Health, News & Publishing, Politics & Public Policy, Uncategorized

Liberty and Life


I’m not a fan of memes. Too often the social-media populace relies on memes as a substitute for journalistically sound news.

But I recently saw a meme that so beautifully represented the absurdity of politicizing virus mitigation. It contrasted the enormity of the sacrifices made by the Greatest Generation during WWII — the pitch-in, can-do spirit of the war-time era — with the politically obstinate Americans who refuse to wear a mask today. After all, a mask is a small, finite sacrifice proven to reduce the spread of the virus, and as a byproduct will get us all back to work, to recreation, to communing, to fully living again.

A true patriot doesn’t champion personal liberty at the very expense of the nation.

Food, Travel, Culture, News & Publishing, Politics & Public Policy, Uncategorized

Pandemic and Protest for the Impoverished


I’ve spent the past week working on an article (cover story, July 2020 Editor & Publisher magazine), for which I’ve spoken to news editors around the country, to better understand how they’ve managed through months of pandemic – and now, during protests and civil unrest. It feels like crisis on top of crisis on top of crisis for news organizations already fiscally challenged, with newsrooms gutted.

It got me thinking about life here in northern Vermont, and how communities have managed through the protests and pandemic.

Last week, a group of students from an international boarding school in St. Johnsbury staged a protest, and maybe a hundred local residents came out to demonstrate their frustration with the disproportionate number of police shootings and killings at the expense of black families. The incident was not without its own strife. There were a few arrests of protesters who blocked the entrance to the local police station. One overzealous officer manhandled a tiny sprite of a woman, tossing her like a doll down the concrete stairs leading to the entrance.

By the next day, the small town had returned to its sleepy status. The protesters had been replaced by a small group of maybe a dozen “Blue Lives Matter” counter protesters, who planted themselves on the sidewalk in front of the station, hoping for honks from passing cars, in support of cops. It didn’t surprise me, this kind of support for the men and women in blue. Here, as in most small towns across the country, cops aren’t wooed from other towns; here, the officers live in the community. They know everyone, and everyone knows them. This kind of co-dependent relationship makes it untenable for the police to overreach their authority, and it makes citizens more respectful of the force made of their neighbors and family members.

Crime is, of course, a little different here. The local paper’s crime blotter this week reported a local man over in Burke who was arrested for pelting a woman with eggs after a night of, admittedly, excessive drinking.

Only about half of the residents you see milling about in towns, or driving to and from them, sport “PPE.” You won’t see many N95 masks. More often than not, they have the cloth kind that someone stitched by hand, or bandanas wrapped snug. I saw a man yesterday who was heading into a local pharmacy with a grimy, old white t-shirt haphazardly wrapped around his face and tied in the back. At least he was trying to be accountable to his community.

It’s not that the others are unaware of COVID-19. It’s not like they don’t take it seriously. The local health clinic always has a full parking lot, and the low-tech “website” for our town – a metal billboard at the end of our dirt road – reminds people of the risks and to socially distance themselves, as if that were even a choice.

It’s more likely that people here are simply nonplussed by it. There is a sense that, no matter what happens here, that life will go on, that poverty will endure.

I’ve been introduced to a number of residents who came here from Connecticut, where I still live full time. Each has a similar story – that they came north for a more idyllic perspective, an active lifestyle – snowmobiling, hunting, fishing – and to escape oppressive taxes. But what they found in northern Vermont is that life’s challenges simply take on a new form.

From the previous owner of my little cabin, I inherited some relationships with a couple of locals who help me maintain the land. The local town selectman is my plow guy. He maintains the town roads for a living, and plows out the driveways of his neighbors for $30 a visit. He automatically shows up anytime we get more than six inches.

I have a young man who comes to shovel paths around the house and to pull the snow off the metal roof when it piles up. His mother is the town clerk a few hollows away. We got to talking during his first visit, and he explained to me how much he loves it here, especially being able to navigate the region by snowmobile during the winter. It’s a practical, affordable and thrilling alternative to automobile transportation.

But he said that he may have to go back down south to Connecticut, after all, because there’s just no opportunity here, no work for him.

He spends his summers doing landscaping and mostly fighting off the dreaded black flies. We called upon him to mow a meadow, because it had gotten high from the spring rains and because we knew he could use the buck.

Back home, I’m used to landscapers showing up with a veritable fleet of vehicles, equipment and personnel. He showed up with a riding mower on in the back of his pickup, its blade and cover dangling precariously off the side of it. Rusted through, he had to hold onto it, guiding it across the grasses and adjusting the height by hand, courtesy of a string he’d tied to it.

It’s hard to invest in your business when jobs are scarce.

For so many Vermonters here, pandemic or not, the barn still needs a new roof they can’t afford; the tractor still needs repairs. The fields around the house need to be groomed, and the ruts in the road – caused by the freeze-and-thaw cycle of mud season – need to be smoothed out. Farm animals and pets still need feed, and rotted wood on the cabins needs to be replaced with whatever scraps of lumber can be found in the shed.

But there are also little pleasures. With spring comes picnics with the family. The woodstoves go cold, while charcoal grills fill the air with the seasonal scent of smoke. Kids run free and play outside, and when night comes – as was the custom in our home growing up – the parents bathe them of the grime and check their heads for ticks.

Joy feels smaller here. Expectations are managed. Passersby aren’t always inclined to smile, but they do wave and nod. Conversations are truncated and efficient. People don’t feel the need to be constantly entertained.

There are no fine dining experiences or nights at the theater to miss – let alone to protest until they “open up.” A date night might take of the form of a retired couple sitting on a front porch and sharing a bottle of wine, watching the occasional truck rumble by. No one is in a rush, after all.

Life is simple by design, by necessity, and by geography. They know the virus will come, and that there’s nothing to do but wait for it and to carry on.

Photo: G.A. Peck, 2020

News & Publishing, Politics & Public Policy, Uncategorized

The Roof, the Roof, the Roof Is On Fire

Unlike George Floyd, who literally choked out his last words …

“Don’t kill me.”


“I can’t breathe.”

… I only figuratively choke on words to chronicle this moment in our nation’s history. I feel inadequate and inarticulate. Nothing I can put to paper is profound enough. What can I write that I haven’t said before, after each injustice I’ve paid witness to in my lifetime — this life of mine that tonight feels privileged and impossibly long?

What have I not already said about the racial disparities that plague our culture? How can I, an inept bystander really, somehow define and encapsulate the festering wounds of racism and our pathetic inability to destroy it, once and for all?

I think I choke on these words because it’s not my story to tell. I think on these matters, as a white person who knows that I can go about my days — somedays even myself breaking laws — without that omnipresent fear that others will inherently aim to target me, harass me, disparage me, or even kill me, I might be best to shut the fuck up and listen, or better yet, to act as a conduit, a megaphone for others who know these atrocities firsthand.

I need to do a better job at making sure those stories are told. That is my mission and vow.

I may be better equipped to speak about protests. A child of the 60s and 70s, I have been witness to Vietnam-era rebellions, Los Angeles, Ferguson, and all the modern-era injustices that have led people to the streets to speak to their rage, to show the world their anguish.

I have myself marched, when there seemed like no other way to break through. This is all too familiar to me.

Tragically, rather than acknowledging their numbers and hearing their cries – rather than listening to their plight and empathizing with their anger – too many in this country will look at anecdotal property destruction and discount these protesters’ voices, wholesale. They will criticize them, or worse, tsk-tsk them and just move on about their days.

I sat up all night again, watching live feeds of fires burning in businesses, a news network under siege, tear gas canisters flying, and I think back to a demonstration I took part in years ago. I found myself side-by-side with a perfectly mild-mannered and otherwise peaceful, law-abiding person, who was so caught up in the moment, so unable to tamp down his rage, that he screamed out, “Burn it all down!”

That’s what rage does to human beings. That’s what being unheard, for years, decades, centuries, does to us.

As the day breaks, American cities will awaken to carnage today. They will find their neighbors and friends nursing wounds, glass on the streets, fires still smoldering. Talking heads on TV and social-media commenters will ponder, “Why have they done this? What purpose does it serve?”

They don’t understand it, because they haven’t tried to understand it.

I think about erupting rage and wonder how this anger is any less valid than the grievances that inspired this nation to elect Donald J. Trump as our 45th President? So often I’ve heard from Trump voters who say they voted for him to “drain the swamp,” to “shake things up.”

What they really meant was, “Burn it all down.”

The thing is, when you have that level of power – as a member of Congress or as President – burning it down proves rather easy and clean. No muss, no fuss. You don’t need to take the streets. K Street comes to you. You meet in chambers at the Capitol and with pen strokes, you dismantle it. You exploit that rage that sent you there to undermine law enforcement, intelligence agencies, the very system of justice that governs our land. You quietly leverage the courts to take mere access to healthcare away from millions who desperately need it. You slickly undermine public education. You put a price tag on the environment and sell it to the highest bidder. You champion war criminals and demote military heroes. You strike down laws intended to protect workers and people from businesses that will harm them and make them sick. You enrich your friends and starve the rest.

You challenge long-established Constitutional laws, because you can, and because you feel it’s what you were elected and emboldened to do.

You see a plague coming and you shrug it off, knowing that it might kill millions, especially in the cities for which you have disdain, cities that didn’t vote for you.

You burn it all down while surrounding yourself with blue-suited middle-aged white men cheering you on, never getting any grime on your hands at all. It’s all disgustingly dignified.

But the People don’t have that power. They’ve got to get their hands dirty.

The People don’t have those commemorative Executive Order-signing pens. They only have the streets. They only have their rage. They have only year after year of screaming into a void. And, so, they want to burn it all down the only way they know how, until the powerful listen, until they command their attention, until the change they demand comes.

News & Publishing, Politics & Public Policy, Uncategorized

The President’s “Keyboard Warriors” Take to the Streets

I saw this clip when the reporter first posted it — taken at some of sort of a rally. I can’t be sure whether it was a gathering just to celebrate the President or to make some sort of statement about the state of affairs on Long Island, within reach of the COVID-19 hotbed zone, New York City.

I’ve come to expect this kind of vitriol. It’s not new. Some years ago when I was dispatched to photograph a protest/counter-protest of Trump’s speech at the Coast Guard Academy commencement, I took some of this kind of flack myself from several individuals who walked alongside the protest marchers and screamed at the group. To me, they yelled “fake news” and some misogynistic nonsense that I shrugged off at the time. It’s gotten much worse in the years since, with reporters harassed, doxxed, physically assaulted, their gear ripped from their hands and destroyed.

The Constitutionally protected Free Press no longer feels very free. It feels like targets have been painted on their backs.

When this clip first published on Twitter, I had a couple of thoughts: First, note how brave the local TV reporter is as he walks through the frothy-mouthed crowd. See his calm as he navigates individuals/superspreaders yelling in his face and refusing to respect any physical distancing.

I thought, look at how they scream at him, even in front of their young, impressionable children. Look at how they seem to have lost their damned minds, becoming people I doubt they are in everyday situations. I bet they don’t behave like this at family reunions, nor at the workplace, nor in their neighborhoods, nor in their PTA meetings.

I was also hyperaware of the irony of this. Here, we have a reporter dispatched by the local Long Island TV station, to report on their event. Had he and others not been there, they would have been accused of ignoring their plights, blackballing their voices. How many times have you heard from the President’s most ardent supporters, “You won’t hear this on the mainstream media …”

And yet, this is about as MSM as you can get, the guy I bet everyone in the crowd knew by name and face, because he’s on their TV screens every weeknight. Local TV news is about as close to the community as you can get outside of a small-town paper. It’s not just “mainstream,” it’s “Main Street.”

Here he was to capture their moment, to take their story to the airwaves, to interview them and get their perspectives.

And what do they do? They threaten him, scold him, verbally shit all over the guy. They terrorize him.

I shared the clip on social media, and I blamed the President for this vitriol and hate. After all, it’s his words, verbatim, that they practically spit at the TV newsman. Listen carefully, and you can hear them parrot our President.

Turns out, I was right to put the blame at the President’s feet, because in the middle of the night — when the President should either be sleeping, meeting with his entourage at Camp David, or thinking long and hard about how to save lives in the throes of pandemic — the President shared this clip, too. Not once, but twice. That tells me he’s quite proud of these people, this behavior, and his ability to manipulate masses of his “keyboard warriors,” to the point that they have become something other than themselves.

Politics & Public Policy, Uncategorized

A Parable: Moose Hunts and Pandemic

Long before we found ourselves sequestered in the wilds of northern Vermont, I became concerned about moose. Though a friend who lives in Vermont describes them as “the dumbest animals to walk the earth,” I find them quite intriguing – their fortitude, their height and weight, their ability to adapt to harsh conditions, to navigate treacherous forest floors. I appreciate how the mothers care for their young, how they bed down in the snow, and I’m fascinated with how the males annually grow their awe-inspiring racks. The new antlers are covered with a soft velvet as they emerge in the spring, which the moose violently scrape during by September, rubbing them against trees until the bloody velvet falls to the ground, often taking a tree’s bark with it.

I’m intrigued by the annual rut – when hormones are on high – and how the males battle for territory. Men!

I eagerly await the first sound of a moose mating call and would likely squeal with glee if I ever stumble upon a cow and her new calf.

My husband’s coworker is stationed up in Maine. He’s a hearty sort, who spends time at a seasonal camp, hunts, and knows just about everything you need to know about living and surviving in the woods. He’s been a wellspring of information for us this year, as we learn to navigate the forest and coexist with the animals that have now ousted us from the top of our local food chain, as they say on survivalist shows.

A few years back, he bemoaned Maine’s tick problem and reported that the local moose population was being decimated by them. He said the moose up there are literally covered in ticks. Here, too.

I looked into this, and read an article about one account of a moose emerging from the forest with an estimated 80,000 to 90,000 ticks on it. I suppose math was involved in that estimation. I doubt they were picked off and counted, one by one.

Ticks are bad here, too. We have to take extra precautions – for us and for our dog – when we return from time spent outdoors.

The moose population in northern Vermont is reportedly not as plentiful as it once was. Locals here tell us that a decade ago you couldn’t drive around the region without spotting them, and that every landowner had at least one moose roaming the acreage. They were everywhere, and the signs along Vermont’s roads and highways are a testament to that bygone era. I see plenty of signs of moose out on the property – horseshoe-shaped hoof prints in the snow and mud, mounds of almond-shaped scat. But I have yet to spot one for myself. Those that remain in our forest are quite adept at keeping a low profile.

The decrease in the moose population concerned me, and even more so when I heard that Vermont was going to allow a rather generous number of moose-hunt licenses this year – 55 licenses are expected to harvest 33 moose this year.

You might wonder why a person would want to hunt a moose. It’s not for sustenance. Mounted bull moose heads do fetch a pretty penny. In St. Johnsbury, we discovered a place that specializes in all sorts of taxidermy – everything from full-standing bear to kitschy raccoons paired up and placed in little birch canoes, like they’re out for a paddle on a river.

Standing beneath a mounted moose head is humbling perspective, and well-done mounts can cost tens of thousands of dollars. But how many people have that kind of money, room, or the desire to have a moose mount on their living room walls? Is there a market for 33 of them of this year alone, I wondered?

It turns out that the reason for the hunt has nothing to do with big-game prizes, and everything to do with the tick population. If ticks can’t find a host, they move along to where they can. In theory, thinning out the moose also thins out the ticks.

As much as I don’t like the idea of gunning down a beautiful, regal, elusive beast – just out loping around in the forest, minding its own damn business – I can understand this countermeasure. If you think about it, it’s not unlike stay-at-home orders during the time of pandemic. The only way COVID-19 continues to thrive and perpetuate is if it finds readily available hosts.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not anxious to be a human-equivalent tick-covered moose, nor a dead moose. Things may be “opening up” around the country, as the idea of “herd immunity” and “culling the herd” – the sacrificing of vulnerable Americans* – seems to be gaining popularity, but I’m going to stay put for now.

How about you?


*Vulnerable Americans refers to both the elderly and people with pre-existing, co-morbid conditions. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 50 to 129 million NON-ELDERLY Americans have some form of pre-existing health condition.

News & Publishing, Politics & Public Policy, Uncategorized

The White House Task Force Briefings Should No Longer Be Televised

Since the creation of the White House task force, and the President’s naming of his Vice President, Mike Pence, as its mealymouthed leader, there has been a steady drumbeat from media critics who think the Press should tune out.

They’ve argued that the President has done more harm than good by holding these nearly daily on-camera events. I wholeheartedly disagreed, primarily because he’s the President, and without a functioning Press Secretary – the new one refuses to work with us, like her predecessor – these are precious opportunities to carry the President’s messages to the American people, allowing them to judge for themselves the content, and to question him, challenge him, and speak truth to power, as is our role and responsibility.

I have held that belief for all these exhausting weeks, even when the President missed every opportunity to express genuine, sincere empathy for those who are sick, the tens of thousands who have died horrific deaths, or to their families who are forced to grieve in silence, alone.

I believed we had to cover the briefings even when it became clear that the President’s posturing would always be to deflect criticism, to shirk responsibility, and to pick petty fights with Governors who have been desperate for information, gear, equipment and financial aid – desperate to try to save their constituents lives.

I felt we should still cover the briefings even when the President would openly question his own appointees to the task force – infectious-disease experts who come equipped with data and analyses that he flippantly disregards in real time.

Even when critics cried, “He’s using these as substitute campaign rallies,” I still felt we have to cover them. To ignore them would be irresponsible and a dereliction of our duty, right?

I, along with so many of my colleagues in news, have cringed when he’s used the precious time to admonish journalists, especially women reporters, accusing anyone who asks a pointed, legitimate question of being “fake news” or worse. The tough-guy act feels like a two-pronged strategy. On the one hand, it’s textbook Orwellian; if you can convince people not to believe anything, they won’t believe the truth about you. The other purpose, I believe, is to create audio and video clips for conservative media outlets to run, showing the President “fighting back” – macho and chest thumping.

I suppose with some people who are firmly planted in the President’s corner, no matter his egregious unforced errors, it works to get their blood boiling, their anger stoked. It juices up the base.

A hard-boiled German who’s been around, even I welled up the day the President boasted about how great the ratings were for his briefings, as New York City and other communities across the nation zipped up hundreds of body bags in that single day. The lack of empathy was shocking, gutting really. It made me question if we’ll live through this – as individuals and as a nation.

Admittedly, as the time has passed, I have questioned the approach of the Press sitting before him. I believed that if they could simply target their questions to the experts and keep them keenly focused on the public health and safety information Americans need to know, that it would somehow keep these briefings from veering off course.

I suggested to broadcasters that they factor in a longer delay so that they could digitally filter out anything that was overtly false or potentially harmful to the viewing public. None of that has worked.

The President went on to use the briefings to recklessly promote a drug that hadn’t been rigorously tested through clinical trials as a treatment for COVID-19 infection. Despite warnings across the globe that its use was linked to heart failure and stroke in these cases, he continued to promote it. Lupus patients suddenly couldn’t get their prescriptions filled for the drug, putting their very lives at risk while the President continued to promote it. We later learned that he has a financial stake in the pharmaceutical company that makes it.

Donald J. Trump also used taxpayer dollars to produce a campaign video, which he shamelessly played during one notorious briefing, perking up the ears of watchdog agencies. He’s defied social/physical distance rules established by the White House Correspondents Association, designed to keep the Press and the President himself safe from infection during these daily meetings. He’s repeatedly invited pet network OANN into the room in defiance of these very rules, allowing its “reporters” to pitch him softball, seemingly planned and scripted questions designed to stroke the President’s ego and disparage political opponents. It’s right out of the Authoritarian Playbook.

I have been hyperaware of the lack of real leadership on display here. A leader, even in cases of notable accomplishments and success, reflects back and thinks: “How could we have done even better?” There’s no introspection by the President of the United States. He is incapable of it.

And still – even with all this in our wake – I was of the mind that the Press had to broadcast and cover these briefings, because he’s the President of the United States, and it is our duty to shine lights on him whenever we have access, and especially when we don’t.

But that’s all changed for me now. I have come around to the position the critics have taken – that we should no longer broadcast these briefings in real time. My professional opinion changed when the President used last weeks’ time before the American people to encourage the protesters who have taken the streets – some dressed as if they’re going to war, some sporting swastika and other antisemitic symbols, others with Confederate flags – to defy the very orders his own task force established. For weeks, the President, the Vice President, the doctors, and other members of the Administration have stood before us preaching the importance of following the guidelines and reading from lists of things that the President said we should all be grateful for – Federally supplied personal protection equipment, respirators, financial aid, military vessels and personnel, field hospitals, short-lived testing sites, and more.

Now, the President and the Vice President are lauding the protesters, empathizing with their “cabin fever,” and refusing to admonish their reckless disregard for the health and safety of not just “the others” – their fellow American citizens – but their own health and that of their own families. It overtly demonstrates that the President and the Vice President have not taken their roles seriously, that they haven’t even bought into the guidelines they’ve established, and that they do not care how many Americans will die as a result of their politicking.

There’s a Willie Nelson song that goes, “Turn out the lights; the party’s over. They say that all good things must end.” The White House Task Force briefings had the potential to do some really good things – to inform the public, to help keep us all safe. They haven’t risen to the occasion.

Legitimate news organizations should shut off the lights and remove the cameras from the briefing room. Send in your reporters, but cover the briefings straight, giving no room for the President to make an on-camera mockery out of them and us.

The public-servant doctors on the task force should take a different approach, too. It’s time to “go rogue” and speak directly to the American people without the President’s political filter. It’s long overdue. Our nation is depending on you.


Donald Harding Peck, a eulogy

Eulogy for Donald Harding Peck

We all consider ourselves fortunate to have had all these years with Don – Dad, to us.

Some people write their own obituaries. When Dad passed away last week, we found ourselves without one in hand for the newspapers.

But then we realized that we had the obituary, after all. Dad had been dictating the story of his life to us for years, through his favorite tales and memories.

And it is a remarkable story – from beginning to end.

Born on August 2nd, 1923 – the third of five boys for Tilly & Harry Peck – he was named after President Warren G. Harding, who’d died the day he was born. We recently came upon a letter that his older brothers George and Fred penned to their mother after his birth. It read: “Dear Mom, we hope you get better real soon. Grandpa thought that ‘Spark Plug’ would be a good name for the baby.”

Dad shared with us fond memories of his childhood. From an early age, he found he loved to read. He had special memories of trips to the movies with his older brothers. He recounted trips to New York City to see relatives – all the way down the Merritt Parkway in an unforgiving rumble seat.

When the Great Depression descended on the nation, even the bare necessities were hard to come by for the Pecks. Dad often credited his grandfather’s Mt. Carmel farm with feeding the family while so many others went hungry.

The Depression – and War – gave him perspective.

A million times, we’ve tried to put ourselves in my father’s shoes when, at the tender age of 19, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps – knowingly giving himself to war.

All five of the Peck brothers mustered for their grateful nation and served during WWII.

George and Fred joined the Army and saw unspeakable action in Europe. Harold and Cecil took to the seas with the United States Navy.

And Dad chose the Marine Corps.

Before he enlisted, Dad went to his father, Harry, and told him about his plan.

His father advised him to seek out a guy from the neighborhood who’d been a Marine and get his insight about what to expect.

The guy told him, “Keep your mouth closed, your eyes open, and don’t volunteer for anything.”

A few years back, Healy and Gretchen, and David and Harold accompanied Don to Washington DC, so that he could see the solemn Friday night Marine Corps “parade,” at the oldest Marine Corps barracks in the United States.

They took the train to DC and got in line outside the barracks before the event.

Almost immediately, a pair of Marines approached and asked if Don would do them the honor of accompanying them to the Officers’ club.

There, Don and Harold met some of the base officers and enjoyed a glass of wine. One of the officers pulled Gretchen aside and tasked her with getting Don and Harold back to the Club after the parade, because they wanted to honor the brothers.

In front of a room packed with Marines, our family’s living heroes were honored with a certificate of service and rousing applause.

Asked to say a few words, Dad recounted the advice that Marine gave him all those years ago: “Keep your mouth shut, your eyes open, and don’t volunteer for anything.”

The room erupted in applause and Oohrahs!

Then Harold was asked to say a few words, and in the good-natured way they had with one another, Harold one-upped Dad and said, “The Marines couldn’t have done it without the Navy!”

The cheers and applause rang out even louder.

So at 19, Dad took that advice he’d been given and shipped off to Parris Island.

After boot camp was behind him, the platoon got their assignments, and Dad and another soldier were told they were headed to radar school. They had to ask their drill instructor what radar was. He barked back: “How would I know? I think it has something to do with submarines.”

Dad went to the South Pacific, where he spent time “island hopping” around Guadacanal and Guam.

He landed on Guam in one of those floating tin cans you may be familiar with from the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan. Mortar shells rained down around them.

Don knew to keep his head down, but the platoon’s Corpsman momentarily lost his focus and lifted his – long enough to take some shrapnel to his shoulder. The landing craft bounced on the waves, while several of the Marines tried to size up the extent of the wound, cutting at the fabric of his uniform to see how bad it was.

Don lost track of him after that. They reached the beach, and the front flap of the vehicle opened and they ran toward the incoming artillery and rifle fire.

Don saw a crate on the beach up ahead and ran for it, taking shelter and momentary reprieve behind it.

There was printing on the crate. He focused in on the writing. GRENADES, it read.

So Don kept moving, and they took that beach and then the island.

His first night, he got tasked to a fox hole with another fellow, and the two worked it out that they would take shifts sleeping and being on lookout. Don recalled using his helmet as his pillow while a monsoon pummeled the island with relentless rains and turning the foxhole to a mud pit. When his buddy finally woke him, he’d been asleep for hours, right through that rainstorm, as if he hadn’t a care in the world. Donald Peck always handled adversity like that. He just soldiered through it.

The Corpsman who took the shrapnel to the arm crossed paths with Don several days later, and said, “You all cut me up worse than that shrapnel!” Don told that story a thousand times in the years since. Even in that horrific memory he couldn’t shake, he found the humor.

After the War, Dad traveled to Ohio, where he enrolled at Defiance College and earned his Associates degree. He worked his way through college; he got a job cleaning up a restaurant at the end of the night. Part of his compensation was being able to cook whatever he wanted to in the kitchen – as long as he cleaned up before the morning shift – free rein of the kitchen. He became quite the master of his kitchen from then on.

After college, Dad returned to New Haven, where good jobs were hard to come by. As a kid, he’d been fascinated with flight, and re-enlisted – this time, with the Army Air Corps, the predecessor to the United States Air Force. Though he had a hardboiled fear of heights, he recalled feeling no fear when he was in the air, high above Texas. He loved the thrill of it, and often told the story of how his flight instructor introduced him to upside down, inverted flying.

Dad was proud of his accomplishment, flying solo, and perhaps forever disappointed that his poor night vision caused him to “wash out” of flight school, he used to say. Still, he had big dreams becoming a commercial pilot, and he specifically wanted to fly bush planes in the Alaska wild – an adventuresome, curious spirit he passed on to his sons.

He’d never make it to Alaska.

Instead, he came back to New Haven and over a chance encounter at Polo’s Ice Cream, he met and began to court his true love, Connie, and the Pecks and the Cronins were forever united, too.

Don & Con were married for more than 60 years – a love that endured the very best of times and the very worst of times. They had their share of hardships, but also great joy. There were the births of their three sons – Brian, David and Healy, and their grandchildren, Emily, Gil, Susannah and Joaquin.

There were the enumerable parties and Hibernian balls, and festive occasions that brought out the whole family, dressed in their finest attire. There were summer days and nights on Indian Neck, with the family gathered, wet and salty from the Sound, enjoying clams and Hull’s and laughs.

Don had a remarkable work ethic. Whether it was cooking on the line at the Three Judges Restaurant or working for 25 years as a design engineer for the State of Connecticut, he relished his day-to-day responsibilities, and was especially fond of the camaraderie with his co-workers. He took pride in his work – his slide rule calculations from 50 years ago have been confirmed by today’s technology.

Dad enjoyed a good “survey party” – like the time the State was intent on putting in a new stretch of road, and his team was tasked with the planning. The problem was, there were homes in the way of the planned road, and one day, while going door to door to ask for permission to assess the land, he had to knock at the house with the sign in front that said: Psychic. Phrenologist.

This was a specialized psychic who could foretell the future by reading the bumps on your head.

The woman opened the door and Don explained that he was with the DOT and needed access to her property. She became very upset and pleaded with Don to tell her, “Am I going to have to move? Are they going to take my house?”

Not missing a beat, Don suggested: “Why don’t you just read the bumps on your own head and find out?” The psychic was not amused.

Don certainly saw the humor in everything.

As a father, he was engaged, spending one-on-one time with each of his boys – fishing, teaching them how to drive. He could make even the most mundane tasks – a home repair project, or making the rounds to Joe’s Produce and The Prime Market; or getting a haircut at Nick’s Barbershop, feel like the best day ever. His Sunday dinners of Short Ribs, Beef Soup or Clam Chowder were something we all looked forward to.

Don was a curious man. He read everything he could get his hands on.

His brother, Harold, will attest that he has almost single-handedly kept the magazine industry in business. He subscribed to National Geographic, Readers Digest, and every title about science, space, archeology and history that a person can still subscribe to in print.

He appreciated a good car, too. His favorite, he recalled, was a yellow VW Bus, but the most often fabled car of Don’s was the notorious AMC Green Hornet.

One day, he and Connie were out driving and red and blue lights began to flash. From the cop-car loudspeaker came the instruction: “Green Hornet, pull over!”

Immediately, his wife accused him, “Don! What did you do wrong?”

When the police officer sidled up to his window and informed him that he had a taillight out and wondered if Don had known about it, Don jokingly retorted, “No. How could I? I’m up here, and it’s back there.” He had a point.

Don had the gift of gab. He could make easy conversation with anyone. He was positively charming. He called that charm “a blessing and a curse – the Peck Curse.”

During his runs and errands around Branford, he could stop into any establishment and know the people who worked there by name and vice versa. They could all count on Don Peck for a laugh or a limerick.

He retained that sense of humor throughout his life. In fact, just a few weeks before he died, when one of the nurses tending to him came to his room to give him medicine, he toasted her.

Before taking the pill, he lifted the plastic cup to her and said, “Here’s to the girl who lives down the hill. She won’t do it, but her sister will. Here’s to her sister.”

Above all, he was a family man. And so it was fitting that when he became a widow, he found comfort in family– especially at the side of his “kid brother,” Harold.

It would have been understandable for Don to be consumed by grief and lonely, but Harold saved him from that – opening his home and offering care, companionship, devotion and love.

Together, they soldiered on.

In many ways, Don was truly remarkable, special, outstanding, exceptional, even heroic – all the adjectives that come to mind when you think of his Greatest Generation. They all apply to Don.

And in other ways, he was beautifully ordinary. He was humble, frugal, simple, practical.

He had a talent for distilling life’s most complicated dilemmas down to pragmatic choices of right and wrong.

Don’s wisdom was sage. He had the perspective of a man who’d seen the very worst of humans during war, but came back from it to lead a life that exemplified the very best of humanity.

And now, in his honor, we must all soldier on.