Father and son: at odds but at peace Marine, gay son at UMBC differ on military ban

May 16, 1993|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,Staff Writer

If expectation and misunderstanding are ingredients o familial love, then perhaps the story of Col. Fred Peck and his eldest offspring, Scott, gives a glimpse of what being father and son can mean.

But seldom are the complications and joys of blood ties, stretched by divorce and strained by the demands of a military career, so swiftly and publicly exposed.

Last week, Fred Peck, Marine colonel, stood before the Senate Arms Services Committee, the news media and the television-viewing world and revealed himself to be Fred Peck, Marine colonel, father.

With a slightly cracking voice, the colonel testified that although he had discovered only five days earlier that his 24-year-old son, Scott, was gay, he remained firmly opposed to lifting the military ban on homosexuals.

Miles away at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, where he is an English major and a staff writer for the school newspaper, Scott Peck was in class when the reporters' calls began rolling in.

Within hours, the two men were sharing a limelight that cast a relentless glare upon their relationship. And, like most blood bonds, theirs is one forged by missed opportunities, unspoken expectations and love.

What follows is the story of how a father and son, who have spent a total of roughly three years together in the past 24, have formed an unlikely alliance that spans both sides of a highly public, national debate.

A handsome man, with blue eyes vivid against a tan earned on a five-month tour as military spokesman in Somalia, Colonel Peck is fit.

No middle-age softness on his compact body, the 44-year-old moves gracefully, lightly, on the balls of his feet like the boxer he once was.

After a tumultuous week, the colonel is relaxed now, on vacation visiting his wife's father in rural Ohio before reporting back to Camp Pendleton, Calif. He likes to talk, and so he does, freely, at length.

Born in Baltimore, the son of a steelworker who went to night school to become an accountant, Colonel Peck grew up in


His father, Lincoln Peck, a Golden Gloves boxing champion and former Marine who fought at Iwo Jima, instilled in his four sons a sense of duty, of obligation toward society, Colonel Peck said. His mother, Dorothy, a graduate of Notre Dame Preparatory School, taught them compassion.

"The old man" had a great deal to do with his decision to turn down an Army ROTC scholarship at the Johns Hopkins University and attend the Naval Academy, Colonel Peck said. "He didn't talk about it much, but my father lived the saying, 'Once a Marine, always a Marine.' "

Days at the Naval Academy were filled with glory and extraordinary pressure. Hours spent playing football and boxing in high school paid off, allowing the young Peck to excel in a competitive environment that demanded and revered physical prowess.

Triumph -- and a secret

A success academically, Midshipman Peck won his plebe middleweight boxing tournament in 1966 and the Naval Academy championship in 1967. In 1969, he again won the championship and the highest honor of all -- the Spike Webb trophy.

But perhaps more than triumph, boxing gave Midshipman Peck entry into "a tight fraternity in what was already a fairly tight fraternity," he said. And it gave him role models.

Former Navy Secretary James Webb and former White House aide Oliver L. North were two years ahead of the young midshipman; both boxed, and both became Marines. "They had a lot to do, too, with my decision to take my commission with the Marines," Colonel Peck said.

But the glow from boxing was diminished when, as a sophomore at the Naval Academy, Midshipman Peck began living with a secret.

In 1968 -- the only year he lost the boxing championship -- his high school sweetheart became pregnant. (Never a quitter, he came back in 1969, but he declined to box in his senior year.) "Missed opportunities," the colonel said, and he sighed.

In 1969, he became the father of a baby boy named Scott.

"They kick you out if you're married, and they kick you out if they can prove paternity," Colonel Peck said.

Staying at the academy was tough, but "I felt that even if I didn't like what I was doing, if I quit, then I would be a quitter for life."

The midshipman and his girlfriend, Michaele Yogan, kept the child a secret for almost two years and were married two days after his graduation.

But as a young officer in the Marines, Colonel Peck spent much of the next decade overseas. Within a year of graduation, he was stationed on a ship off the coast of Vietnam. "It's the closest I got," Colonel Peck said wistfully of the war. "If anything, I feel cheated."

The colonel figures he spent about 1 1/2 years living with his son before -- when Scott was 6 years old -- Michaele asked for a divorce.

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