After 26 years of military service — and one fateful explosion — this retired police detective keeps on spinning
Fred Peche’s habits are indicative of his history. He attends Island YMCA spin classes six days a week, without fail. He claims the same bike, which other members regard as his bike — on the far-left side, at the front of the class. He’s always early. Near his bike — in precisely the same spot each time — he tidily places his camo backpack on top of his street shoes to take up as little space as possible.
Peche’s discipline screams “military” about as loudly as the black T-shirt he wears to each class, “BOMB SQUAD” emblazoned across the back. It’s not ironic. Over the course of his 26 years of active military duty, Peche completed a tour of duty in Vietnam and, decades later, two more in Iraq. As the team leader of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit in Iraq, Peche destroyed stockpiles of ordnance (unexploded bombs). “There were just stacks all over the place — 10 to 20,000 pieces of ordnance in open fi elds,” he says. He was also called in to destroy IEDs (improvised explosive devices) when they were spotted, which added up to about 10-15 IEDs a day. Peche would clear the area, then approach the IEDs to destroy them as the rest of the team stayed a safer distance back.
One day, his team was called to the aid four soldiers in a Humvee positioned between two IEDs. Fred was clearing the area to allow his vehicle to approach when he saw an antenna at his foot. He crouched down to grab it to pull the blasting cap out of the ordnance when the enemy remotely detonated the device. Peche remembers nothing else. He doesn’t remember being thrown like a rag doll in a plume of dust, nor does he remember standing up, waving his hand to assure his team he was okay and to stay back. He doesn’t remember continuing to clear the area to save the soldiers surrounded by the explosives. He doesn’t remember his body pierced and bloodied by shrapnel, including one particularly weighty and jagged piece he keeps as a memento. He doesn’t remember refusing Medevac. Being blown up earned Peche 70-percent hearing loss and a lifetime of unrelenting tinnitus that’s “like screaming and that’ll never go away,” but also a Purple Heart, which accompanies his three bronze stars awarded for acts of heroism during combat.
Back home in Savannah with his wife and son, and throughout the duration of his military service, Peche served his community. He worked as a teacher at Derenne Middle School before joining the Sheriff ’s Department, worked the metro drug squad, was a member of the SWAT team and dive squad, launched Savannah’s bomb squad and became a detective. Peche eventually retired as a sergeant in 2007. A lifelong athlete, the former Southwest Texas State College (now Texas State University) football player was pulled from his best years and his education when he was drafted, never stopped working out. He’s a third-degree black belt in karate, and until several years ago, Peche was an avid runner. But he now prefers the low impact of cycling. “I’m 70 — at my age, I just do what I enjoy doing. And then I come home and figure what I want to make for dinner,” he laughs. Clearly, after decades of service to his city and country, Peche has found — and more than earned — his place: the spinning bike on the far left, at the front of the class.