Peoria Journal Star

December 8, 2005

At rest among heroes
Woodruff graduate who died in Iraq buried beside those who fell in earlier wars


By Dori Meinert
Copley News Service

ARLINGTON, Va. - A brisk wind buffeted the family and friends of Sgt. 1st Class Eric Pearrow as they said their goodbyes to the Peoria native Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery.

The air was pierced by the sharp reports of three volleys fired by a military honor guard. A bugler played the mournful melody of taps as the flag that draped his coffin was slowly folded.

The flag was presented to Pearrow's oldest daughter, Chantelle, 19, by Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Foley. He also gave flags to Pearrow's mother, Janet Ashburn of Florida, and his father, Bill Pearrow of Arkansas.

Pearrow, 40, a Woodruff High School graduate, died in Iraq on Thanksgiving Day. He drowned when the M1 Abrams tank he was riding in overturned into a canal. Three other members of his tank crew escaped.

He received the Bronze Star posthumously. It was presented to his family at an Arlington funeral home Wednesday.

Pearrow devoted 19 years of his life to the Army, serving in two previous combat tours in Bosnia and Desert Storm. He was a member of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment Thunder Squadron, Mad Dog Company, based at Fort Carson, Colo.

A strongly patriotic man with a love of history, Pearrow had always wanted to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery amid the heroes of the nation's past wars, his family said. He is the 201st person killed in the war in Iraq to be buried there. The military ceremony, with all its traditions, is something he would have liked, they said.

"It's something he would have been proud of," said Don Bell of East Peoria, who was best friends with Pearrow since they were teens.

Earlier in the day, Pearrow was remembered at a Catholic funeral Mass as a dedicated soldier, a good father and great friend.

Jill Hamner, the wife of Sgt. Christopher Hamner, the gunner on Pearrow's tank crew, flew in from Colorado to read the words her husband wrote and delivered at a memorial service in Iraq.

Pearrow was nicknamed "Fearless" because "he was truly not afraid of anything that was thrown at him," Sgt. Hamner wrote."He made you want to be the best because he was the best."

Pearrow was three months short of retirement when he died. He often talked to his buddies in Iraq about his plans to retire to a small farm in Louisiana, where he lived with his fiancee when he wasn't deployed.

"He looked forward to lazy days on his riding lawn mower while drinking a beer," Hamner wrote.

Foley told the church gathering that "Eric died a hero, leading his soldiers from the front, for a nation he loved so much."

Bell spoke of their childhood friendship that survived adulthood and separations because of Pearrow's travels with the Army.

"I lost my best friend, my brother, one of my family members," said Bell, choking with emotion.

As family and friends were gathering in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Pearrow's fiancee, Niall Campbell, said she wanted people to remember his generosity.

"He was such an amazing person. He would have given you the shirt off his back. . . . Eric took two days leave to help my ex-husband and his wife move. That was Eric. He was such a wonderful person," said Campbell.

"Three years together, we never had a single fight. We never had a single argument."

With their father as inspiration, both of Pearrow's daughters from his previous marriage have decided to join the military. Chantelle, 19, will enter the Air Force on Jan. 17.

"He was proud when I thought of joining the military," Chantelle said. "I had to lose 20 pounds and he helped me."

He also was proud of his younger daughter, Catherine, known as "Cat," who at 18 is a high school senior in Kentucky. She plans to join the Army June 19 to serve with the military police as her mom once did.

Her dad worried about that. He had steered her sister toward the Air Force because he thought she'd be less likely to be sent to Iraq. Catherine has been told she has a 95 percent chance of going there.

She acknowledged that her father's death is giving her second thoughts.

Dori Meinert can be reached at (202) 737-7686 or dori.meinert@copleydc.com.