Part of the Historical Society of Easton’s series Easton in the Service.
William (Bill) Charles Peters was born September 19, 1920, to Doctor Henry LeBaron Peters and his wife Marguerite. In 1912, Doctor Peters established the department of Pathology and Bacteriology at the Bridgeport Hospital.
Bill completed his studies at the Kent School before attending and graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1942. At Penn, Bill was a member of the ROTC and upon graduation, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army. Lieutenant Peters was assigned to serve with the 36th Texas Infantry Division. His brother, Walker, a 1940 graduate of Penn and by then a captain in the army, was already serving in North Africa with the Army’s Quartermaster Corps as the United States began their efforts to free Europe from the domination and control of the Axis powers.
That autumn, when Bill’s division arrived in North Africa, his brother Walker was there to greet him as the ship docked. Then they went their separate ways as Bill went on to take part in the invasion of Italy at Salerno and Altavilla. Later, while traveling in a jeep in Southern France, Bill passed another jeep going in the opposite direction. Both jeeps slammed on the brakes and turned around. Bill and Walker had met up again. During a time when it was impossible to know the exact whereabouts of family members serving in combat, it was indeed a rare and fortunate occasion for the two brothers to come across one another during the height of the war.
As if Bill didn’t have enough to occupy his time while he was fighting his way through Italy on his way to France in 1943, he composed and wrote music. When the radio program, Double or Nothing, was brought to the city by the Bridgeport Retailers Committee of the Fourth War Loan Drive to present its weekly Friday night broadcast, the producers sought to feature some local talent. While Lieutenant Peters was engaged with fighting the enemy, two of the songs he had written were available to be played by the Nat Brusiloff Orchestra.
The songs consisted of a ballad, “Twelve Roses”, and a war-time tune entitled, “I’m going to see New York Again.” Joseph Lopez, the then manager of radio station WICC – which had its twin broadcast towers on top of Sport Hill in Easton throughout the late 1920’s and the 1930’s – arranged to have the songs recorded and a copy of them given to Bill’s mother after the broadcast.
Double or Nothing ran between 1941 and 1950 on the Mutual Radio Network and was broadcast over two hundred and twelve stations. Contestants would be asked an opening question worth $5 for a correct answer. The contestant was then given one minute to talk about the subject. The host would award a small amount of cash for each additional fact the contestant was able to come up with during that amount of time. The contestant would be given another question which, if answered correctly, would double the winnings. The maximum winnings would top out at $100. If the contestant answered incorrectly, they lost all their winnings except for the original $5 prize.
Mary Eileen (Eileen) Neary was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania on April 20, 1920. She was the daughter of James Francis and Louise Amelia Neary. The family moved to Cleveland, Ohio when Eileen was a just a child and her mother passed away when Eileen was only eight. Her father moved to Bridgeport where work was plentiful in the years leading up to the Second World War. After graduating Holy Rosary High School in 1941, Eileen joined her father in Connecticut, finding work as an early female crane operator at Bullards. At the onset of WWII, young women were asked to fill positions formally held by men as more and more young males either enlisted or were drafted into the armed service after the United States entered the war.
Mary Eileen was the subject of a workplace poem entitled “The Girl in the Crane.” Not exactly award-winning verse, but certainly amusing, it is shown below:
At the time that Eileen joined her father in Bridgeport, he had remarried a woman named Mary Malarich. James’ new wife had become a companion to Bill Peters’ mother. Bill was already serving in the army and he and young Eileen had never met. But together, James’ wife and Marguerite Peters convinced Eileen to write to Bill. The two corresponded regularly for several months until they had a substantial disagreement in one of their letters and then ceased writing.
Mary Eileen Neary was one of the first women to join the Marine Corps. She enlisted in Bridgeport in July of 1943. Hers was only the second class to go through training for the newest female division of the 145-year-old institution. She often spoke of the trip to South Carolina as one of the most embarrassing experiences of her life. She and many other patriotic new women Marines, all dressed to the hilt, were sent to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina via steam locomotive. They were on a train with open windows, limited water and lots of soot coming through the windows from the engine. Eileen wore a lovely pink suit and stated that it was grey by the time she arrived at their destination. The station was full of Marines just waiting for the women to get there so they could get a look. According to Eileen, as the women got off the train looking dirty and bedraggled, the men took one look and got up and left!
Eileen loved the Marine Corps and considered herself a Marine for the rest of her life. She was honorably discharged in Sept of 1945 after the war ended. She is registered in WIMSA in Arlington, Virginia. She was discharged a Sergeant and served her time working in the War Department in Washington, D.C.
After Eileen was discharged from the Corps, that November she travelled to Bridgeport to visit her family before she was to continue on to Cleveland where she planned on joining American Airlines. She was only supposed to be in town for a few days, but it happened to be at the same time William Peters was discharged from the army and they finally met for the very first time in person. That disagreement in those letters was soon forgotten and two months later, in January 1946 they were married. Ten months later, the first of their three daughters, Kathleen, was born.
As Bill began his long and successful career in banking, the young couple settled in Westport, building their first home there with the help of Eileen’s father in 1946. They had two more daughters, Susan and Kimberly, before deciding to move into a larger home Easton in 1963. There they built a colonial on Judd Road.
Bill continued to serve his country as a member of the United States Army Reserves. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel before finally retiring on October 31, 1963. He also served as the commander of the Charles L. Ruman Post 160 of the American Legion while he resided in Easton.
What many people likely do not remember, Bill Peters was the one who raised the American flag at Union Cemetery every day on his way to work and then took it down on his way home – except in the summer. In the summer, when sunset was later than his return from work, he would go back to Union Cemetery to take it down. He did that every day of his life until he died in 1978 at the age of only fifty-eight-years. After Bill’s death, the flag seldom flew until a light was installed on the ground so it would be lit day and night, thereby relieving someone from having to raise and lower it on a daily basis.
Family service to the country did not end with Bill and Eileen Peters. Daughter Kathleen, a 1964 Joel Barlow graduate, also served. She enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1966. She served in Texas and California. She married an airman but was forced to leave the service when she got pregnant. Believe it or not – women, at that time, were not allowed to stay in active service if they became pregnant. She was discharged in 1970 when her son Greg was born. She was a medic and went on to get her LPN degree from the Univ of Alaska-Anchorage where her husband was serving. She then served in the Naval Reserves and is currently quite active with the American Legion in Standish, Maine. Her husband, Gregory T. Thompson (at the time) served two years in Vietnam and retired after 20 years of active duty.
A special thanks go out to Kathy Peters Thompson and Kim Peters for their contributions to this article. This author has nothing but fond memories of both Bill and Eileen and the great hospitality they always showed to the dozen or so teenagers who assembled around their pool during the late spring and summer during the mid-1960’s. It was a great honor to tell a little about their wonderful life in this article.
As we wind down our series of Easton in the Service, we would like to thank the many current and past residents of Easton who have provided us with a wealth of information about their family members who served both their community and their country. Not all of them have been represented here. We had certain limitations, including the enormous time it took to carefully compose each and every story. We exchanged innumerable emails with some of our contributors as they thought of more stories, found more letters and photographs, and we came up with more questions. Sometime during the month of December, we hope to put together a montage of some of the photographs and shorter stories we received in an effort to honor as many more of our Easton service men and women as we can.