Back in the Day: Tale of a Rhode Island hero

By KELLY SULLIVAN
Posted 4/2/20

George Joseph Peters was employed by the U.S. Rubber Company in Providence when he enlisted to serve in the Second World War. The 19-year-old resided on Elmhurst Avenue in Cranston with his parents, Joseph and Angelina (Cabral), who had

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Back in the Day: Tale of a Rhode Island hero

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George Joseph Peters was employed by the U.S. Rubber Company in Providence when he enlisted to serve in the Second World War.

The 19-year-old resided on Elmhurst Avenue in Cranston with his parents, Joseph and Angelina (Cabral), who had come to America from Portugal; and his siblings, John, Frank, Mary, Joseph, Isabelle and Evelyn.

He was sent to basic infantry training at Camp Robinson in Arkansas before moving on to parachute school at Fort Benning in Georgia. On Feb. 10, 1944, he was shipped overseas as a platoon radio operator with Company G of the 507th Parachute Infantry, 17th Airborne Division.

Standing 5½ feet tall and tipping the scales at 160 pounds, the brown-eyed, raven-haired Cranston boy proved an asset to his country only six months later, being awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge for exemplary conduct during the invasion of France. However, only a glimmer of the heroism within Peters had been witnessed.

On March 24, 1945, as part of a unit with the First Allied Airborne Army, Peters and 10 other men parachuted into Dusseldorf, dropping into a field near the woods. Efforts were being made to claim strategic areas around the Rhine River and the Germans were prepared to halt the process.

As the 11 men touched down, the thunder of machine gun fire began to immediately crack the atmosphere. The men struggled to free themselves of their parachute harnesses as they stayed close to the ground, beneath the steady hail of bullets.

Suddenly, Peters stood up. With nothing more than a rifle and a few hand grenades, he aimed his weapon and ran straight toward the machine gun and the German soldiers firing it about 75 yards away.

Firing while he ran, he was struck as he came within about 35 yards of the enemy. Despite his injuries, he quickly pulled himself to his feet and ran about 15 more yards, exchanging face-to-face fire with the German soldiers. He was then struck again and knocked to the ground.

Peters tried to stand up again but when he found he was physically unable, he crawled ahead, heaving hand grenades as he approached the enemy gun. The machine gun fire suddenly stopped and the enemy soldiers retreated into the woods.

The 10 American soldiers Peters had saved the lives of carried him off the field, mortally wounded. Just minutes later, he died. The now-silent scene of the battle was left with a destroyed German machine gun and two dead enemy soldiers beside it.

Joseph Peters was presented with George’s posthumous World War II Congressional Medal of Honor, his son having sacrificed his own life to save the lives of 10 other men.

George’s grave is marked in Netherlands American Cemetery; a Rhode Island hero at eternal rest on a far shore.

Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.

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