Father pays Memorial Day tribute to son killed in Iraq
Of The Gazette Staff

Ron Pearson had the unenviable task of speaking Memorial Day as the surviving parent of a fallen soldier.

His son, Army Capt. Andrew Pearson, was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad on April 30, 2008, during what was the younger Pearson's third tour of duty. "Drew" Pearson was 32. He was a West Point graduate who shunned safer jobs in the military because more than anything he wanted to lead his men into battle.

The father could have easily filled his five-minute speech with an account of his son's military accomplishments, but Ron Pearson told a story more touching, more personal. He told the crowd of roughly 200 gathered at the Yellowstone County Veterans Cemetery in Laurel about Drew's introduction to jackalopes.

It was 1986. Drew was 11 years old. The boy and his father were on a motorcycle trip with one of Ron Pearson's college friends from Missoula. The three had stopped at a roadside café, where mounted on the wall was a taxadermied head of a horned jackrabbit.

Drew had never seen a jackalope before and wasn't sure what to make of it. Ron Pearson proceeded to tell his son that horned jackrabbits were in fact real and did his best to explain the unlikely origins of the half-jackrabbit, half antelope creature of Western myth.

Drew wasn't taking the bait, but just then the waitress came over and confirmed enough of Ron Pearson's jackalope story to convince Drew there had to be some truth to it.

Soon the father and son were on their first jackalope hunt, of which Ron Pearson has evidence.

"I have a picture of him with a burlap bag and a sign that says 'first jackalope hunt,'" Pearson told the audience. The day of the hunt, armed with a flashlight and jackrabbit call that looked like the squeaker from a dog toy Drew headed into the brush alone to wait for sundown.

Ron Pearson, as soon as he thought it was dark enough, slunk through the brush with a squeaker of his own and began making jackrabbit noises. In short order, Drew had taken the bait and was running toward his crouching dad.

Ron Pearson pounced.

"You could see the flashlight shooting up in the air and you could tell before his feet hit the ground that he knew he had been had," Pearson said. Drew was embarrassed and crying a little bit. As he wiped his eyes, Drew said, "I can't wait until I am a dad and I can take my son jackalope hunting."

The veterans in the crowd laughed and a few cried.

"Just maybe," Ron Pearson continued. "With Drew in my heart and his son by my side, we can get in one more jackalope season."

The father stepped away from the podium. The emcee, Angelo Bianco, thanked Pearson for the story and reminded the crowd that Memorial Day really isn't about the men and women who survived battle and returned home, of which there were many in the audience, or the politicians with statements of patriotism. Memorial Day is for the families of soldiers killed in action, Bianco told the crowd.

With that, the honor volley was fired into the air three times. Taps was played. The crowd moved on.

Contact Tom Lutey at tlutey@billingsgazette.com or 657-1288.

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