Vito Peters battled ailments, but overcame them to lead a life serving the military, then taking a trip to his ancestors’ country.
Through perseverance, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II, then pursued a career as a civilian employee for the U.S. Air Force. Later in life, he overcame physical disabilities to realize his dream of visiting his parents’ hometown in Italy, said his daughter Tammy Cross.
Peters, a former supervisor at McClellan Air Force Base and longtime resident of the Arden Arcade area, died May 22 of congestive heart failure, Cross said. He was 91 years old.
Peters was born Vito Donato Pietrafesa in Rome, N.Y., on Nov. 6, 1924. His parents, Nicola Pietrafesa and Donata Maria Genovese Pietrafesa immigrated to the United States from Italy. His father was illiterate and unable to spell “Pietrafesa,” so when he arrived at Ellis Island, officials recorded his last name as “Peters,” Cross said.
Vito Peters was the fourth of six children and he left school after the 10th grade to help support his family. When World War II began, he received a draft notice but was rejected for service after doctors found a spot on his lung and determined he had a hearing problem, Cross said. Peters’ mother dedicated herself to improving her son’s health, and six months later he was allowed to enlist in the U.S. Navy. Cross said her father chose the Navy because his brothers were in the Army and he wanted to do something different.
He was assigned to the Pacific theater as a gunner’s mate and he told of serving for a time as a coxswain for Gen. Douglas MacArthur on a boat transporting the general between ship and shore, Cross said. His two tours of duty took him to the Philippines and Japan.
Her father didn’t talk much about his war experiences, Cross said, and it was only when she going through some of his papers and belongings that she discovered he had received a number of medals, including the Philippine Liberation Medal with one star and the Asiatic Pacific Medal with five campaign stars.
If asked about the war, Cross said, “He would prefer to talk to you about the girl he was dating at the time.”
After he was discharged from the Navy, Peters returned to Rome, N.Y., and got a job selling Revere Ware pots and pans door to door. That didn’t last long, and at his mother’s urging, he applied for a civilian job at Griffiss Air Force Base. When that based closed in 1964, Peters was among a contingent that was relocated to McClellan Air Force Base. He along with many of his Griffiss colleagues bought homes in the Arden Arcade area, Cross said.
At McClellan, Peters was supervisor of the Aircraft Support Section, overseeing 200 employees. Cross said she once asked her father if he found it daunting to supervise that many people. He told her it wasn’t that difficult because his job was to manage the managers, who were responsible for direct supervision.
He could fix anything, and he taught his children to fix anything.
Vito Peters’ daughter Tammy Cross
Peters retired in 1980 and pursued his avocation, buying and fixing up cars. “He bought a car for $150,” Cross said. “It was a little Honda Civic. He took it apart and rebuilt the engine.”
That became her first car, Cross said.
“He could fix anything,” she said, “and he taught his children to fix anything.”
If one of his five daughters announced that a car needed new brakes, Cross recalled, her father would say, “I’ll show you how to put them on.”
In later life, her father’s battles were with physical ailments. In his late 60s, he was diagnosed with diabetes, which he was determined to control with diet and exercise. After undergoing angioplasty and faced with the prospect of heart surgery, Cross said, her father adopted a vegan diet.
Later he sustained a spinal injury when a chaise lounge he was sitting on collapsed. He underwent surgery and suffered paralysis, but he was determined to regain use of his limbs. Cross said he was able to develop considerable upper body strength but had to use a wheelchair. Cross said her husband told her father that if he got to the point that he could stand up and walk a few steps, he would take him to Italy. It took Peters two years, but he eventually was able to walk about 20 feet at a time, enough to enable him to make the trip with Cross and her family to his parents’ hometown in southern Italy in 2006.
There they met cousins and friends of the Pietrafesa family, among them one person who brought out a photo that included Peters’ father and uncle. Her father’s only regret, Cross said, was that he had cataracts and couldn’t see as well as he would have liked. He had hoped to return after having cataract surgery, she noted, but he wasn’t able to realize that goal.
Peters’ family celebrated his life with friends during a wake May 25. Although many of his contemporaries, as well as all his siblings preceded him in death, Cross said her father had numerous friends among his children and grandchildren’s generations.
“Everybody loved my dad. He was so charming,” Cross said. “People he had worked with would stop by the house long after he retired.”
Peters is survived by his wife of 51 years, Eleanor Peters, and daughters Patricia Beck, Kim Batozech, Kristy Cummins, Tammy Cross and Nikki Cooper, all of Sacramento, as well as 13 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.