General Willard Pearson

Posted: March 08, 1996

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Willard Pearson, 80, former superintendent of Valley Forge Military Academy and College, died of pneumonia Wednesday at the Wayne Nursing & Rehabilitation Center.

Gen. Pearson was named superintendent of the academy in 1973, shortly after retiring from a 33-year Army career, and headed the facility in Wayne until retiring in 1985.

At the time he became superintendent, the academy was facing a financial crisis and severe enrollment decline, mainly because of public apathy toward the military because of the Vietnam War, said the academy president, retired Navy Rear Adm. Virgil L. Hill.

Gen. Pearson immediately launched ``Operation Bootstrap,'' a series of cost-cutting steps, including a salary freeze, which in six years eliminated a $1.4 million debt and brought about a balanced budget, Hill said.

Also during his 12-year tenure at the academy, Gen. Pearson established the Center for Character Education to reinforce the moral standards of the cadet education program. It earned him the George Washington National Honor Medal from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge.

Gen. Pearson also created the Bob Hope Five-Star Award for distinguished service to America in 1975. Its recipients have included Hope, TV news commentator Walter Cronkite and retired Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf.

Born and raised in West Elizabeth, near Pittsburgh, Gen. Pearson graduated from high school and business college there and enlisted in the Army in 1940 on a commission from the Civil Military Training Corps.

He served through three wars, retiring in June 1973.

During World War II, he commanded a Filipino battalion in the southwest Pacific. He was executive officer of an infantry regiment in the Korean War and served 28 months in Vietnam, first as commander of the First Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, and later as operations officer for Gen. William Westmoreland and the Military Advisory Command.

His last Army assignment was as commanding general of the V Corps in Germany. Germany awarded him its Federal Grand Cross for Merit With a Star for improving German-American relations.

Gen. Pearson, who held master's degrees in business from Columbia and in international affairs from George Washington University, also was active in the community.

He served on the boards of Penjerdel, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Citizens Crime Commission of Philadelphia, Devon Horse Show, Independence Hall Foundation and the Chapel of the Four Chaplains.

Gen. Pearson also served on the advisory council for the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia and the Armed Services Committee and the Union League of Philadelphia.

He is survived by his wife of 48 years, Reba Barton Pearson; children, Joan, Patricia and John, and a granddaughter.

A graveside service with full military honors will be held at 3 p.m. Thursday at Arlington (Va.) National Cemetery.

The family suggests contributions to the Lt. Gen. Willard Pearson Scholarship Fund, Valley Forge Military Academy Foundation, 1001 Eagle Rd., Wayne, Pa. 19087-3695.

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