Marine Staff Sgt. James Anthony Peoples never knew his grandfather Mitchell Peoples, an Army veteran who served in the Africa campaigns during World War II.
Yet, whenever possible, the 29-year-old Cherry Point Marine visit’s his grandfather’s grave in the heart of the Ozark Mountains to offer a salute.
“It is kind of my time between me and him,” said Peoples, a Harrier mechanic who is now a power plants instructor at the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training.
Peoples, who served in Iraq in 2008 and Afghanistan in 2014, understands what Veterans Day is all about.
“Veterans Day was always celebrated. I always knew what the military was all about and why they were there,” Peoples said. “Even now I go to the graveyard where my grandfather is buried and I give him a salute in appreciation.
“Eleven of my uncles and aunts were in war from World War II to Vietnam. My grandfather was in the Africa campaigns of World War II. My cousin just retired from the Army as a colonel. I’ve got an uncle who just died who was on the Bataan Death March in the Philippines. I have a long history with it. I mess with my uncles all the time that I am the only Marine in the family, so you can understand the jokes can get really colorful around my family. I have got a couple of uncles in Korea, a couple uncles in World War II. Unfortunately the World War II vets in my family are all gone.”
Peoples joined the Marine Corps in 2007. While serving at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province in Afghanistan in 2014, Peoples had daily reminders of a Sept. 14, 2012 raid on the camp that resulted in the loss of two American lives, six Harrier jets and one C-130 Hercules.
“They had a large wall that was full of rounds hanging halfway out of the wall as a reminder,” he said. “Everybody knew what happened there so everybody was a little on edge. That place that we were at is exactly where it happened. Every time I would go into the shop there was a big hole at the top of the hangar where an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) went through, so constant reminders all over the flight line that this is what happened.”
Peoples said the feelings of being in a combat zone are much different than regular duty stateside.
“It’s that you’re in a combat zone and your mindset is much different,” he said. “It is a totally different feeling when you load that aircraft up and send them out and they come back and there is nothing left, and they would have anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 pounds of ordnance on them.”
It was Peoples’ job to launch the Harriers on missions every day.
“I’m the last guy to see them when they take off and I’m the first one they see when they come back. So I load the pilot up in the aircraft. I do all their checks and then I am the guy at the end that passes them off in the end and salutes them and they take off and go do their business,” said Peoples.
Today, Peoples has joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 2514 in New Bern because he wanted to be around other veterans who understood what he had been through as a Marine.
“They have been in similar situations in the past whether it was Vietnam, Korea, or World War II. War is war, and so you are comfortable going to a place like that, not to mention that they help a lot of veterans,” said Peoples. “In this nation right now, we need to help those veterans more and I think the VFW does an awesome job of sitting down, talking to veterans, getting them the help when they need it where other people wouldn’t help them. That is initially what drew me to the place.”
Peoples said that Americans need to always remember that the freedoms they enjoy came because of the sacrifices of veterans.
“I guess they really need to be celebrating the fact that people took their time and their life, some of them laid it down for those individuals to be able to have that freedom,” said Peoples. “Just remember that and celebrate it.”