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Leslie A. Peine

Leslie A. Peine

Class of 1963

Local pastor, chaplain inducted into Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame

Rev. Leslie Peine, of First United Methodist Church, was the keynote speaker during a Veterans Day assembly at Washington High School on Wednesday.

The Independent
Posted Nov 10, 2010 @ 10:55 PM
Last update Nov 10, 2010 @ 11:03 PM

As an Air Force chaplain, Leslie A. Peine held worship services with astronauts and smuggled Bibles into Saudi Arabia. Since retiring, he’s shepherded the flock at First United Methodist Church in Massillon and helped spearhead a project to honor the city’s six Congressional Medal of Honor Award recipients.

Last week, Peine, 65, of Jackson Township, was recognized for a lifetime of service with his induction into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame.

“It’s a humbling honor, truly, to be selected,” said Peine, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel. “The biggest joy was meeting some of the other inductees and hearing some of their stories.”

The hall of fame, created by former Gov. George Voinovich in 1992, exists to honor those “who have honorably served their country through military service and who have continued to serve and inspire their fellow man with their deeds and accomplishments throughout their lifetime,” according to the Department of Veterans Services website.

Peine, also the keynote speaker for a Veterans Day assembly Wednesday at Washington High School, is the third Massillonian to be inducted into the hall of fame. Harold Leone, a U.S. Air Force and Ohio National Guard veteran, and Robert Haas, retired U.S. Army general, are the others. Peine retired from the Air Force in 1995 with more than 271⁄2 years of active duty and reserve service, including 18 years as a chaplain.

Calm in the storm

Peine said the pinnacle of his service was a four-year stint as senior chaplain to NASA staff and astronauts at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. On one occasion, Peine recalled gathering to pray for a heavy cloud deck to dissipate in order to allow the space shuttle to lift off.

God answered their prayers.

“There was a hole that opened in the clouds over the launch pad,” Peine said.

In 1992, while in south Florida, Peine coordinated disaster relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Andrew. He and his staff responded to affected residents who sought refuge at Patrick Air Force Base and the Orlando Naval Training Center.

“He arranged for housing and discounted meals in local restaurants. He and his staff spent countless hours counseling those who had been traumatized by the storm, including children,” according to the narrative submitted with his hall of fame nomination.

Bible smuggler

During his career, Peine served on several foreign military bases, including one near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1983 following the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war.

“I’m not a veteran of foreign wars, but I came awfully close to it,” Peine said.

Peine smuggled 800 Bibles into the country to supply to the troops. In Saudi Arabia, Peine was not allowed to wear the chaplain’s cross or be called a chaplain and was referred to as a “special advisor” to the commander, a code word for “spiritual advisor.”

Peine had to get the Bibles past two Saudi security check points at each military installation.

“I carried them (Bibles) in and out of military bases and never got caught,” said Peine, who was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal for his service in Saudi Arabia.

His calling

Raised in Chardon, Peine was 9 when he began working for his family’s printing business. Peine’s father previously had lost his eyesight in workplace accident at Snap Out Forms, a commercial printing company.

“I had to do the proofreading. I learned at a very early age the value of hard work and the importance of making contributions not only to the family but to the community,” Peine said.

At age 14, Peine said he received his call into the ministry. Peine, however, doubted he would be able to attend college and seminary for financial reasons. At the urging of his high school guidance counselor, Peine visited then-Mount Union College in Alliance.

“I did it as much to satisfy her (guidance counselor) but I thought no way would I be able to attend Mount Union,” Peine said.

Peine’s guidance counselor helped secure a grant that paid for half of his tuition. Later, Peine discovered William Carson, the owner of Snap Out Forms, had sponsored the grant.

Carson’s sacrifice taught Peine a valuable lesson.

“I said to him, ‘How can I possibly repay you?’ He didn’t want the money back, but he told me to help others if I was in the position to do so and that has been one of the guiding principles of my life,” Peine said.

Military service

Peine earned his bachelor’s degree from Mount Union in 1967 and planned to serve in the Peace Corps for two years in Sierra Leone, Africa. The Vietnam War was raging, however, and Peine was drafted by the Army. The government permitted him to enlist in the Air Force.

Peine attended Air Force Officer Training School and pilot training but a medical problem did not allow him to climb into the cockpit.

“I had a middle ear problem. There have been four or five times in my life where I’ve had severe bouts of vertigo,” Peine said.

Peine later went to communications office school, serving as a base communications officer at Otis Air Force Base in Massachusetts for three years. Still, Peine never intended to pursue a career in the military until a commanding officer encouraged him to enter the chaplaincy.

“He said, ‘You complain about the chaplains, why don’t you become one,’” Peine said.

Peine also was impacted by an earlier incident in his career in which one of the men under his leadership at Otis threatened to commit suicide. The base chaplain and several commanders refused to help despite Peine’s pleas.

“The answer I got was, what do you want me to do? ... I was a young captain and was extremely vocal and said we need to do something for this master sergeant,” Peine said.

Eventually, the man checked into an alcohol rehabilitation clinic and “got his life straightened out,” Peine said.

Peine was senior chaplain at Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock, Texas, a pilot training base, at the time of his retirement in June 1995.

“The start and end of my Air Force chaplaincy were pilot training bases. I loved the ministry to young students,” Peine said.

Community pride

Six years ago, Peine spearheaded the project to honor Massillon’s six Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. The Medal of Honor is the military’s highest award for valor in action. The $150,000 memorial for William Pittenger, Robert Pinn, George Kelley, William Richardson, Harold Epperson and Robert Scott now stands at the southern end of Veterans Memorial Park on First Street Southeast near the Massillon Police Department.

“I’m proud of the Medal of Honor project, but it’s not a sense of personal pride, it’s pride in the community,” Peine said.

Peine attributes the idea for the project to James Bogle, a retired Army colonel, who contacted the church several years ago for information about Pittenger, a former pastor at First United Methodist. As a result, Peine was inspired to begin researching Pittenger’s past and discovered the city’s rich history of Medal of Honor recipients.

“The city had done nothing to honor these men in a visible, tangible way,” he said.

The committee is still selling commemorative bricks and is seeking to raise an additional $32,000 for the project. For more information, contact Peine at 330-833-8529. Checks can be written c/o the Medal of Honor Steering Committee, 301 Lincoln Way E.

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