A war veteran and wilderness-lover shared his stories of grizzly bears and Vietnam with a book reading Oct. 23 and a lecture Oct. 24. Through his tales, Doug Peacock presented an urgent message about conserving the Earth.
“He’s close friends with some of my heroes, and he’s one of my own heroes,” said David Sumner, assistant professor of English, before introducing Peacock.
Peacock is a nationally known author and environmental crusader. He has written several memoirs about his experiences in the wild and at war. He is also a strong advocate for preserving the environment, saying his legacy is the wilderness and importance of conserving it. Peacock calls the environmental issues today the real war of the world.
“No one is talking in these election days about the things I think are important: the health and economy of the planet,” Peacock said. “This underlies all human activities and what supports it. We’re not taking a good look at what lies in the survival of our species: our planet, which is really in peril.”
Peacock quit college multiple times after every semester because he felt uncomfortable out of the wild. He wasn’t married or a full-time student, so after dodging the draft three times, he finally decided to enlist. He enjoyed the Central Highlands, which he describes as the most beautiful mountain range in Vietnam, but he looked at his map of Yellowstone almost every night.
“The war wasn’t always terrible. I loved the country, I loved the people,” Peacock said.
After returning from the Vietnam War, where he served as a Green Beret Medic for two years, Peacock found solace in the wilderness where he belonged. He headed back to the western wild, frequenting the Rocky Mountains and Yellowstone.
“I came back feeling out of sorts, and I couldn’t be around people,” Peacock said.
Peacock took his refuge camping in the Yellowstone wilderness, where he witnessed his first mother grizzly bear.
He was soaking in a hot spring and trying to break a fever when he saw the bear and her cubs standing a mere 250 feet away. He tried to escape and blacked out from the severe temperature change, smacking his head. He came to, climbed a tree and waited for them to go away, hoping they wouldn’t notice him, bleeding and freezing in the tree.
“So I started hanging out with the grizzlies,” Peacock said.
In 1968, he tracked an alpha grizzly for months. He became an advocate for the grizzlies when they were in trouble in Yellowstone.
He filmed the bears and wrote about them, making their plight known to the public. He appeared on many national television shows and even took Arnold Schwarzenegger to see the bears, all in attempts to save them.
Author Edward Abbey, Peacock’s longtime friend and fellow environmentalist, has said, “Now, more than ever before, the only thing I can see worth saving is wilderness.”
Abbey and Peacock spent months together in the wilderness. Peacock was the inspiration for Abbey’s character George Washington Hayduke in his book “The Monkey Wrench Gang.” Abbey described Peacock as a “determined and crazy Vietnam vet.”
When Abbey died, Peacock and a few other friends buried him in the Southwest Arizona desert in an illegal grave. After digging it, Peacock laid in the grave to determine if it was right. He decided it was meant to be when he saw Abbey’s spirit animal, the vulture, circling overhead.
“The lines between life and death had blurred for me,” Peacock said. “The real Hayduke was buried.”