Eric P. Pearrow – Sergeant First Class, United States Army

NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense
No. 1233-05
November 28, 2005

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Sergeant First Class Eric P. Pearrow, 40, of Peoria, Illinois, died in Baghdad, Iraq, on November 24, 2005, when his M1A2 Abrams tank accidentally rolled over into a canal. Pearrow was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Carson, Colorado.

28 November 2005:

Army Sergeant First Class Eric P. Pearrow, a 40-year-old veteran tank commander who was killed recently in a roll-over accident in Iraq, developed a lifelong fondness for all-terrain vehicles in the fields that surround Peoria.

Pearrow died in Baghdad, Iraq, on November 24t, 2005, Pentagon officials said Monday. He was a tank commander assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which is based at Fort Carson, Colorado, Army spokeswoman Martha Rudd said. He was an experienced soldier who was qualified to lead an entire tank platoon, she said.

Pearrow was riding in an M1A2 Abrams tank when it accidentally rolled over into a canal, Rudd said.

His cause of death was drowning, said Pearrow’s fiancee, Niall Campbell, of Deridder, Louisiana.


Campbell said she and Pearrow postponed their wedding plans after learning he was going to be deployed because “he was a really, really good soldier and he wasn’t going to die.”

East Peoria resident Don Bell said he and Pearrow became best friends 26 years ago after they discovered that they had many common interests.

“We’d chase girls and go four-wheeling … that kept us so busy,” Bell said.

Bell said he and Pearrow also liked to drive Jeeps off-road, testing their driving abilities by following a creek that led to the Illinois River.

The skills Pearrow honed in Peoria would serve him well in the military, where he was assigned to a tank crew after completing boot camp, Bell said.

“He called me up and said, ‘I’ve got the ultimate, four-wheel-drive vehicle. I’m driving an M1 Abrams tank. This thing goes through everything,”‘ Bell said.

Pearrow, a Bronze Medal recipient, served with tank units in Operation Desert Storm and Bosnia, Bell said.

Military officials provided little information about the November 24, 2005,  accident.

Fort Carson spokesman Lieutenant Colonel David Johnson said it was unclear what Pearrow’s unit was doing at the time or where he may have been sitting when the tank turned over.

“He could have been anywhere in the tank, with the exception of driving,” Johnson said.

Bell said the other members of Pearrow’s tank crew managed to get out of the vehicle after it rolled over.

“He made the ultimate sacrifice for those kids over there. He basically sacrificed his own life to save those kids,” Bell said.

Pearrow planned to retire in February, when he was scheduled to return to the U.S., Campbell said.

“We were on leave once for 50 days and never had an argument. He was my perfect other half,” she said.

30 November 2005:

A 40-year-old Fort Carson tank commander died when his tank rolled over into a canal in Baghdad, Iraq.

Sergeant First Class Eric P. Pearrow, of Peoria, Illinois, died Thanksgiving Day in an M1A2 Abrams tank. He was commanding the tank at the time of the accident, officials said. Pearrow’s fiancee, Niall Campbell, told the Peoria Journal Star that Pearrow was due to come home Wednesday.

“He was so perfect,” Campbell told the paper. “He was such a perfect soldier. None of this makes sense.”

Pearrow was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Carson. He was set to retire in about three months.

“He loved being a U.S. soldier. He loved the Army,” Campbell said. “He was fighting the war because he was an American soldier.

“That was his job. Not because it was a war he believed in. He didn’t feel like we needed to be in Iraq. He didn’t feel like he was making a difference anymore and that we should have left a long time ago.”

Pearrow is survived by two daughters who live in Kentucky, both of whom have enlisted in the military.

Saturday, December 3, 2005

EAST PEORIA, ILLNOIS – East Peoria resident Don Bell held a memorial service Friday night for Sergeant First Class Eric Pearrow, a fallen friend who had been like a brother to him for 26 years.

“The way we talked and treated each other, we were more of a close knit family. He had a rough childhood, so we took him into our home. He would yell to my Mom, ‘Hey Mom, what’s going on!'” Bell said.

A former Peorian, Pearrow, 40, died in a tank accident south of Baghdad on Thanksgiving Day. He helped three other officers escape the tank, Bell said.

Further information on the accident is not available until a military investigation, which could take up to a month, is completed.

“He loved his country. He would do anything for it, he loved the flag. He volunteered to patrol the area on the holiday instead of relaxing at an Army base,” Bell said.

Throughout the 19 years Pearrow spent in the Army, the two friends would meet for vacations. A screen in the corner of the funeral home showed pictures of the pair holding giant blue crabs in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

An open casket funeral service will be held for Pearrow December 7, 2005,  in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. That is where he always wanted to be buried, he had told loved ones.

A folded flag, black boots and a gun were on display in the place of a casket Friday.

Also on display was a letter listing quotes from soldiers in Pearrow’s 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment Thunder Squadron, Mad Dog Company out of Colorado, who described him as a mentor, a leader, a man of knowledge and a big brother.

Pearrow was a highly decorated soldier, earning a Bronze Star, a Global War on Terrorism medal, seven achievement medals and six good conduct medals.

Three years ago, after Pearrow settled into Fort Polk base in Louisiana, he met his fiancee, Niall Campbell, on a dating Web site. Campbell shared fond memories of the man she described as “perfect.”

“After our first date, we both took our profiles off the site. We were inseparable after that. I made spicy, Cajun food on our first date and he didn’t like it. He was lucky we had a second date,” Campbell said.

Campbell lived with Pearrow outside DeRidder, Louisiana, on four wooded acres, in what she described as his dream house.

“He loved that house. I can’t sleep in any beds there, I can’t stay there. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now, we had this life planned,” Campbell said before breaking into tears.

After a 30-minute funeral service and flag folding, about 15 friends and family gathered to hear a bugle salute and watch as seven members of the Tazewell Area Ceremonial Team (TACT) sent 21 bullets into the air.

“This is a firing detail. Taps is the highest respect we can give a veteran for what he’s done for our country. It’s a final honor,” TACT President Ronald Smith said.

Pearrow, a Woodruff High School graduate, was due to come home to Peoria November 30, 2005, for a month-long leave. He also was three months shy of retiring from the Army.

Thursday, December 8, 2005
By Dori Meinert
Courtesy of the Copley News Service

A brisk wind buffeted the family and friends of Sergeant First 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 Brigadier General 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, Colorado.

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 Sergeant 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 January 17, 2006.

“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, 2006, 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.

Iraq Casualty Honored for Keeping Vow To Tank Crew
By Brigid Schulte
Courtesy of the Washington Post
Thursday, December 8, 2005

Eric P. Pearrow, a tank commander in Iraq, promised the soldiers who served under him that he’d get them home safely.

He sealed that promise in letters written to their wives. If anyone could do it, he could, they said. He was in a regiment with the motto “Blood and Steel.” He was part of the “Thunder Squadron” of the “Maddog Company.” His own nickname, earned over 20 years in the military, was “Fearless.”

Chantelle Pearrow, 19, accepts the American flag that covered the coffin of her father, Army Sergeant First Class Eric P. Pearrow, from Brigadier General Jeffrey Foley. Other mourners include, from left in front row, daughter Catherine Pearrow, fiancee Niall Campbell (obscured), friend Don Bell and father Billy Pearrow.

He kept his word. Last week, some of his men came home for a month-long vacation.

But Sergeant First Class Pearrow, 40, had a different kind of homecoming yesterday. Section 60. Grave 8297. Arlington National Cemetery.

Pearrow, who was assigned to the Army’s 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Squadron, was killed on Thanksgiving day just outside Baghdad when the 70-ton M1 Abrams tank he was commanding rolled over into a canal. The rest of the tank crew — the driver, the loader and the gunner — survived.

His squadron is scheduled to come home for good in March. He was planning to retire.

Yesterday, under a wan December sky, with scant snow on the ground and an icy wind blowing, soldiers crisply folded the American flag that had draped Pearrow’s wooden coffin and presented it to his two daughters, Chantelle, 19, and Catherine, 18. Two more flags were presented to Pearrow’s mother, Janet Ashburn, and his father, Billy Pearrow.

“Eric, you’ve kept your promise to me: that Chris will come home safe,” Jill Hamner wrote in an online guestbook for soldiers killed in Iraq. “He is struggling so much with this loss but knows you’re always looking out for him.”

Yesterday, at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Arlington, Hamner read the eulogy that her husband, Sergeant Christopher Hamner, Pearrow’s tank gunner, gave at Pearrow’s memorial November 30, 2005, in Iraq. Hamner called the imposing 6-foot-6 Pearrow a friend and mentor, someone who always demanded the best, who spoke with candor and loved a good joke.

“Even though he was physically one of the biggest men I have ever met, on the inside he was just a big kid who loved to play with toys and blow stuff up and the army was the place he found them,” Sergeant. Hamner wrote. “He was truly not afraid of anything. . . . He made us want to be the best because he was the best.”

Hamner wrote that Pearrow helped pass the time on guard duty, regaling his crew with tales of his plans to retire, after long tours in South Korea, Germany, Iraq (during Desert Storm), Bosnia and Iraq again. He dreamed of life with his fiance, Niall Campbell, on their small farm in Louisiana. “He looked forward to lazy days on his riding lawnmower while drinking a beer.”

Pearrow’s best friend, Don Bell, a soul mate from his days growing up in Peoria, Illinois, read a letter written by Second Lieutenant Pedro Rivera. Rivera called Pearrow an “old school” tanker.

“Eric always placed readiness first. He believed that by doing that he would protect his guys from the dangers of this deployment,” Rivera wrote.

And that, friends and family said, was what mattered to him. Pearrow no longer believed in the U.S. mission in Iraq, his fiancee told the Peoria Journal Star. “He didn’t feel like we needed to be in Iraq,” Campbell said. But he believed in his men.

Yesterday, mourners at Pearrow’s grave did not linger long. After an Irish blessing and icy tears, they gingerly picked their way back to their cars, leaving the remains of “Fearless” Pearrow, the man who would save his men, alone.


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