He was a common man … but, oh, so much more!
My dad, Art Peters, had a very colorful background and military history. It is a very unique story.
Dad was born Aug. 30, 1909, inside a boxcar while his dad, Matt, was working to build the first railroad to come through Oklahoma, which had been Indian Territory until 1907, when it became a state.
Oklahoma was the 46th state admitted to the union. My dad was the first born child of Matt and Maude Peters, who were living in a boxcar while grandpa worked for the railroad company. My grandma had come to Oklahoma in the Land Run of April 22, 1889, as an infant traveling in the back of a covered wagon. That makes me a true “Sooner.” Her family staked out a 160-acre claim on Coffee Creek Road, just to the NE of Edmond, and her family lived there for the rest of their lives.
Grandpa came to Edmond from Kentucky in the 1890s. He always claimed that his family was thrown out of Kentucky for being horse thieves. Oklahoma sounded pretty good to them! He took the job on the railroad and married my grandmother in 1908. Grandma and grandpa moved from the boxcar to the town of Edmond in 1911. They lived in a two-bedroom house at 229 W Second St. the rest of their lives, and they raised eight kids in that little house.
My dad dropped out of school in the 10th grade to work and help provide for the family. Eventually, there were five boys and three girls: Art, Obert, M.L., Rosa, Oren Lee, J.W., Betsy and Patsy. Patsy was the youngest, having been born in 1931.
My dad had two regular jobs and a weekend job. He worked for Ford Motor Company in Edmond in the body shop. He delivered groceries for two different grocers for a while. He also worked with the Civilian Conservation Corps during The Great Depression, and his weekend job was with the Oklahoma National Guard. He was in the HHD, 45th Infantry Division in Edmond. He enlisted in the Guard to have a little extra spending money while he was growing up. He had to make weekend meetings once per month, and also attend a two-week summer camp each year.
When WWII broke out in 1941, the Oklahoma National Guard was activated. This was not something that dad had anticipated when he joined for spending money. He was lucky that he was in the HQ unit for the Guard. He knew all the colonels and generals in the 45th. He had been around a while, and they all liked him. The Guard went to Ft. Hood, Texas, for training, and then on to Pine Camp, New York, to prepare to ship out to Europe.
Dad was put in charge of driving the supply truck when they arrived in Oran, Algeria, in West Africa. They then crossed over into Sicily. Dad cooked and ran the mess hall. They then crossed over into the “Boot” of Italy. While on the road in Italy, dad’s unit overran a German unit that had been in the process of paying their troops. Dad found a strong box that was filled with Italian lire’. Dad loaded it into the cab of his supply truck, and they went on down the road. He was later asked to provide transportation for an officer as he made his way through Italy. The supply truck was full, and the only place to put the officer was in the cab of the supply truck where the strong box sat. Dad, being a common man, not realizing the true value of the funny looking lire’ contained in the strong box, and having been given an order to transport the officer, threw the strong box over the edge of a cliff into the abyss. When they arrived at their destination to set up the R&R Center that dad would eventually run, they were paid … and, yes, they were paid in lire’!
Dad was put in charge of running the officers’ R&R (rest and recuperation) Center in Italy. Dad became a hero. He had a chef who was, actually, a chef from New York. Dad would barter for the best cuts of meat, steaks and chicken from the locals. He had plenty of goat meat to trade with the locals who preferred it.
What do all military officers want when they are on R&R? Answer: whiskey and women. Dad would go into town, trade for whiskey, and invite the best looking women out to the center for a free meal. Many were very hungry, and very happy for the invitation. Dad was famous for the great entertainment that he provided the officers during the war.
Dad was busted 13 times during the war. A fact that he was not proud of, but nevertheless ... He was in town bartering for steaks, whiskey and women, and doing a little gambling with the locals. He played a lot of poker and shot dice. If the MPs caught him, he would be busted. As soon as he got back to the R&R Center, he would be reinstated … because he was doing what was expected of him in running the R&R Center! He was a cult hero.
My dad liked to tell the story of his younger brother, J.W., coming through the R&R Center on his way to the front lines. “J” told dad that he was on his way to the front lines to “fight the Germans.” Dad had seen what happened to the boys who went to the front lines. Dad said to “J,” “The hell you are,” and he grabbed him up by the nape of the neck, kicking and screaming, and took him straight to the general’s office. Dad told the general that he needed to get “J,” his brother, reassigned immediately. Over Uncle “J’s” protest, the general complied. Nobody had more power than my dad.
About a week after that, Uncle “J” went up to see his good buddies, and to see what had become of them. ... They were all dead.
Uncle J now has 38 people in his immediate family; wife, three kids, numerous grandkids, great-grandkids and great, great-grandkids. None would have been around, had it not been for my dad!
Dad drove one particular general into Rome to attend a meeting with Pope Pius XII. When they arrived for breakfast, the Pope asked, “Where are your enlisted men?” The officers answered that the enlisted men were outside with the jeeps. The Pope asked for the enlisted men to join them for breakfast, so my dad had breakfast with Pope Pius XII.
Out of Dad’s family of eight, five were either drafted or they enlisted into the U.S. Armed Forces during WWII. Uncle Oren Lee served in Italy, France and Germany. He is a member of the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame. Uncle J served, also in France, Italy and Germany. Aunt Rosa worked in the Debarkation Office at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, during the war. She sailed over on the ship and aided in the process of escorting the British war brides from England to the United States in 1945. M.L. was drafted and served in California in the military shipyards building ships during the war. All five returned safely from the war.
Toward the end of the war, the officers moved into Munich. Uncle Oren Lee actually fought his way there. He was with a unit on the main road going in, but when they encountered too much resistance, he took an abrupt left turn, and took the back road straight into Munich unopposed. Officers of the 45th set up their headquarters in Hitler’s ”Braun Haus.” This was Hitler’s private residence in Munich. One day, the famed photographer Margaret Bourke White came into the house. She asked to take a picture. My dad laid down on Hitler’s bed, picked up Hitler’s personal copy of "Mein Kampf," and pretended to be talking on his field telephone. White took the picture. That picture made Dad’s military career, if nothing else did.
The photo appeared as a full-page photograph in “Life” magazine with an article on “Defeated Land” on May 14, 1945. Dad was identified in the picture, as was his hometown of Edmond, Oklahoma. The picture was also syndicated in many newspapers along the east coast. Dad was one of the only enlisted men to have been photographed and identified during the war. When people saw this photo in their local newspaper, about 700 of them cut it out, and sent it along with a little note to let grandma and grandpa know that their boy, Art, had survived the war. Their letters were all addressed to:
The Parents of Arthur E. Peters
Since everyone in town knew grandma and grandpa, they all got to their destination. My Aunt Patsy, who was 14 at the time, had the job of sending thank you notes on penny postcards to all 700 senders. I don’t think she ever let my dad forget that!
Dad sent home the famous lamp from Hitler’s bedroom that was pictured in the article, a set of Hitler’s powder blue towels that had Hitler’s monogram on them, and a flag topper with the Nazi insignia. Grandma and grandpa cut off the Nazi insignia and destroyed it right away. Aunt Patsy took Hitler’s towels to the local swimming pool for years. Dad had the lamp in our house in Oklahoma City while I was growing up. Then he donated the lamp and the towels to the 45th Infantry Division Museum in Oklahoma City when he helped Gen. LaVern Webber set it up in the late '60s.
Dad was again activated with the Oklahoma National Guard in 1950 to go to Korea. He served in Osaka and Hokkaido, Japan.
Dad owned a body shop in Britton, OK, for a number of years after the Korean War. He sold it and opened a lunchroom near Putnam City Jr. High. He also ran some concessions at Frontier City Amusement Park in Oklahoma City. Then, he worked full time for the Oklahoma Military Department, doing armory maintenance with a traveling crew until he retired in 1974.
Dad died on June 2, 1988. He had heart disease, cancer and lung disease. The only two living siblings from my dad’s family of eight are Oren Lee, age 95, of Edmond, and Patsy, 85, of Phoenix, Arizona. Every time I talk to Uncle Oren, he has just returned from the new Edmond Senior Citizen Center, where he says that he has to go each morning to cook breakfast for the “old people.” Patsy is a great aunt and always remembers all her nephews, nieces, great nephews and nieces, and great, great nephews and nieces on their birthdays and at Christmas.
Dad was a great guy, and a great dad! I salute you, Art Peters. You are remembered by many. Every time I host a poker game at my house, I use dad’s army blanket as a poker blanket. He always said they made the best poker blankets! Just ask my poker buddies! I do miss you terribly, dad!