For the past six years, multiple times each week, Retired Sergeant 1st Class Walt Peters has said hello and goodbye to tens of thousands of soldiers who passed through Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga.
Clad in his Red Cross vest, Peters—recently featured on the CBS Evening News program—gives each an American flag and makes sure that every soldier gets the proper send-off or welcome home they deserve.
Although many of the troops shake Peters’ hand before they get on the plane, Peters can only hear their departing comments and their shouts of joy as they return.
While serving three tours in Vietnam, Peters was doused with Agent Orange several times, but he thought nothing of it back then. However, in 1977 he began to notice his eyesight was deteriorating, and he was then diagnosed with chemical diabetes. Now, after some 30 surgeries, he can only see “silhouettes.”
In spite of these conditions, Peters is eager to get out of his bed at any hour of the night or day to make sure he is at the departure center three hours ahead of the departure or return of flights. During these preparation hours, he organizes volunteers, makes coffee and hot chocolate, ices down sodas and prepares American flags to hand out to families and soldiers, on behalf of the Red Cross.
Peters carries out these duties with care, encouragement and enthusiasm. When asked why he gives so tirelessly of himself, he remarked, “You know, there is a lot of good in this world; I love life and what it has to offer! I’m just trying to repay the kindnesses shown to me.”
In addition to all he does for the Red Cross, Peters is active in several other organizations, including the local chapters of the Vietnam Veterans, Moose Lodge, American Legion, VFW and Operation Head Start Program. Of all the causes he works for, Peters said, he is most proud of his work with meeting, greeting and handing flags to soldiers.
On top of his very active volunteer life, Peters has more than a few stories to share about his life as a professional guitarist. He has performed with many country legends, as well as on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn.
Peters’ musical talent was recognized while he was stationed in Hawaii in 1973. The general wanted some entertainment for the soldiers, so Peters was told to put together a band. While auditioning soldiers, Peters came across a young Army finance clerk by the name of George Strait.
“We built the band around him,” Peters said. “Discovering the talent that is now a country music legend was the highlight of my military career.” Peters and a few other “aged-to-perfection guys,” as he puts it, now perform with the Ramblin’ Country Band at various functions, fundraisers and benefits across the state of Georgia.
Several years ago, a stranger asked Peters, “Now that you are losing your eyesight, what are you going to do?” Peters replied, “If I can’t see with my eyes, I’ll have to see with my heart!”