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."
He kept his word. Last week, some of his men came home for a month-long vacation.
But Sgt. 1st 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, Sgt. Christopher Hamner, Pearrow's tank gunner, gave at Pearrow's memorial Nov. 30 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," Sgt. 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, Ill., read a letter written by 2nd Lt. 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.