This is a regular column for the one-on-one oral history interviews conducted by Sulema DePeyster, our Community History Specialist. Each article features the story of a Windsor resident and provides highlights from the interview, giving readers an inside look into the discussion that took place.
Frank Peters in his Marine uniform c.1944. All photos courtesy of Frank Peters.
Born on December 17th, 1924, to Frank and Ann Peteroski, Frank Peters is a longtime Windsor resident and World War II veteran. For the first few years of his life, he and his family lived on Park and Broad Streets in Hartford. When he was four years old, they relocated to a home that his father built on Mack Street – only a short distance away from the notable Mack Brickyard.
Frank grew up alongside the nine children of Edward and Faye Mack, and he referred to Mack Street as one big family. He enjoyed playing a variety of sports as a child, including baseball, football, and soccer. He attributes his short stature to his lack of interest in basketball growing up.
In his youth, he attended H. Sidney Hayden School, which previously stood on Bloomfield Avenue. One early memory he shared involved riding his tricycle from Windsor to Hartford by himself when he was around eight years old to visit his cousin George. His daughter, Susan, referred to the story as a family favorite. He recalls:
“I beat even my aunt to going to work because she worked around Sage Allen’s near Fox’s. She worked there and I’m down in the [street] just coming back from my trip. I’m going ‘George! George!’ He’s on the second floor. And then I think my aunt looked out [and said] ‘That’s Sonny out there with his bike!’ She said, ‘What’s he doing here?’ She didn’t even go to work yet, so I made good time [laughs]. But [I went] all through North Hartford and all the way down past the Fox’s and the Hog River and Hartford Market and all the way to Charter Oak Avenue and then Charter Oak Place.”
Frank first began working at the Mack Brickyard at around the age of 14 due to its close proximity to his home. His role involved shoveling clay, which he believes was one of the toughest jobs to do. He also described the entire process of brickmaking during the late 1930s and early 1940s. At that point, mixing machinery replaced the labor of horses.
In addition to making bricks, Frank also delivered bricks to several locations in the Greater Hartford region, including the Phoenix Insurance Company that still stands today. Overall, his work at the Mack Brickyard was demanding and far from being clean, with brickmakers wearing shorts because they were constantly covered in water and wet clay. Even so, he enjoyed the work and returned to the Mack Brickyard several times throughout his adolescent years.
By the time he was 16 years old, Frank had already enlisted in the Marines. On August 21st, 1943, he embarked aboard his very first ship in Norfolk, Virginia – the USS Monrovia. From then on, he traveled to various locations including the Marshall Islands in 1944, where he fought in the Battle of Kwajalein.
Frank Peters and his squadron in Iwo Jima, 1944
As a corporal in the 4th Marine Division, Frank also fought against Japanese forces in Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima. He recounted several of his experiences from these islands, including a harrowing encounter with a sniper in the sugar cane fields of Tinian. Only a few moments after disembarking an amphibious combat vehicle, Frank and his unit were suddenly in danger.
“We’re walking around all nice. All of a sudden, we went past a machine gun. They start spraying the sugar field. I said, ‘Oh, boy. We’re in for it.’ As far as I got into the sugar field was the first row. […] And I put my chin in the ground and put on the steel hat, which was going to help me like hell. I’ve seen bullets go right through that helmet.”
Frank still remembers hearing bullets hit the dirt beside him. One bullet hit his squad leader, who was placed on a Red Cross ship for medical treatment. Unfortunately, this same squad leader later perished in a shell explosion that also took the lives of several others.
“We knew it was going to blow because there were so many shells ready to fight for that night. […] I was running as fast as I could and getting the hell out of there. So I told everybody walking this way. I said, ‘You better get out of here. That place is going to blow.’ So it did. It blew and man it leveled everything over there. And when I went back, the only thing I saw was a hip from here to the boot. That’s all I saw. […] The boot was still on, and I didn’t know who it was.”
In the aftermath of this tragedy, several of Frank’s peers began to suffer mentally from the loss of their friends. It was for this reason that Frank recalls being frequently told not to get too close to any of the other Marines.
After leaving Iwo Jima at the end of the war, Frank briefly stayed at his base in Maui before eventually returning to Windsor. He and his family hugged for hours once he got back home, as they were unable to communicate with each other for long periods of time while Frank was in battle. Four years after his return, Frank was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which he believes to be a consequence of the war. He was an inpatient at the VA hospital in Newington for over a year and was disabled upon his release. For the next two years, he stayed in Florida with his family to recover.
Frank Peters and Navy Chaplain Admiral Tibbet
Frank was 27 years old when he first got married. He went on to have three daughters and raised a stepson with his wife Lillian. He worked at the Emhart Corporation for 25 years until his eventual retirement in 1986. Today, Frank Peters is 97 years old and still resides in the home that he bought in Windsor in 1953. He is constantly surrounded by family, and he continues to radiate a sense of liveliness.
By Sulema DePeyster, community history specialist, 2022