Thursday, May 9, 1996 | 11:59 a.m.
Friends remembered former Caesars Palace President Harry Wald as a warm, honorable man who fought with valor during World War II and served Nevada by greatly improving its economy.
Wald escaped persecution in Nazi Germany as a 13-year-old, earned several decorations as a soldier and later became a Nevada Army National Guard brigadier general. He died Tuesday night in Washington, D.C., at 71.
Long known for his generosity to Southern Nevada charities and civic organizations, Wald died following surgery at Walter Reed Army Hospital.
Local services for the man who was the driving force behind major fight promotions at Caesars during the 1970s and '80s -- it helped establish Las Vegas as the boxing capital of the world -- are pending.
Wald, a 32-year local resident, will be buried with full military honors today at Arlington National Cemetery.
"Harry was not only an outstanding American. He also contributed to the health of Nevada's economy," said SUN Chairman Mike O'Callaghan, a former two-term Nevada governor and longtime friend.
"During recent years his hard work and many of his ideas have borne fruit for the Silver State."
World Cup idea
Among them was the final draw for the 1994 World Cup soccer tournament, which drew an estimated 5,000 people to town, including more than 1,200 reporters from around the world.
Wald had proposed the idea of bringing the World Cup draw to Las Vegas in 1987.
"Involvement with world class soccer and equine attractions are some of the ideas he brought to the table," O'Callaghan said. "He showed all of us that a person doesn't have to reside in the upper atmosphere of wheeler dealers to make positive contributions."
In the 1970s, O'Callaghan, concerned that the Atomic Energy Commission would try to make Nevada a nuclear dumping ground, appointed Wald to a 17-member committee to study the issue.
"He was the most honorable and moral man I ever knew," said Joe Steingold of San Diego, a friend of more than 35 years. "He was a warm person, who liked people and people liked him because of the respect he would show them."
Longtime Las Vegas casino executive Burton Cohen, who served on the Caesars board and later ran the Desert Inn at the time Wald operated Caesars, remembered Wald's dedication to his job.
"He was the epitome of the dedicated hotel executive, even to the point of sacrifice to his own family," said Cohen, who today operates Burton M. Cohen Consultants. "He had a genuine love affair with (running) Caesars."
Cohen said that when he left Caesars to take over the Desert Inn, he maintained a "friendly rivalry, yet strong friendship" with Wald.
Phil Arce, who served as Wald's administrative assistant from 1975-78, said his boss "was a fair man, and a real leader for the community."
Arce, who went on to serve as president of the Frontier Hotel from 1978-84 and today is hotel manager of the Colorado Belle in Laughlin, said he learned much from the man he called his mentor.
"He was a detail man, who handled the day-to-day operations and was on top of everything," Arce said. "There were a lot of things I learned from Harry Wald that helped with my success at the Frontier. He was a progressive thinker who deserved a lot more recognition than he got."
Born in Germany
Born Hans Eichenwald in Rheine, Westphalia, Germany, on May 19, 1924, Wald, along with his sister, Hannah, escaped the Nazis with the help of the United Jewish Charities in 1938.
His brother, Fritz, father, Hugo, and mother, Fanny, died during internment at the Aushwitz death camp.
Wald and his sister were raised in Detroit by Walter and Regina Litt.
He became an American citizen in 1943 and his military career spanned 35 years.
During World War II, Wald served in Army counter-intelligence in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany and also fought with the 30th Infantry Division.
Among his numerous decorations for valor were the Legion of Merit, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Bronze Star and five battle stars.
In 1973, O'Callaghan commissioned Wald as a brigadier general of the Nevada Army National Guard.
He retired from the Guard in 1978, but for many years Wald was affectionately referred to by many as "General Wald."
Also that year, O'Callaghan appointed Wald civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army. It was a post he was reappointed to several times throughout the 1980s.
Wald's association with Caesars spanned 21 years.
Helped open Caesars
Shortly after the war, Wald, then living in San Francisco, became friends with Jay Sarno, who in 1964 made him project manager for the construction of Caesars Palace, then the most opulent project on the Strip.
When Caesars opened in 1966, Wald became vice president and corporate secretary. In 1974, Wald was named chief operating officer. He was named president in January 1981.
Two months later, a gala inauguration party was held in his honor. Among the luminaries who attended were entertainer Frank Sinatra and actor Cary Grant.
Wald left Caesars in January 1985, four months after being replaced as president, to serve as senior vice president for the old MGM Grand, now Bally's.
In 1993, Wald was chosen to direct the redevelopment of the El Rancho Hotel and Casino, which was to be reopened as El Rancho's Countryland USA by the Las Vegas Entertainment Network. The deal did not come to fruition.
Wald's numerous civic and charitable duties included serving as president of the United Way in 1982. He also served on the executive board of the Boy Scouts of America and advisory council of the Clark County Community College, today known as Community College of Southern Nevada.
He was a two-term member of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority Board and was a member of the Southern Nevada Drug Abuse Council.
In addition to his sister, Hanna Marcus of San Francisco, Wald is survived by his wife, Maryellen McPeak; a son, Kerry Lee Eichenwald; a daughter Allyson Wald Butto, and a grandson, Christian Butto, all of Las Vegas.