Young soldier left his mark before graduating high school

Robert Houk • Nov 14, 2019 at 9:35 PM

People who who knew him recall Homer L. Pease as a man of grit and determination. The Johnson City native showed those qualities in 1942 when he joined the Army at age 13.

He did so by lying about his true age with the help of a stranger who pretended to be his father when Pease appeared at the Johnson City recruiting office.

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, wrote recently in a column for Veterans Day that Pease’s “story is one of dedication and valor, and it reminds me of so many others in East Tennessee whose stories should be shared.”

After enlisting, Pease traded his school books for Army field manuals. He completed basic training and volunteered as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne.

Pease first saw combat when he jumped into Normandy, France, on D-Day — June 6, 1944. He was wounded while fighting the Germans, for which he received a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

He was promoted to sergeant, and after recovering from his wounds, Pease rejoined his unit to fight in Ardennes Forest, the Battle of the Bulge and at Berchtesgaden in Germany.

Pease was again wounded in combat, receiving his second Purple Heart, but this time the Army discovered he was only 15 years old. He was reduced to private and sent back to the United States.

Pease returned home where he attended Science Hill High School until he turned 16. He then managed to sign on for a two-year hitch — getting as far as Fort Bragg, North Carolina — before being sent home again.

Even his time in high school was filled with adventure. One classmate told the Press that Pease was a 6-foot-2, 200-plus pound legend on campus who once stood up to an angry man who pulled a gun on Science Hill football players at a game in 1949.

According to another story, Pease wrestled a bear at a local carnival — and won.

After graduating high school in 1950, Pease joined the Tennessee Army National Guard and attended both East Tennessee State University and Milligan College. Pease later returned to the military after 12 years in civilian life.

In 1965, he volunteered to be a military adviser in Vietnam and completed the U.S. Army Ranger course. Pease was 36 when he was killed in action at Ba Tri in Kien Hoa Province of South Vietnam on Nov. 19, 1966, while leading a ground combat operation.

“He lost his life on the battlefield, but saved many lives that day by locating enemy positions,” Roe noted earlier this month. “For the bravery he displayed, he was awarded the Silver Star and was promoted to major.”

His life and service are still remembered today. In 2016, Pease was inducted into the ETSU’s ROTC Hall of Fame. He was also one of 20 people inducted into the Johnson City Schools Hall of Fame earlier this year.

And Congress has renamed the Johnson City Post Office to honor Pease.