July 17, 2006

The Lore of the Corps
Navy Cross recipient fought in three wars

By Charles A. Jones
Special to the Times

Maj. Gen. Oscar Peatross could make a claim few other Marines could make: He fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Born in 1916, Peatross was commissioned a second lieutenant in February 1941 and joined the 2nd Marine Division in California.

He participated in the famous Marine Raider attack on Makin Atoll in August 1942. Two large submarines, Argonaut and Nautilus, were configured to carry the Raiders from Pearl Harbor to Butaritari Island. Lt. Col. Evans Carlson commanded the raid.

Although a public-relations campaign portrayed the raid as a great success, it was not the Marines’ finest hour or operation.

Because of heavy rains and high seas, Carlson — who had planned for his men to go from submarine by boat to Butaritari, landing at scattered sites — ordered everyone to land ashore together.

Unaware of the change in plan, the boat carrying Peatross, who was leading a squad, landed alone. Luckily, the boat landed behind the enemy; Peatross and his men were able to kill the enemy forces they encountered and destroy a radio station, buildings and equipment before returning to the boat.

Peatross survived the disorganized raid and the chaotic evacuation from Butaritari, earning a Navy Cross. He later fought at Guadalcanal and Bougainville.

As a major, he was the 28th Marines’ operations officer on Iwo Jima until March 14, 1945, when he took over as the executive officer of 3rd Battalion, 28th Marines.

Returning to the U.S., Peatross was an instructor at The Basic School at Quantico, Va. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel while an instructor at the Armored School at Fort Knox, Ky.

During the Korean War, he earned a Legion of Merit with combat-distinguishing device as a battalion commander with 1st Marine Division.

After the war, Peatross served at Quantico; Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C.; and Camp Pendleton, Calif. He deployed to Vietnam in 1965 as commander of 7th Marines and later as commander of the 7th Marine Regimental Landing Team.

The RLT operated in Vietnam’s Chu Lai area during Operation Starlite in 1965. The team defeated a Viet Cong regiment in the U.S.’s first major battle of the Vietnam War, resulting in a Presidential Unit Citation for the team and a Silver Star for Peatross.

He later received a second Legion of Merit for his service in Vietnam.

In 1968, Peatross received his second star. He commanded Parris Island from 1968 until his retirement in 1971.

Peatross died in 1993, but he left behind a legacy of the Raiders in his book “Bless ’em All.” The book is out of print, but he included much of the information contained in it in a two-part article he wrote for Leatherneck magazine in 1992 on the successes and failures of the Makin Raid.

The writer is a lawyer and Marine Corps Reserve colonel in Norfolk, Va.