La Verne Magazine
Taking a Stand: Peace or War
by Christine Owen
photography by Jennifer Contreras, Tom Galaraga & Juan Garcia
'When we were hit, it spread gunpowder all over the ship, and, as we worked,
it turned out we were allergic to gunpowder.' -Verne Orr
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
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
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.
'It was a special time when something grabs you, and I asked myself how
Christians could prepare to kill other Christians.'
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
"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
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
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
She believes that if fair trade can be promoted and practiced in more
areas throughout the world, peace will follow.
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
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
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
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.
'I truly respect people who claim to be pacifists, to a degree. People
who practice pacifism do so through the benefits and actions of those of
us who served.'
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 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
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
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.