Colonel Elisha O. Peckham was a native of Ashaway, Rhode Island and a 1930 graduate of Westerly High School. He entered Rhode Island State College (now the University of Rhode Island) in the fall of 1930 and enrolled in the Army ROTC program. In 1934, he graduated from URI and earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Infantry.
His service to his country began as a company officer in The Civilian Conservation Corps from 1935 to 1940. He was promoted to First Lieutenant, Infantry in July 1937 and was assigned to Regular Army duty with the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Devens, Massachusetts in July 1940. Captain Peckham deployed with the 1st Infantry Division to England on the maiden voyage of “The Queen Mary” as a troop transport ship.
In June 1942, he was assigned to the “Allied Planning Staff’ in London to help in the planning of the invasion of North Africa. In November 1942, he rejoined his regiment to participate in the amphibious assault of North Africa. He was promoted to Major in January 1943 and fought with a front–line infantry battalion throughout the North African Campaign. Actions in this campaign included the temporary defeat of US Forces at “Kasarene Pass” and the US counter-offensive under General Patton and with a link-up of the British 8th Army and the final surrender of Rommel’s “Africa Corps.”
In July 1943, Major Peckham participated in the amphibious assault of Sicily resulting in the final defeat of the Germany-Italian forces. He returned to England in Oct 1943 with the 1st Infantry Division for training and preparation for “Operation Overlord.”
Major Peckham was the Executive Officer of the 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment during the D-Day assault on Omaha Beach. He was wounded by German defensive forces during the assault, and he was evacuated to a US Army hospital in England for medical care. During his brief stay in the hospital, “Peck” organized a detachment of “Walking Wounded” and hitched a ride on one of the air evacuation planes back to the Normandy Beachhead. He returned to the front after 10 days in the hospital and proceeded to lead his battalion in the push through France and Belgium. He fought in the battles in the Ardennes Forest, the Rhineland and Central Europe.
On 11 July 1944, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in command of the 3rd Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment during the breakout from the beachhead and subsequent sweep across France and Belgium. On 13 September, his battalion liberated Gemmenich, Belgium. A grateful village renamed the village square “Place Colonel Peckham” and on 12 September 2004, remembered the 60th Anniversary of the liberation with a new plaque and rededication of the square.
Lieutenant Colonel Peckham returned home in December 1945; and after a brief leave, his military career resumed, first as a student and then as an instructor at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. This was followed by a tour as the Executive Officer and Commandant of the 351st Infantry Regiment in Trieste, Italy. After the war, he served as a Battalion Commander in Trieste with Trieste United States Troops (TRUST). Later he served as a Military Advisor in Vietnam with the Military Assistance Advisory Group and as the Operations Officer at Fort Devens, Massachusetts.
Following this assignment, he returned to the US to attend the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He was then assigned as the Commanding Officer, 30th Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning, Georgia, the prelude to his final overseas tour as Senior Military Advisor to a South Vietnamese Corps.
Colonel Peckham’s final assignment was as the Professor of Military Science at the University of Rhode Island. He retired 1 Sep 1965 after 30 years of military service. His awards include the Silver Star with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Bronze Star with one Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Belgian Fourragere, French Fourragere with colors and the Croix de Guerre avec Etoile d ‘Argent (French Military Cross with Silver Star).
Colonel Peckham lived the rest of his life in Wakefield, RI. He served on the South Kingstown Town Council and school committee. He was also the President of the Wakefield Rotary Club and a Conference Coordinator at URI. Colonel Pechkam was a longtime friend and supporter of the URI ROTC Program. He commissioned his grandson Kevin Holland at URI in 1984. Colonel Peckham spent his entire life serving his community and nation during peace and war. His exemplary devotion to duty, personal bravery and outstanding leadership is in the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his family and the University of Rhode Island.
Colonel Elisha O. Peckham died on 18 April 2003. He was buried with full military honors in the Hopkinton Cemetery, Ashaway, Rhode Island.