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Veteran held prisoner by Japanese in Pacific War

by Tracy Tierney

Luck kept Gardnerville resident Edward Peacock from being human cargo headed for Japan during the Imperial Army’s retreat from the Philippines in World War II.

Peacock, 78, served on a Navy landing craft during the American return to the Philipines and was captured by a Japanese patrol boat in Leyte Gulf.

“They took me to a compound where about 50 other prisoners were,” Peacock said.

Peacock and his fellow prisoners were pushed around but not to the great extent of other POWs, according to Peacock.

“We were whipped a little bit, but we were not treated too bad,” Peacock said.

For about six weeks, Peacock and the other prisoners kept busy in the fields. On the eve of being transferred to a larger camp in Mindanao, Peacock and two other prisoners ran into their savior.

“One day in the field, I encountered a Filipino,” Peacock said. “He asked me if I was American, and when I told him I was he said, ‘We help Americans. Tomorrow, we’ll get you out.'”

The next day, the Filipino kept his word and helped three Americans, including Peacock, escape to a small boat. They sailed until they reached an American ship.

“I climbed up that rope ladder, and the captain welcomed me aboard. I just said, ‘Thank God,'” Peacock said.

Many American prisoners of war held in the Philippines were taken back to Japan in unmarked ships just before the Japanese were driven out and forced to work in factories. Others were killed before their camps fell into American hands.

In all, 30,000 American prisoners of war were held by the Japanese, who hadn’t signed the Geneva Convention for treatment of prisoners.

Peacock’s journey to the Philippines started in Canada. He moved to the United States when he was adopted at age 5. At 19, he volunteered for the U.S. Navy.

World War II was in full swing and Peacock was determined to serve.

“A lot of my friends were drafted in the service,” Peacock said. “I wanted a choice. I was chosen for the Marines, but I told them, ‘I’m going in the Navy.'”

Peacock went through 11 weeks of boot camp in San Diego and then six more weeks of combat training at Camp Pendleton as he prepared for the war. However, complications with his citizenship slowed his deployment.

“All of my friends that I trained with were shipped out and headed for combat,” Peacock said. “I was told I could not be in a combat situation until I received my naturalization papers.”

His papers were in the midst of being processed, so Peacock was forced to stay on shore patrol in San Francisco. After three weeks, Peacock grew anxious and looked for a way into combat.

“I was told I could sign a waiver,” Peacock said. “Before I knew it, I was sent off overseas to Pearl Harbor.”

Peacock operated a landing craft that traveled from Hawaii to Japanese-controlled islands. He served in the invasions of the Marshall, Gilbert and Carolina islands.

After a couple of close calls, Peacock and his crew were captured by a Japanese patrol boat in the Leyte Gulf in the Philippines.

Peacock served for the duration of the war. When it ended in 1945, he returned home to his family in California. Although Peacock was home, the war would forever be in his heart.

“I saw a lot of combat and didn’t get much R and R,” Peacock said. “The war made me a responsible person, and like I said to my wife, ‘I went into the war a boy and came back a man.'”

Peacock went on to become the West Coast Champion of the National Midget Racing Association in 1958 and 1959.

Peacock raced cars for almost 14 years, but a near-fatal accident in 1968 cut his driving years short. The accident broke 14 bones in his face, and he had reconstructive surgery.

“The doctor told me I had a 1 percent chance of coming out of this (operation) alive,” Peacock said. “I told my wife, ‘Don’t worry a bit. I’m going to make it.'”

And make it he did. Peacock recovered in about 18 months and became an adviser for young race car drivers.

Peacock retired in 1987 from a Long Beach naval ship valve shop before moving to Gardnerville 16 years ago. He currently lives in the Ranchos with his wife of 30 years, Marvine.

When Peacock thinks of all his accomplishments and what he’s been through, he feels nothing short of grateful.

“God was with me,” Peacock said. “I was fortunate and really lucked out.”