Four Campaigns in 32 Months

Joining Up and Shipping Out

Combat on Cape Gloucester

Peleliu and The Point

Bloody Nose Ridge

Okinawa and Hill 55

Close Calls

Four Battles Without Being Wounded

Unique and Frightening Experiences

Postwar and Trauma

Impacts of the War

Importance of World War 2

Pictures and Documents

The Future

Conclusion

Blown off a Cliff

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George Peto served in the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. He spent 32 months overseas and participated in four campaigns. He spent a total of four and a half years in the Marine Corps during which time he received only one seven day leave. Peto's four campaigns were Finschafen, Cape Gloucester, Peleliu and Okinawa. Peto was a multi skilled Marine who served as a rifleman, a machine gunner, a mortar gunner, a chemical warfare NCO [Annotator's Note: non commissioned officer] and a forward mortar observer. He was never wounded in combat despite his countless close calls with shrapnel, explosions and many of the other perils of combat. Of his time overseas, Peto spent eight months in harm's way, including some particularly grueling stretches on Okinawa. While on Okinawa he was evacuated with malaria. When he woke up, he ate a good meal then returned to his unit without anyone noticing. At the time, Peto was carrying a Thompson [Annotator's Note: .45 caliber Thompson submachine gun] with a 50 round drum magazine. It was difficult for him not to fire on low flying Japanese aircraft but was ordered not to. Peto was not fond of the Army’s 27th Infantry Division, which the 1st Marine Division relieved in May 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa. Army soldiers left their wounded and dead behind, did not gain ground on the enemy, abandoned their weapons upon relief, and left a bitter impression on many Marines. Following the relief of the 27th Infantry Division, the 1st Marine Division faced some 58 days of non-stop combat, which finally took its toll on Peto's mental health by the end of the battle. The end of the Battle of Okinawa marked the first time he felt mentally ragged during the war. Peto rejects the popularized myth that men scream and cry out for their mothers upon receiving a wound and only experienced one man scream after a stealthy Japanese soldier stabbed him with a bayonet. The shock of the wound, in most cases, kept wounded men quiet despite the gruesome nature of some battle wounds.

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George Peto was born in Akron, Ohio in 1922. He grew up in the Portage Lakes area near Akron on an old farm during the worst years of the Great Depression and his family struggled to grow or buy enough food to eat under the devastating economic conditions. Peto started hunting by himself at nine years old. He quit school at the age of 15 and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps [Annotator's Note: CCC]. He worked with the CCC on projects in Utah and various locations in Ohio before he joined the Marines. Peto felt that had learned more in the CCC than he could have in college but that kind of knowledge does not open doors. He knew at some point he would have to go back to school. Peto attempted to join the Marines in 1940 but his good friend did not pass the Marine physical so Peto decided to hold off for a year. He went to work with his older brother at a porcelain factory. When his brother was drafted into the Army in August 1941, he and Peto rounded up three friends and decided to join the Marine Corps. They stayed together for about a week after which Peto did not see any of them again for four and a half years. His brother was wounded severely on Guadalcanal and was discharged and back home by 1943. Peto's brother went straight to the FMF, Fleet Marine Force, and he went to New England and served guard duty at Quonset Point Naval Air Station. He also served at Davisville and other naval stations in Rhode Island before being sent to New River. Peto landed in some trouble for blowing curfew while on guard duty, thus he was ordered to join a combat unit immediately. He was sent to Camp Lejeune, was trained as a machine gunner and took command of a machine gun squad. By stroke of chance, Peto's good friends, Henry Rucker, Jefferson Davis Watson, Jr. and Emanuel Olivera joined him at Fall River. Olivera lived in Fall City so the four of them would make a lot of liberties together. While Peto was in the brig before going to North Carolina his friend Jeff joined the Raiders. Jeff was killed on New Georgia in July 1943. Olivera was a BAR [Annotator's Note: Browning Automatic Rifle] man in Company K and was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions on Peleliu. Peto and Rucker met up in North Carolina. He then went with Rucker to San Diego in preparation for deployment to Melbourne, Australia by way of American Samoa. The Australians loved the Marines due, in part, to the role of the 1st Marine Division in securing Australia from invasion by engaging the Japanese at Guadalcanal. Many Marines married Australian girls and the Australians largely accepted the Americans as their own soldiers before the Marines shipped out for New Guinea.

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[Annotator's Note: George Peto served in the US Marine Corps in a machine gun section in 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.] They left Melbourne and headed to New Guinea. The Australians were taking Finschafen. After they captured it, Peto and the 1st Marine Division loaded up on LSTs [Annotator's Note: Landing Ship, Tank] and crossed over to New Britain where the 1st Marine Regiment was to take control of the airfield and the 7th Marine Regiment was to go south into the swamps and hills. They landed at Cape Gloucester on Christmas Day, 1943 where they faced some of the densest jungle terrain that Peto had ever seen. Rain poured down on Cape Gloucester constantly during the four month battle, and Marines faced fungal infections and dealt with constantly soaked clothing and equipment. Near the airfield, Peto and his comrades saw Japanese soldiers constantly commit suicide before they had even used up all their ammunition, which Peto attributed to their fear and flawed fighting doctrine. The Marines formed work crews to bury the rotting corpses of Japanese soldiers who had killed themselves in the face of the American assault on the airfield. Later in the battle, Peto and about 100 other guys went by landing craft about 100 miles up the coast of New Britain to go on patrols. They found a beach where the LSTs could be run right up on the beach. While out on these patrols, Japanese planes strafed them and Japanese snipers attempted to pick them off from perches high in the jungle canopy. They lost two company commanders in a span of five minutes. The fighting on Cape Gloucester lasted four months. Peto first experienced combat early in the battle while assigned as an ammunition carrier in the 81mm mortar squad. He had his carbine slung over his shoulder and was carrying a couple clovers of ammunition to his outfit's position when they ran into a blast of Japanese machine gun fire from a nearby position. After the machine gun fire subsided, Peto and a comrade, Harry Owens, bolted out of range of the machine gun, but Peto remembered the experience as one of his most frightening in combat. He first encountered a Japanese body while trudging up a muddy path on Cape Gloucester, and accidentally stepped on in, which he identified by its sprawled limbs. Most of the Marines Peto served with on New Britain were young and unmarried, characteristics Peto liked in a Marine, since young, single Marines like himself tended to be the most fearless and easy going during the strains of intense combat. And, like most experiences, the Marines got used to combat after taking fire only a few times.

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[Annotator's Note: George Peto served in the US Marine Corps in a machine gun section in 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.] Pavuvu became their home base. It was 60 or 80 miles north of Guadalcanal in the Russell Islands. It was infested with rats and was hardly large enough for the Marines to train on. Pavuvu turned out to be a disappointing destination for the men, who expected to rehabilitate back in Hawaii, but the shared disappointment served to bond them together. From Pavuvu the 1st Marine Division shipped out for Peleliu, a small coral island in the Caroline Islands. The 1st Marine Division made the primary assault on the island and the 81st Infantry Division provided reserves and backup. Peto landed with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment at White Beach and took part in the fighting at the Point. They were also assigned the objective of capturing a heavily fortified Japanese position to the south of the landing beaches, which was capable of firing all across the landing zones. The landings were difficult for the Marines as many men, full from a steak and egg breakfast and nervous for combat, became seasick in the LSTs [Annotator's Note: Landing Ship, Tank] and were not in great physical or mental states when they hit the beach. The amphibious tanks that took the men into the beach were slow and unsteady. They were under fire from Japanese positions ashore all the way in. Many Marines disembarked from the craft into eight feet of water and had to struggle across the coral to make it ashore, all while under heavy machine gun and artillery fire. The men of Company K were scattered all across the beach and were often pinned down in anti-tank trenches and behind any cover they found. Peto and Company K were finally able to assemble into a fighting unit, at which point they assaulted the Japanese position at The Point. They used grenades and small arms to slowly clear the Japanese defenders. The enemy struck back, however, and their counterattack broke through Company K's lines, which completely cut off its right flank and left Peto exposed on the right end of the line. About dusk, the Japanese launched the only banzai attack launched on Peleliu. Peto and another Marine set up their machine gun and fired all night long until it froze up and they were about out of ammo. The Japanese managed to surround the Marines. It was the only time Peto seriously doubted if the Marines could be victorious. There were only 18 men remaining. The next morning, they saw Chesty Puller [Annotator's Note: then Colonel Lewis B. Puller]. In Puller's biography it was written that he had recommended the Cape Gloucester veterans for the Navy Cross. Company I ultimately relieved the decimated Company K, which saw no more combat on Peleliu.

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When Company I came to the relief of a decimated Company K, George Peto, who served as a forward mortar observer, joined Company I to continue the battle on Peleliu. Peto remained with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines for the next few weeks and participated in the perilous assault on Peleliu's coral mountain, Umurbrogol, or, as the Marines called it, Bloody Nose Ridge. After the Marines clawed their way up one ridge, the relentless hail of Japanese rifle fire, which came from concealed Japanese openings in the coral rock, repelled the Marines' assault and forced them back to the base of the ridge where they waited for relief. A company from the 81st Wildcats [Annotator's Note: US Army's 81st Infantry Division] relieved Company I, which, by the end of the battle, was decimated by casualties. An officer from the 81st Infantry Division walked around looking for the company he was there to replace. When he saw what was left of it he moved off down the beach. They decided to assault the position from a different direction. They were still plugging away at it 30 days later. Company I moved down to Purple Beach to defend against any possible Japanese counterattacks up the roads there, but the Japanese never came. After a week at Purple Beach, Peto and his fellow Marines were evacuated on the hospital ship USS Pinkney (APH-2). Aboard ship, Peto experienced a burial at sea for the first time, which was both difficult to witness and was considered a surprisingly simple burial to most men. Peto then disembarked the hospital ship for a larger transport ship, but he and his comrades were nearly killed in a botched attempt to board the transport. Finally, they succeeded in boarding their vessel and steamed back to Pavuvu. There, the men rested and slept for 30 days without training. Then they rearmed, trained, and began preparations for Peto's fourth campaign. Many of the Marines thought they would be invading the Kurile Islands but their destination turned out to be Okinawa.

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[Annotator's Note: George Peto served in the US Marine Corps in a machine gun section in 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.] By that time, the Japanese were flying their kamikazes and were taking a tremendous toll. The Battle of Okinawa lasted 81 days. The last 58 days were horrible. Peto's outfit took a direct hit from artillery fire and lost all four of its mortars and suffered 30 men killed or wounded. His unit was pulled off the line to re-equip with mortars and get replacements. Peto told his lieutenant that he should take care of the .45 pistol he carried. On Peleliu the lieutenant acted as the assistant machine gunner for a while. Peto was carrying a Thompson [Annotator's Note: .45 caliber Thompson submachine gun] with a 50 round drum. The lieutenant and Peto went down to 3rd Battalion headquarters to volunteer for action with an Army outfit of 4.2 mortars [Annotator's Note: 4.2 inch chemical mortars]. While at battalion headquarters, 3rd Battalion's commanding officer gave Peto's lieutenant, Lieutenant Haggerty, command of Company L, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment after the company's original commander, Captain Alton C. Bennett, was relieved for his refusal to take his men back into action. There were 37 guys left in Company L. Company L was assigned to take what was designated as Hill 55 from the Japanese. Hagerty thought up a plan to charge up the hill with enough speed to take the enemy by surprise and capture it. As soon as the lieutenant gave the order, the entire company, of which not a single man had ever met Peto or his lieutenant, moved out without hesitation, which gave Peto one of his proudest moments as a Marine. It took about five minutes for them to reach the crest of the draw. They were preparing to dig in when the Japanese threw all the firepower they had at Company L, which decimated its numbers and inflicted heavy casualties. Neither Peto nor Lieutenant Hagerty was wounded, but only 11 of Company L's 37 men made it back off the hill. That night, Lieutenant Hagerty received orders to hold the line, despite the company's lack of manpower and Company L was not relieved until the next morning. Peto recalled that this incident was indicative of the overall situation on Okinawa. Ultimately, Company L, 3rd Battalion was reinforced with new guns, a group of military policemen and other reserves, who the Marines trained into vital parts of Company L. These men contributed greatly to the company's further engagements.

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George Peto and the men of Company L, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines had a few days of rest and got new guns then moved out to Wana Draw, where the entire division later received a presidential unit citation for its participation in the battle there. While Peto conducted mortar fire, a Japanese knee mortar round bounced off his shoulder and landed next to him, which surprised him and a Marine standing next to him. Peto reacted quickly and tossed the round away just before it exploded, which kept him safe from the blast. This was one of Peto's closest calls with death while he served on Okinawa. After facing days of hard combat at Wana Draw, the remaining members of Company L were pulled off the line for further rest. This allowed Peto to find an aid station to recover from the general shock and fatigue of battle. Just before Peto was relieved on the line, an unheard Japanese artillery round had blown Peto off of a small cliff, which he had climbed and used as a forward observation position to spot for the mortars. The artillery round landed behind him, which caused Peto to front flip forward off of the cliff and land somewhere below. Despite no serious or glaring injuries from the ordeal, the doctor at the aid station gave Peto a canister of sick bay alcohol, which he later mixed with Kool Aid and sipped while moving around on the front lines. The doctor tagged Peto for malaria, despite Peto's belief that he did not have the disease. Still, the doctor simply used the malaria tag as a means to get Peto a night of rest in a hospital away from combat. After Peto spent a comfortable night on a hospital cot and ate a hot breakfast, he rejoined his men on the line the next day and took part in the assault on Shuri Castle. The castle served as the main headquarters for the Japanese 32nd Army which defended Okinawa, but it was evacuated of most personnel the night before the assault. Peto and his fellow Marines pursued the Japanese and advanced down ridges and over cliffs, supplied only by airdrops. Peto and his men fought down to the end of the island over continuous ridges, where Peto conducted a mortar strike on a Japanese tunnel entrance so precisely that it impressed the temporary US 10th Army commander, US Marine Corps Lieutenant General Roy Geiger. Geiger had assumed command after 10th Army's initial commander, General Simon Buckner, was killed by artillery fire on Okinawa. Peto ordered a single mortar to fire five rounds at a time on the entrance of the tunnel, which killed multiple Japanese soldiers who tried to escape the tunnel to retreat to the next ridge. Peto's coordination of the mortar fire later earned him a commendation medal. Peto became so precise in conducting mortar fire, that he even impressed his lieutenant with displays of accuracy for show.

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Lieutenant Hagerty was promoted as a liaison officer for the 1st Marine Division and coordinated all of the regiments in the division. George Peto had access to his own radio and radio operator in his unit and was able to keep up with Lieutenant Hagerty on all of the business in the division. Peto had been in combat for over two years without being wounded by the end of the Battle of Okinawa. Having been in combat for over two years he should never had been sent to Okinawa in the first place. Young Marines constantly wanted to pick his brain about the secrets of staying alive in combat. Peto always acknowledged that half of the matter came down to luck, but advised young Marines to pay attention, obey orders directly, and make smart decisions in battle. He especially told new Marines not to bunch up in combat as a single artillery shell could take out more men if they were concentrated together. Unfortunately, there were multiple instances when artillery fire took out multiple Marines at once while Peto was in combat. Peto also had to deal with Japanese stragglers who hid in various places on the island as the battle drew to an end. In one instance, he took out three Japanese soldiers in one engagement after they emerged from a hiding spot and ran from the Marines. Peto also remembered the story of one of his first friends in the Marine Corps, Henry Rucker. Rucker came down with scrub typhus in New Guinea and almost lost his life battling the disease. Later, Rucker rejoined Peto and his unit on Pavuvu and trained for the battle of Peleliu. On Peleliu, Rucker was shot up severely by a Japanese machine gun as he tried to escape the tank trap that he used for cover while on the beach. Rucker recovered from his wounds back on Pavuvu and rejoined the 1st Marine Regiment for the Battle of Okinawa. Henry Rucker was killed in action, along with his assistant on Okinawa.

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George Peto had a unique experience there [Annotator's Note: on Okinawa] one time while watching kamikazes hitting ships offshore. Enemy artillery fire started coming in from one direction and friendly fire from American destroyers came in from seaward while Peto was resting in an exposed position. He had to clear the area quickly. In another instance, a situation became so terrifying that he turned to faith while in combat defending The Point on Peleliu. There was a guy in Peto's outfit named Monk Meyers [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling] who was awarded the Silver Star for his actions on Peleliu. The guy on the machine gun with Peto was Danny Sullivan who was a communicator. After his company [Annotator's Note: Company K, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division] captured an enemy emplacement at the Point, Peto and his fellow Marines had to set up defenses to hold it despite their low supplies and low manpower after the unit sustained heavy casualties in assaulting the Point. Peto found himself alone since two of his comrades had disappeared through a thicket in the jungle, where communicator Danny Sullivan was killed by machine gun fire. The other guy, Bob Johnson, had gone through the thicket first which had alerted the Japanese machine gunner. Sullivan was hit when he went through. Peto's lieutenant, Lieutenant Hagerty, went to get reinforcements. Peto tried to navigate his way back to the Point to report the situation to the rest of his unit, but he got lost and became pinned down by a Japanese machine gun. Peto made a run for it and dove into a shallow foxhole and onto the feet of another Marine. When Peto looked up at the Marine, he realized that he was dead. The Marine was African-American, which was peculiar to Peto as, during the war, African-Americans were held in the rear areas, and most never saw combat. This particular Marine had been part of a shore party and served as a stretcher bearer for the wounded before he was killed. After a brief stop at 3rd Battalion headquarters on the beach, Peto learned of Lt. Hagerty's reinforcements and set out for the Point. He made his way up the beach by diving into one shell crater after another, and prayed to God for safety for one of the first times during combat. Peto finally made it back to the Point where he set up the mortars to fire directly out front of the American defensive perimeter in order to slow the Japanese counterattack. Ultimately, the Marines held the Point until they were relieved by Company I, by which time some 400 or 500 Japanese soldiers had been killed. After the war, Peto learned that the Marine Corps had built a replica of the Point on Peleliu and used it to train new Marines, as it was a classic battle scenario.

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George Peto has doubts about the mental toughness of today's generation and its ability to wage a war as deadly and brutal as the one he fought in the Pacific. Peto never felt the effects of post traumatic stress in his postwar life. He did find it strange to return to civilian life after serving over four years in war, however. Peto was discharged from the Marine Corps in Chicago and spent a week in the city on a drinking binge before he cleaned himself up and hitch hiked home to Ohio. Binge drinking became a form of therapy for Peto, who also drank heavily his first three months home in Akron, Ohio. Peto considers himself lucky that a military psychiatrist never evaluated him after the war, as he feels an official diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder might have allowed him to let wartime psychological affects impact his postwar life. It took Peto a while to readjust to working a civilian job again, which was on account of recurring disobedience in the Marine Corps. Peto constantly blew his liberty curfew in Melbourne, Australia which earned him a court martial. He straightened up his behavior significantly once he began to train for and face combat, but he claims the Marine Corps itself never straightened out his rebellious behavior, only the seriousness of combat did. Peto calls his military record a case of opposites. He earned the rank of Private First Class but then lost that rank after he blew liberty by an hour, a scenario that was indicative of his disciplinary record in the Marine Corps. Peto also feels that traumatic affects from the war failed to impact a majority of the Marines that he has been reunited with after the war. He claims that only those former Marines who did not perform well in combat do not talk about the war now, and that most of the 41 veterans that he has been reunited with led healthy and happy postwar lives with their families. In combat, Marines never dove on grenades to protect their comrades willingly. Most attempted to throw the grenade away, but were blown up before they could toss it. Still, some men killed in close proximity to grenades were awarded the Medal of Honor. Despite his religious faith at the time of the interview, Peto rejected the notion that all men turned religious in combat. Peto also laments that a medal is awarded to men who get wounded in combat, suggesting instead that recognition is awarded, but not an official medal, which almost incentivizes getting wounded. Finally, Peto objects to the way that the war was reported, and how the history of the war will be remembered, which is why he supports the teaching of Marine Corps history, from the Marines' perspective, to new recruits.

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The war changed George Peto. After the war he was reluctant to make close friends. The separation of servicemen during the war and the constant death of a Marine's comrades made Peto realize how fleeting long term friendship can be. In his postwar life, Peto can fairly accurately judge a person very quickly after meeting him or her, and has met a lot of phonies and pretenders who inflated their rank and involvement in the war for the sake of popularity. There are only a select few true combat veterans left in society today. According to Peto's own experience, for every 14 men in combat, it took at least 86 others to supply them and maintain them. The Marines consisted of men who sought glory, chow, and liberty, and Peto sought all three. Peto did not join a veterans group until his brother's wife secretly signed him up for the American Legion and has since joined a few other groups. Peto frets, however, over the revision of history, and the inaccuracies that plague some modern accounts of the war. He has helped authors write books about the war in the Pacific and has given numerous interviews, all because he wishes that the history of the war be accurate to the accounts of the men who fought it.

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While approaching Wana Draw on Okinawa, George Peto noticed some movement in the brush off to his left. He realized that a Japanese soldier caused the movement as he tried to stealthily crawl up on Peto. Peto lay down behind a log just ahead of the thicket and aimed his carbine just over the log in anticipation of his enemy revealing himself. Sure enough, the Japanese soldier poked his head up just in front of the log behind which Peto laid waiting. After a split second of intense eye contact between the two, in which the Japanese soldier almost certainly realized that Peto had him zeroed in with his rifle, Peto pulled the trigger. Peto gave no thought to the incident for 50 years after the war, but he had nightmares related to crisis situations in combat for about five years after the war. Such nightmares often woke Peto in a cold sweat, but never really impacted his daily life or his wellbeing in the postwar years, and eventually subsided. Peto saw a great deal of heroism on the battlefield and recognized US Navy hospital corpsman as among the most heroic men he ever served with. Peto regards the history of World War 2 as a very important area of study, as younger generations can learn from it. He frequents elementary, middle and high schools in Ohio to talk about his experiences during the war and attempts to give young Americans a truthful account of the war to counteract most Hollywood depictions of war that have informed many Americans about United States history.

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George Peto has kept numerous photographs and documents from and regarding the war and shared them with interviewer. Included in his collection are photographs of his squad, an image of the mortar platoon moving up on Peleliu, portraits of himself in dress uniform, and portraits of the mortar platoon on Pavuvu in the Russell Islands. He also has photographs of himself with local children on Okinawa as well as a photo of him and a friend kneeling next to the grave of a friend. Among his collection of memorabilia, Peto also kept his service records, letters of commendation from the armed services and documents which pertained to his involvement in book projects and documentaries about the war. Peto has remained very active in the documentation of World War 2 history and boasts an expansive collection of memorabilia.

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George Peto served with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division in the Pacific Theater during World War 2. Peto served under one of the most decorated Marines in United States history, then Colonel Chesty Puller [Annotator's Note: Lieutenant General Lewis B. Puller], before Puller was relieved after he came down with a fever on Peleliu. Historical museums like The National WWII Museum are fundamental to American's understanding of history and Peto appreciates the educational function that the museum serves and its historical accuracy and authenticity. As opposed to some politically correct writers who do not print stories that use racial slurs for enemy soldiers, or include raw stories about Navajo code talkers. Peto likes historical sources that are authentic to the experiences of American soldiers. Through his dealings with journalists and writers, Peto felt that most media sources prefer to print stories about men broken by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and portray the horrors of war without ever giving any glory to the men who made it through the war, but chose not to emphasize their negative experiences. To future generations, Peto explained that reading accurate historical sources and understanding history is paramount as history often repeats itself. To future Marines, Peto explained the necessity of remaining ready for action at all times, and that 50 percent of combat outcomes are driven by luck. Finally, in a tearful reflection, Peto explained the tradition of the United States Marine Corps, and how every Marine has the ghosts of generations of previous Marines marching with him.

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George Peto produced some paintings and pieces of propaganda that were based on his unit during battle in the Pacific. The 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division had a rich collection of battle images that Peto also shared with the interviewer.

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