group of veterans interviewed last year by students taking part in the Chicago
World War II Oral History Anthology Project, last year.
About 45 veterans were
interviewed by students from Wright College and Northeastern Illinois
University. The Oral History Anthology, which specifically focused on World War
II,, was started by U.S. Representative Rahm Emanuel, D-5th, in March 2004. The
undertaking resulted in about 200 separate stories, and more than 20 hours of
Peters, of Chicago’s Gladstone
Park-Jefferson Park area, was one of three veterans featured on a program
produced by Comcast, “World War II: 60 Years of Memories,” which was broadcast
on the cable network on Veterans Day and throughout November 2004. Emanuel
planned to submit a videotape of the program, along with the video recordings of
all of the veterans who took part in the project, to the Library of Congress’
American Folklife Center. The recordings are to be added to the Library’s
ongoing Veterans History Project.
When Emanuel kicked off his Oral
History Anthology Project in March 2004, he invited Peters to the press
conference, and presented him with the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts which
Peters earned in combat 60 years before but had not received. Peters, a graduate
of Wright College, went back there late in 2004 for ceremonies where the Comcast
program was shown. He and other participants in the project were made honorary
members of Wright’s Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.
For Peters, a rifleman in the
41st Infantry Division, which fought in the South Pacific under General Douglas
MacArthur, talking about his war experiences was a relatively new
“I didn’t have that type of
experience to talk about,” said Peters. “You don’t know how children are going
to react if you tell them that you killed this guy or blew up this guy. You
don’t want children to hear things like that…. I found a Japanese flag in the
helmet of an officer that I shot. I had shot him myself. I remember when he fell
back; the helmet fell off his head.
“The flag is a family heirloom.
It had Japanese writing on it. I went to the Japanese consulate and they said,
‘We’ll do a search for the family.’ About a month later the consulate called me
up and they said, ‘We found no trace of this man’s family. They were all killed
in Hiroshima. There were no survivors.’”
One of the interviewers was
Filipino. He spent a lot of time in the Philippine islands during the war and
the interview of more than two hours, brought back a lot of memories. “It’s
something different,” Peters said about the effort, “and I think it will have
some lasting value.”
Peters had received the first of
his three Purple Heart medals during the war. It was mailed home while he was
recovering from a gunshot wound that shattered his knee. Peters was hit by
machine gun fire during an assault on a Japanese pillbox on the Philippine
island of Mindanao. He was later sent back to Mindanao, where his unit trained
for a proposed invasion of Japan, but Japan surrendered shortly after the United
States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Peters was sent to Japan as part
of the post-war occupation force. He recalled that recovery efforts were going
on while he was there.
“They were still finding bodies,”
Peters said. “We visited some of the hospitals. The hospitals were filled with
the injured. People were piled up in the hospitals, all suffering from massive
burns. From then on, I had a lot of sympathy for them, for the people who were
suffering and were hurt.”
In addition to his delayed
medals, Peters had received a Good Conduct Medal, the American Campaign Medal,
the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with a double Bronze Star attachment, the
World War II Victory Medal, the Combat Infantryman Badge 1st Award, the
Philippine Liberation Ribbon, and a number of other badges and
He was recommended for the Bronze
Star for two occasions where he was recognized for acting above and beyond the
call of duty. Peters was cited once for pulling a fellow soldier off the beach
at Biak, a small island located off the northern coast of West Papua Province,
on the eastern edge of Indonesia.
“He got hurt and couldn’t walk,”
Peters said. “I picked him up and carried him to the water. The other time was
when we had a Japanese night attack. They hit our perimeter. Seeing as I was the
only one with a machine gun, I stood there and I fired that gun all night. The
whole platoon was feeding me magazine after magazine. When we got up in the
morning there were six dead bodies. The captain said, ‘You stopped a
counterattack. If they would have broken that line, that perimeter, we all would
have been killed.’
“I said, ‘Don’t give me the
credit, these guys that loaded up my magazine should get it.’
“They said, ‘We’re going to give
you the Medal of Honor.’
“I said, ‘Give me a discharge.
That’s all I want.’”
Peters is the past commander of
Amvets Post 5, which meets at 10:30 a.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at
4950 W. Pratt Ave. in Skokie. The post has its own veteran’s history project.
They are in the process of recording the wartime recollections of each post
member. The recording sessions have become a regular part of each meeting.
Peters said the tapes will be submitted to the Library of Congress.
Members of Amvets Post #5 plan to
gather Memorial Day at 11 a.m. for a ceremony at a monument the post erected at
Elmwood Cemetery, 2905 Thatcher Ave. in River Grove.