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thedrifter
11-04-06, 07:18 AM
For these Marines, closeness created 60 years ago still exists at reunions

by STEPHANIE REED Ledger Staff Writer

On April 1, 1945 soldiers and marines landed on the island of Okinawa and began an 82-day battle. Among these fighters were the marines in the 2nd platoon of "C" Company, who recently had a reunion in Mexico.

John Paul Peak, Earl Feezor, Leonard Peterson and Wesley Peterson spent Oct. 27-29 in Mexico re-experiencing the bonds created during the battle 61 years ago.

The stories of the second platoon vary. Each of the Marines in attendance at the most recent reunion were two time Purple Hearts. Feezor received a Silver Star.

The group trained in Pavuvu in the Russel Islands. Many who arrived at that time were replacements. The area was less than luxurious.

"There was quite a bit of jungle out there. A lot of rats and land crabs that would plague us all the time. We would wake up in the morning and we'd have to empty our shoes out because there would be a crab in each one of them, at least one," remembered Wesley Peterson. "It was very primitive. We had no electric lights or anything like that."

In April, the platoon's division joined the 2nd and 6th Marine divisions to take Okinawa. At first, the military met no resistance.

"The Japanese had, for this battle, changed their strategy. Instead of putting all their effort into fighting us on the beach, they were going to let us get ashore and then fight a delaying action while their kamikaze destroyed the Navy," explained Wesley Peterson. The strategy, however was not as effective as the Japanese hoped.

When forces reached the south side of the island, the resistance became a lot more aggressive.

"It was fierce. Okinawa was a very fierce battle - one of the worst in the war," described Feezor. "Every man in our platoon were casualties, all of us. There wasn't anyone in the platoon that wasn't a casualty." Even with the many wounded, only one man in the platoon was killed.

Wesley Peterson was wounded once in the hand and a second time, more seriously, in the foot. Feezor was hit with a bullet in his right leg. Leonard Peterson was also hit in the leg.

For Peak, getting wounded was a very serious experience, and not just for himself. In a Mexico Ledger article from June 27, 1945, it was reported that Peak's family received a telegram telling them he had died on May 22. They then received a letter written by him in the hospital dated June 18.

Some of the members of the platoon were wounded badly enough they went to hospitals and were discharged. Others returned after recuperating and continued to serve overseas. The platoon members lost touch, some not knowing if the others had survived the war.

In 1993, several members of the platoon met at a "C" Company, 1st battalion, 1st division reunion in Lexington, Ky. After meeting for the first time in almost 50 years, the group decided to try to have a reunion for the second platoon.

Leonard Peterson was one of the people who helped organize the first platoon reunion.

"We had the whole company reunion and that's how we all got together," said Leonard Peterson. "Then we started to see some of the other guys and we started to say, 'Why don't we make a platoon reunion next year?'"

Such a reunion took place on Oct. 5-7, 1995 in Branson. Bill Mackey, Leonard Peterson, John Wilkerson, Eugene Fortenberry, Peak, Bruce Abbey, Ray Penor and Wesley Peterson attended the event, some bringing their wives and families. During the next nine reunions the group held, Feezor also began to attend.

He explained that he was first contacted by one of the now deceased members of the platoon, John Wilkerson. He met him in Sikeston.

"The name was familiar, but I couldn't place it after 50 years," explained Feezor. "The minute I saw him I had no problem."

The fact that names and faces came back so easily was not surprising for the platoon members, who found the camaraderie created never goes away.

"I'll say one thing, it was a pretty close crew. That's one thing about the Marine Corps, it sticks together," said Leonard Peterson. "We tell a lot of the sea stories and stuff. There's a lot of memories, and you forget about some of the stuff."

From 1995 to 2006, the group has met ten times. Six of the reunions were held in Branson while three others took place in Mobile, Ala. The most recent took place here in Mexico, the home of Peak.

The stories of each of the Marines has been recorded in "Memories of the Second Platoon in the Battle for Okinawa," a book put together by Wesley Peterson and his wife Donna. Their daughter recorded the oral histories of each of the reunion attendees and then the couple compiled the stories into the book. The family does a lot of genealogy work.

"These are the greatest bunch of guys in the world," said Wesley Peterson. "We think that the kids need to know something about us. Our grandchildren need to know something about us. Our great-grandchildren need to know something about us. If we don't leave a record of what we have done, they'll never know who we were."

The closeness created 60 years ago still exists today at the reunions.

"Of course, you're glad to see everybody and you bond immediately," said Feezor. "When you’re in combat together, the closeness is like your extended family, you're like brothers."

Ellie