MWSA: Will you give us a short biography and please send us your photo? Peter Margaritis: I was born in the steel city of Gary, Indiana, but I have lived in Central Ohio nearly all my life. I graduated from The Ohio State University in 1978 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business. I am married, with four children. I served in the U.S. Navy during Vietnam, and later, served another 18 years in the Naval Reserve in intelligence, retiring as a chief petty officer.
MWSA: Why did you become an author in the first place?
PM: I have enjoyed writing ever since the sixth grade. I loved reading all sorts of stories, and began writing short stories that were sequels to some of my favorite movies, projecting me into the story. In my twenties, I became a manager in a firm specializing in aerial lift devices. There, I began writing inspection manuals. I eventually progressed into becoming a
technical writer, deriving a certain sense of satisfaction creating a document that others used in the course of their jobs.
MWSA: When and why did you join MWSA?
PM: I joined MWSA in the fall of 2017, when I first became aware of the organization.
MWSA: Why did you choose to work in this genre?
PM: Ever since junior high school, military history has always had some appeal to me. As a teenager interested in military history, I became fascinated with board war games. Small cardboard counters represented military units that moved through these squares. I became enthralled with the mechanics of warfare, the art of conflict realistically in a game, portraying a large scale of battle over so compact a board. Interest in military history just intensified with my love for this hobby. One day, I read a book that changed my life: Cornelius Ryan’s classic The Longest Day. His account of D-Day brought the characters in the book alive through individual personal recollections, and suddenly a history book became a sort of novel for me. I found that the myriad of human elements in historical events gave the turn of events a sort of unpredictability that had to be dealt with in writing history. I later found out that his works were based on exhaustive research, which I appreciated. Although I worked as a tech writer, my first love was always military history, and after retiring, I began to actively pursue that endeavor. I have ever since.
MWSA: Will you briefly list your other books for us?
Rommel’s Fateful Trip Home: June 4th to June 6th, 1944 (Published June, 2014)
Crossroads at Margival: Hitler’s Last Conference in France: June 17, 1944 (Published July, 2014)
90 Years of History: The American Legion In Central Ohio (Published November, 2010)
COMING SOON: Dissecting a Pyrrhic Victory: The First Marine Division at Peleliu
The Night the Sky Blew Up: Clan Fraser and the Destruction of Piraeus, 1941
D-Day Countdown: The German Perspective, Vol 1: Der Atlantikwall
D-Day Countdown: The German Perspective, Vol 2: Les Sanglots Longs
Reichsfibel: A Lexicon Containing Military & Political Acronyms and Terms of The Third Reich
MWSA: Tell us a little bit about this book.
PM: Twenty-Two on Peleliu: Four Pacific Campaigns With the Corps (Published July, 2017, Casemate Publishing) is the exciting, true story of George Peto, an “Old Breed” Marine. Growing up during the Depression, this happy-go-lucky kid’s life, like an early day Forrest Gump, touched on so many unique facets of American 20th Century history: From watching dirigibles sail over Akron, Ohio, to fishing and trapping on the Erie Canal near a gangster’s hideout, to working in the CCC out West (where he started a riot on his 16th birthday). And his World War II experiences are even more memorable, fighting in four famous Pacific campaigns with the élite 1st Marines. Even after the war, George seldom lived a dull moment, once fighting for what he believed right up to the Supreme Court. Yes, this was an extraordinary man who lived a life more exciting than four normal individuals. This is the story of George Peto.
MWSA: What made you interested in writing a book on this particular topic?
PM: In the spring of 2015, I entered a U.S. Naval Institute 3,000-word essay contest. The theme was some significant event that occurred in U.S. Marine Corps history. I finally decided on the controversial 1944 Peleliu invasion. A friend suggested that I consult with a local expert, a 93-year old Mr. George Peto, one of the “Old Breed.” George had actually landed at Peleliu, as well as three other major Pacific campaigns. Mr. Peto and I immediately struck up a friendship, and I invited him to co-write the essay with me. We made a good team since I am an experienced researcher and George not only had actually been there, but still retained an amazing memory about his experiences and enjoyed retelling them. During our research though, as I shared lengthy conversations with this charismatic, charming, genial old man, I realized that not only were his wartime experiences remarkable, but there also were quite a number of unusual events that had taken place in the other times of his life. As he told me tales of his youth (again, I marveled at his consistent, detailed memory of things that happened over seven decades before), I realized that a much better book to write would be about his life. He good-naturedly agreed, and so we were off. Unfortunately, after finishing our first draft, Mr. Peto died in his sleep on the 4th of July, 2016. I had vowed to him that if necessary, I would finish the book on his behalf.
MWSA: What makes this particular book special to you?
PM: I am proud of this book because not only did I enjoy writing it with George, but it combines my in depth research in these historical battles with the extraordinarily detailed daily memories of someone who actually fought in them. The icing on the cake though, is in the exciting fine points of his experiences. I had as much fun listening to them as I did writing about them. Hearing him recall many near-death experiences (most serious, some not), I jokingly once remarked that with all the close calls he had faced in his life, he had absolutely no business being alive. And yet, amazingly, he had survived it all with little or no injuries.
I knew that this was a story I had to write, and I wanted the readers, especially those who had known him, to see his life through his eyes. To that purpose, we tried to put the narrative in his own style. I threw in the detailed historical perspective so that readers unfamiliar with this time could follow along. The idea of doing the book just to document his stories (he never gave a hang about money) really appealed to him, and as the project continued, his enthusiasm increased. Sometimes he would muse on who would play him in the movie (as if), and once in a while talk about going onto talk shows (which unnerved me).
George Peto, like so many of us, was just a simple happy guy forced to go to war, an ordinary man who was thrust into an extraordinary life of combat. He not only saw first-hand the horrors of battle, but had to inflict it on others to survive as he watched so many of his comrades perish at his side. He typified the American fighting man. Yet, he also lived an astonishing life.
For instance, George’s daughter Nancy once told me a story about how he had driven his wife Juanita and her out West to Yellowstone National Park to camp and sightsee (he was always wanting to go SOMEWHERE). They had at the time a Ford station wagon. They stopped in the park on a beautiful day for a picnic. George got out, went around to the back of the station wagon, and flipped down the tailgate to set up the food. He started laying out the food on the open door. His wife had gone off into the woods with a roll of toilet paper.
His daughter, about eight years old, standing next to him, saw a big old brown bear approach the car behind them. She called out, “Dad! There’s a BEAR behind you!”
Now George had been teasing his daughter for days about seeing mountain lions and snakes and bears in the park, so he of course assumed that she now was razzing him back (as they so often did). So he commented with a grin, “Yeah, sure.”
The bear came closer. Nancy said it was huge in size. Again she warned her dad. He just smiled at her disbelievingly and shook his head.
Terrified, she took a couple steps back and opened the back door on the passenger’s side. “Dad!” she yelled.
She recalled that he finally got a look on his face as if; hmmm... she can’t be serious, can she? He sighed, straightened up and turned around.
And there it was, reared up on its hind legs, only about ten feet away. George whirled around, his eyes now popped open, yelled at Nancy to get in the car, tossed the food containers into the back end, and slammed the tailgate door shut, propelling the food all over the place. He jumped into the car, they roared over to where his wife was. He rushed her into the Ford, and took off like a bat out of hell.
Nancy ended the story with a smile. “It was always like that with dad,” she said. “We never had a vacation. It was always an adventure.” THAT’S the guy I want the readers to get to know.
First appeared in Winter 2018 edition of Dispatches magazine