When you’re in charge during battle, you do whatever you can to keep your comrades safe. Marine Corps Sgt. Lawrence David Peters led a squad of men as they fought their way out of a firefight in Vietnam. He didn’t survive the ordeal, but his grace, leadership and bravery earned him the Medal of Honor.
Peters was born Sept. 16, 1946, in Johnson City, New York, to Clyde and Mildred Peters. He had three brothers and two sisters who called him Larry.
Peters’ parents said he’d wanted to be a Marine since he was a child, so during the fall of his senior year of high school, he enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve. Peters was assigned to the 48th Rifle Company out of nearby Binghamton, New York.
After Peters graduated from Binghamton North High School in 1964, he went right into the Marines. He completed all his training by the end of the year, then went back to serve with the 48th in Binghamton until he was discharged and transferred to the active-duty Marines in January 1966.
In May of that year, Peters volunteered to go to Vietnam with the 3rd Marine Division, where he served as a squad leader and non-commissioned officer in charge of the Combined Action Company. That September, he was promoted to sergeant.
During that deployment, Peters’ company worked and lived among Vietnamese villagers, building schools and teaching them how to protect themselves from the enemy. According to articles in the Binghamton newspaper Press and Sun-Bulletin, Vietnamese people knew him as a man who went out of his way to treat them as his equals. One article said he learned the local dialects and even a few songs, and helped found an orphanage. He then collected clothing, nonperishables and other gifts for those children and villagers when he was able to come back to the U.S. on leave.
Peters returned from his deployment in the spring of 1967, but according to the Press and Sun-Bulletin, he re-enlisted for another tour and went back to Vietnam that May. By July 1967, he was the squad leader of Company M of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division.
On Sept. 4, 1967, the U.S. launched Operation Swift, which was an effort to find and eliminate enemy forces in the Quang Tin Province after intelligence showed those forces were likely being built up to disrupt upcoming South Vietnamese elections.
As Company M patrolled their area that day, they were struck by intense mortar, machine gun and small-arms fire from an entrenched enemy force. Peters rallied his forces in defense and then maneuvered his squad in an assault on an enemy defended knoll. As enemy rounds landed all around him, he stood out in the open so he could point to enemy positions and direct his men’s fire. Eventually, he was wounded in the leg, but he refused help and instead moved forward to continue the assault.
As the enemy fire increased in accuracy and volume, the squad lost its momentum and was temporarily pinned down. But that didn’t stop Peters from again exposing himself to enemy fire so he could consolidate his position and render more effective fire. At some point, a mortar round exploded, wounding Peters a second time in the face and neck.
As the enemy tried to infiltrate an adjacent platoon’s position, Peters stood up in full view, firing burst after burst at the enemy in an effort that forced them to disclose their camouflaged positions. Despite being wounded twice more, he continued to direct, encourage and supervise his squad, who eventually regained fire superiority, until he lost consciousness.
At some point during all of this, Navy Lt. Vincent Capodanno, a chaplain who had been injured while with the platoon, rushed forward to reach Peters. Capodanno stayed with the young Marine until he succumbed to his wounds. Capodanno did not survive the battle, either, but he also earned the nation’s highest honor for valor for his selflessness.
Peters’ family received the Medal of Honor during a White House ceremony hosted by Vice President Spiro Agnew on April 20, 1970. Peters’ mother accepted the medal on her son’s behalf and later told the Press and Sun-Bulletin that she hadn’t heard how her son had died until the citation was read that day.
Peters is buried in Chenango Valley Cemetery in Binghamton. In his honor, his hometown opened a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in his name in 1984.
This article is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.
Source: Department of Defense