by Christine Owen
photography by Jennifer Contreras, Tom Galaraga & Juan Garcia
Where one starts out in life and where one finishes are two life points that provoke deep thought and reflection. This article holds the stories of four people; two who are retiring from careers, and two who are just beginning their journeys. Two took a road that led them to military service, and two have taken an opposite road, filled with service for the cause of peace. All four have passionate beliefs about the career paths they have chosen and know that others may not share the same convictions. This makes their stories unique.
Verne Orr: Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Air Force
George “Verne” Orr, Jr. smiles broadly as he describes his job, as interim dean for the school of business and global studies at the University of La Verne, as a mission to “keep the faculty from attacking each other.” For Orr, 85, this conflict is much more welcome than undergoing an actual military attack, something he has lived through.
At the age of 25, Orr was newly married and living in Pasadena, Calif. He had a steady job and lived in an apartment. His life suddenly changed after the attack on Pearl Harbor when Orr immediately went and enlisted in the Navy.
On the U.S.S. Mercury, Orr worked in the supply corps, responsible for ordering and dispensing supplies, paying individuals and arranging meals. While delivering supplies on June 6, 1944 (D-Day), the U.S.S. Mercury was hit by a torpedo.
“You don’t forget that [getting hit],” says Orr. “When we were hit, it spread gunpowder all over the ship, and, as we worked, it turned out we were allergic to gunpowder.” On its way to Pearl Harbor to “get fixed up again,” Orr says that the U.S.S. Pasadena had to halt the trip because it was too dangerous to continue. “Our hands had swelled up,” says Orr. The danger in this malady was that the radio men could not type, the signal men had difficulty working, and even the cooks were having a hard time preparing food for the men to eat. Orr, and the others on board, received a Purple Heart for the ordeal, something he describes as “no big deal.”
Throughout his career, Orr has held many jobs, including a car salesman, president of a savings and loan, and Secretary of the Air Force, a political appointment he received in 1981 from former President Ronald Reagan. While Reagan was governor of California, Orr worked for him for eight years. Five years were spent as director of finance, and three years as director of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Additionally, Orr was deputy director of Reagan’s presidential campaign and deputy director of the transition between Reagan and Carter.
Orr says that he had three main jobs as Secretary of the Air Force on Reagan’s cabinet: recruiting, training and equipping. “I could not have told our bomber pilots whether to bomb from 100 feet high or 30,000 feet high,” Orr says. “However, I determined what bombers they would fly.”
And this, Orr claims, was the biggest decision of his career. It was Orr’s job to decide which company was to be commissioned to build the B-52 bomber. The consideration was between Lockheed and Northrop, and there were several factors that had to be taken into consideration, including bond load, fuel capacity and pilot comfort. While weighing all these factors, Orr describes how he would sit and listen to presentations from the two companies in a room full of the top generals in the Air Force and other high-ranking officials. Orr would then ask the most junior officer in the room which company he would select to commission.
“If you go the other way, and the general says what he would select, the major isn’t going to tell you the truth. If you start with the most junior officer, then you have no precedent of someone he works for, and he’s more apt to tell you the truth.”
When it came time for Orr to announce his decision, he had other tricks up his sleeve that he used. Because the contract would significantly impact the stock of the companies involved, the decision was announced at 4 p.m. Friday afternoon, after the stock market had closed. “The Pentagon is full of leaksso I would come down and say, ‘Draw me up two contracts,’ one for Lockheed and one for their competitor,” Orr says. At about 4 p.m. that Friday afternoon, it was announced that Northrop had been given the contract for the B-52 bombers, an announcement that Lockheed did not take well. “Lockheed poured into my office furious . . . they tore the heck out of me,” Orr says.
Orr was married to his first wife Joan for 46 years before she died of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Orr remarried and has been married to his wife Sarah for 13 years. However, Orr still remembers how Joan was an integral and supportive part of his career.
“My first wife was First Lady of the Air Force, and she loved it,” Orr recollects. “I took my wife everywhere, on military planes, at military expense, and there was never one line in any newspaper in the world that was critical.” This, Orr says, was because he and his wife had an understanding. When Joan would travel to bases around the world with her husband, she never left the base. There was no shopping, sightseeing or fine dining. Instead, Joan would visit officer housing, enlisted housing, family services and hospitals and then write a report for Verne. “She came back with horror stories,” Orr says.
In Minot, North Dakota, Orr says that Joan discovered that in the winter, the only hospital that could deliver babies was 25 miles away, and many women could not make the urgent drive, especially through snow banks. The solution? “We built a hospital in Minot,” Orr says.
Having served in WW II and lived through every ground war, air war and “conflict” since, Orr has a unique perspective on war. Orr firmly says that he is not a pacifist, an attitude he describes as “a very peculiar code,” yet he believes that “war seldom solves anything.”
“There is a premise that we should only fight wars where a national interest is involved,” Orr says. “I think we have way over-quoted our national interest.” To elaborate, Orr used the Vietnam and Gulf War as examples. “The Gulf War is probably a prime example of where we thought there was a national interest involved. We felt that if Iraq conquered Kuwait, it wouldn’t be long before they took in Saudi Arabia, and that’s the bulk of the oil resources in the world.”
However, Orr looks at the Vietnam War differently. “We went in for seven or eight years, accomplished nothing, pulled out with 58,000 dead. Really in hindsight, there was no national interest there.” Orr also believes that fighting a war is directly related to the “whim of the President.”
In June, Orr will be retiring from ULV, and says that he plans to write. Judging from his past experiences, he should not have any trouble filling the pages of his book.
Chuck Boyer: Peace Church Leader
For as long as he can remember, Chuck Boyer has known that there was something different about him. He had a different spirit than other children his age, and a different outlook on war than other adults his age. His calm and quiet spirit has taken him to many parts of the world, and at times, caused him to take a stand against what he knew in his heart to be wrong.
Boyer, 64, will be retiring from his senior pastor position at the La Verne Church of the Brethren, a position he has held for 14 years.
As a child, Boyer says that he felt God’s presence and that he had experiences that other people did not have. “I believe that people are born with different types of spiritual sensitivity, just like people are born with different attributes and other things.”
When he was 14 years old, Boyer remembers having his first Kairos moment. Kairos is a Greek religious term meaning “time.” While in eighth grade, a German exchange student stayed with Boyer’s family. It was Christmas 1950, and, upon returning home from a Christmas Eve service, the exchange student was very quiet and withdrawn. When he finally felt like talking, he said that he was thinking that five years prior, he was worshipping in Germany while the Boyer family was worshipping in Indiana. Both sides were praying that their armies would destroy the other’s armies. The exchange student said, “It doesn’t make any sense.” “It was a special time when something grabs you, and I asked myself how Christians could prepare to kill other Christians,” Boyer says.
Growing up between the Korean and Vietnam Wars, Boyer says that there was an ongoing draft. How many men were drafted depended on the state of the Cold War. When he registered for the draft at 18, Boyer says that he did not ask his draft board to consider him as opposed to war. “I didn’t want to be violent, yet I recognized a certain amount of violence within myself,” he says. “I didn’t know that I could honestly say that I wouldn’t use violence.” Boyer began taking classes at Manchester College, a Church of the Brethren College in Indiana, knowing that men were not usually drafted until they were in their 20s and finished with college.
Then one day, Boyer had another Kairos moment. As he was plowing a field on his family’s farm, Boyer heard a voice speak to him. “If I’d have had a tape recorder, I don’t think I would have recorded anything, but there was something almost as clear as that saying to me, ‘Why do you continue to prepare to kill people?'” “I wasn’t preparing to kill people, but I had not made clear to my draft people that I would not go into the armed forces.”
“At that point, I lifted the plow, went to the barn, sat down and wrote a letter to my draft board that I cannot serve in the armed forces.”
Boyer appealed to his draft board as a conscientious objector and was placed in Brethren Volunteer Service for two years as an alternative to serving in the armed forces. He was sent to work at a refugee camp in Berlin for six months and then traveled to international work camps for the other year and a half.
As he worked alongside Germans, Boyer would talk with them and find out why they “allowed themselves to be sucked into Nazism.” One reason that he heard over and over was that they refused to believe the horror stories, and, by the time they found out, it was too late to do anything. But larger than that, German Christians held fast to a passage in the Bible that says that all government is ordained by God, and so they followed it. This was one of Boyer’s first experiences with religious groups taking a passage from the Bible and “hammering it home.”
When he came home from Germany, Boyer went to Bethany Seminary and gained his first job at Purdue University in Indiana as a campus pastor. It was at this time that the United States became involved in the Vietnam War. “I was immediately opposed to the Vietnam war,” Boyer says. “It made no sense for us to be there.”
Boyer says that he was the only campus pastor at Purdue to be publicly opposed to the war, and that his anti-war convictions became even stronger when the U.S. Catholic Church declared the Vietnam War to be unjust. Boyer worked for Purdue from 1964-1969 and then went to work for the Church of the Brethren’s national office for 13 years. He was the director of Brethren Volunteer Service and Peace Consultant. His portfolio called him to work with people who chose the BVS as an alternative to serving in the armed forces.
However, Boyer does not always take the pacifist route when it comes to standing up for something he believes is right. “At times, I get to the point where I think I need to be a stronger witness for the things I think are right,” Boyer says. Nevertheless, he’s been arrested “a dozen and a half times.” Boyer has a black and white picture in his office from 1986 when he was arrested at the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. Boyer was part of a group of 12 people who were protesting the United States’ policy toward El Salvador. He says that at the time, “the U.S. saw any revolt in South America as Communist inspired.” As they prayed and refused to leave the steps, the group was arrested.
“I picked and chose where I was going to be arrested, [for peace concerns]” Boyer recollects. Adamant about the fact that he never did anything destructive, Boyer says that he always got nervous and sometimes nauseous before the arrests because he really did not want to put the police, judges or others to any trouble.
Aside from getting arrested, Boyer and his wife Shirley would refuse to pay the war tax on telephones as “a way of saying, ‘this is too much.’ ” This practice continued for six to eight years before the back taxes and interest became too much of a financial burden. “The government finally got smart and put a lean on my wages,” Boyer says.
Elissa Salas: Student Peace Studies Advocate
Elissa Salas, sophomore international studies major at the University of La Verne, would be majoring in peace studies if it was offered at ULV, but since it is not, she has found other ways to pursue her love of peace studies.
Currently a peace studies minor, Salas received a grant from the Eli Lilly Foundation and traveled to Africa in January with ECHOPPE, a French acronym for Exchange for the Organization and Promotion of Petit Entrepreneurs. Over a five-year span, the Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical Company will donate $2 million to Church of the Brethren-affiliated colleges and Brethren Colleges Abroad.
Salas was one of eight students from Church of the Brethren schools across the country to receive the grant and travel to Togo and Benin, countries in western Africa, to work for the social development of women.
ECHOPPE gives loans to women so that they can buy goods, such as corn, to sell on the streets. Eventually the women will pay back the loans through their work. The women in these countries are also paired with social workers and financial planners so that they can begin to save money and plan for a life better than living in poverty.
Salas describes the situation in Africa for women as devastating, with them receiving little or no respect. “Women [in Africa] don’t have a lot of rights, a lot of clout.” In Togo, Salas says that since strict environmental laws are missing, the drinking water is polluted. “The people have no choice but to drink the water because it is their only supply. Globalization hasn’t been responsible, and that’s really going to deter peace.”
Salas believes that fair trade is important to peace in countries such as Togo and Benin and explains that there is a difference between free trade and fair trade. “Fair trade tries to pay a fair price for goods, and there are minimum wage laws and laws that protect the environment. Free trade is mostly controlled by agreements such as NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement], and starving people have no choice but to work for these corporations for very little money.”
“There are so few [people] that have so much money that it creates non-peaceful situations,” Salas says. “It’s human nature to lash out against the system in these neighborhoods.” She believes that if fair trade can be promoted and practiced in more areas throughout the world, peace will follow.
Besides traveling to Africa, Salas has been to Chiapas, Mexico and seen how indigenous people are forced off their land so that corporations can use the land. “People are sick of it but have no way to express their anger.”
Prior to beginning work with ECHOPPE, Salas was skeptical about the organization and only through first hand experience was she able to realize that economics and social issues go hand in hand. Salas says that non-profit organizations such as ECHOPPE are not very well known in the United States, but in European countries, there is quite a movement that is pushing for fair trade programs.
“The movement is catching on . . . the United Nations is supportive of fair trade,” Salas says, “but without the United States’ support, it will take awhile.”
Salas says she would like to implement a fair trade program on the ULV campus, possibly in the bookstore. Handmade items such as notebooks and pencils from Africa would be sold to ULV students in the hope of bringing awareness about fair trade to the campus.
Robert Parry: Charging into Kuwait
Nowadays, Robert Parry spends his time juggling multi-million dollar accounts for a public relations firm, but it was not that long ago that he was operating and guarding multi-million dollar military equipment in Kuwait.
Parry, a ’99 graduate from ULV, has recently returned from his duty in the California Army National Guard and is about to enter Officer Candidate School while concurrently pursuing his MBA.
After graduating from high school in 1990, Parry joined the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps at Mt. San Antonio College. However he soon encountered problems. “I got myself kicked out of Air Force ROTC because I discovered a substance known as beer, and I stopped going to class,” Parry says.
Parry continued at Mt. SAC, Pasadena City College and the University of Southern California for awhile, but says, “In my first three years, I managed to complete about a year and a half of college.” After becoming ill in 1994, Parry took a hiatus from college and then came to ULV in January 1998. Deciding that he had goofed around long enough, Parry finished his last two and a half years in one year. “I think I was taking 22 units a semester and working full time.”
Upon graduation from ULV in May of 1999 with a degree in journalism, Parry says he took some time to assess where his life was, and where he was headed. “I concluded that having not fulfilled my military goals, having not served my country, having not had that experience and that training, no matter how successful my life was . . . I would always be saying, ‘What if?’ ”
From August to December 1999, Parry was in infantry school for the Army National Guard. He graduated from that program and returned to civilian life. Although he held a journalism degree, Parry says that he knew that he would not be happy doing journalism and so he went into public relations. “It is extremely difficult in the current business, economic, intellectual and moral environment of the United States to do journalism well,” he says. Parry contends that he is passionate about reporting when a story is covered to its fullest extent, and the reporter is not satisfied until all possible avenues have been explored. “Journalism has been reduced to buying a helicopter and chasing around the latest auto thief.”
He currently spends one weekend a month and two weekends a year training, but in May 2001, Parry received word that he was going to be needed for a rotation in the Persian Gulf. Sept. 9, 2001, Parry had already mobilized in preparation to go to Kuwait as a routine part of his service. His job was to guard Patriot Missile batteries at air bases in Camp Doha, Kuwait and to guard intelligence and communications assets. He spent the night of Sept. 10 at the armory in Fullerton, Calif., in preparation to depart for his mission. Then he learned about the attack on New York at about 5:30 a.m.
After the events of Sept. 11, Parry says that his mission changed in terms of intensity and threat level. “I’m standing in a desert uniform with an American flag on my shoulder knowing that I’m going to where basically, the rest of the American military is going, and I’m going to be leading the way into a very dangerous part of the world.”
On Oct. 6, Parry and his fellow troops landed at Kuwait City airport at about 7 p.m., where it was approximately 110 degrees. By 7 p.m. the following night, Parry says that the United States was flying planes out of Kuwait and bombing Afghanistan.
One of Parry’s first platoon missions was to patrol and guard what he can only describe as an intelligence mission along the Kuwait/Iraq border. One night, while running this patrol, Parry says that he and his partner were patrolling in a “hummer” when they encountered a vehicle driving toward their border at a fast rate of speed. Since his job was to protect the U.S. intelligence mission, Parry says that for the first time, he was aware that he would have to shoot if the vehicle crossed into the perimeter. “They got to about 10-15 feet from the wire, and I thought for sure I was going to have to shoot somebody, because if they come into the perimeter, it’s game on. At that point, we can’t give them the benefit of the doubt; we have to assume we’re under attack,” he says.
Luckily, Parry never had to shoot because the vehicle abruptly stopped, turned, and continued driving in the opposite direction outside of the border. “It was quite possible the stupidest 30 seconds of their life because if they had lost control of that vehicle, and it went into the wire, I was going to kill them, because I wasn’t going to get killed,” Parry explains.
Although the perimeter was set up in Kuwaiti soil, the United States had been given permission by the Kuwaiti government to be there, and Parry says they had a legitimate right to protect their perimeter, which was marked with “Do Not Enter” signs in Arabic and English. This near encounter made the threat of death while serving a reality for Parry. “I tend to believe that if any combat soldier tells you that he does his job without being afraid, he is not being honest with you.”
Parry explains that while his military job is pretty much “cut and dry,” it raises moral questions, but he firmly believes that “If American foreign policy is to walk softly and carry a big stick, somebody has got to be that big stick. Call me Louisville Slugger,” Parry says with a chuckle as he extends his arms out from both sides of his body.
Parry believes that when he is being sent places for the military, he is serving the American people, claiming that the oath he took as a soldier was to the Constitution of the United States, not to the President and not to the Army. He also believes that the war in Afghanistan is not in retaliation for Sept. 11, but in defense. “Defense is, we are going to send green berets into your country, and they are going to hunt you down, and you are going to run and you are going to be scared, and they are going to hunt you . . . and then they are going to drop a bomb on you, and then you won’t ever crash a plane into one of our buildings again.” If the United States were acting in retaliation, he says, then they would have simply launched cruise missiles into Kabul and destroyed as many people as had been killed in New York.
Parry says that misconceptions about those serving in the military are common, and that a range of patriotic and unpatriotic, aggressive and passive, smart and stupid people can be found in the military. What ties them together is that they are all people. “What most people fail to appreciate, especially in the case of the infantry, where I serve, is that it is a very tough life, both physically and emotionally. Our job is to kill, and it’s that simple, and everything else is just window dressing,” Parry says, emphasizing that he does not look forward to the prospect of having to take a human life. “I truly respect people who claim to be pacifists, to a degree,” Parry says. “However, they live in an environment where pacifism is tolerated and to an extent encouraged. But they live only in that regard due to the sacrifices of people who weren’t pacifists.” He adds, “People who practice pacifism do so through the benefit and actions of those of us who served.”
Personal convictions about war have been around as long as the act of war itself. As hard as some fight in a war, others will fight just as fiercely to keep peace. As world events continue to unfold, and the peace process unravels, the inner beliefs that every human has will become more deeply seated. Only time will tell whether peace or war is the ultimate answer.