. As the parachutes descended from the sky, internees said they looked like angels from heaven. General Colin Powell has called this the textbook airborne operation for all ages and all armies. Lahti attained the rank of Colonel for outstanding leadership in combat at age 31, with just six years of commissioned service.
His regiment was the first complete regiment to occupy the Japanese homeland and secured the dock from which the peace delegation left for the battleship Missouri to sign the peace treaty with Japan. Lahti was assigned next as Military Governor in Northern Honshu. By his stern but wise diplomacy, he won the respect of the Japanese and was hailed as an ambassador for democracy. A major Japanese T.V. station honored him by making a documentary of this effort. This was the first time in history where a former enemy was highlighted in such a manner.
Colonel Lahti returned to the U.S. after two years and commanded the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division from October 1947 to June 1949. His tenure of four years as a PIR commander was the longest in history. After 10 years of troop duty, he served on the highest staff levels in the Pentagon, including the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where he worked with the Executive Office of the President. From there, he served as military advisor in Vietnam to the Region Commander at Pleiku.
Because of his long period as an upper level commander, he received credit for Command and General Staff School in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas and the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia. In addition to those courses, he also attended the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Colonel Lahti's military decorations include Silver Star with Oak Leaf cluster, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with 2 Oak Leaf clusters, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal with 2 Oak Leaf clusters, and the Air Medal. He also holds the Combat Infantry Badge and Master Parachutist Wings.
After retiring from the Army in June 1962 with over 30 years service, he served as a consultant with the Research and Analysis Corp during war games highlighting the Air Assault concept, and was also designated a special government employee, serving as an expert war gamer. He next became an income tax consultant, assisting the elderly and disabled with their tax problems.
Colonel Lahti has been a member of Disabled American Veterans, the Retired Officer's Association, the American Legion, and is an honorary chairman of the board of a distinguished parachute unit.
His marriage to Elizabeth Jane Sherman of Ocean City, New Jersey ended in divorce in 1954.
Survivors include his beloved wife of many years, Lucille Hannah Lahti of Herndon, Virginia, two children from his first marriage, Edward Scott Lahti of Mathews, North Carolina and John Burke Lahti of Charlotte, Nprth Carolina and six grandchildren. Daughter, Nancy Lahti Villars of Palm Beach, Florida, preceded him in death.
Services will be held at Fort Meyer Old Post Chapel on Tuesday, October 2, at 11 a.m., with full military honors. Interment will follow in Arlington National Cemetery.
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard