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Chester County Press

A salute to veterans in Kennett Square

11/10/2015 11:43AM ● By J. Chambless

Mark Peterson shows a photo of himself with President Ronald Reagan.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

There's always a capacity crowd at the Kennett Area Senior Center for the Veterans Luncheon, and the Nov. 6 program was packed with veterans of several wars, as well as their family members.

During the presentation, Anita O'Connor, the executive director of the senior center, told the audience, “We are so lucky to live in this country, but we know that it's not just luck. It's because of having a strong military that we are free today. We like to show our gratitude and celebrate Veterans Day, and that's why we celebrate with you. Thank you for your service.”

 State Rep. Stephen Barrar, who is also a veteran, said, “I am the luckiest guy in the world because I get to walk up the steps of the Capitol and participate in the Democratic process.”

There are just under a million veterans in Pennsylvania, Barrar said, “and I'm here to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. It is the veteran, not the politician, who secures the rights we have in this country.”

The keynote speaker was Mark “Pete” Peterson, who settled in Chester County in 1962, enlisted in the Marines and served a combat tour in Vietnam. He served in the Marines and was involved in combat missions around the world. He spoke about his three years serving in the White House as the Marine Corps Aide to President Reagan.

He explained that each branch of the military – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard – assign an Aide who accompanies the president constantly. “President Reagan and I had a close relationship,” Peterson said, smiling. “He called me Pete and I called him sir.”

During his service, Peterson sometimes stayed in the East Wing of the White House, and would perform ceremonial duties with the President, as well as plan trips when the President went abroad. But the main function of the Aides is to carry the nuclear launch codes (“the football” as the code is called) when accompanying the President. The Cold War still lingered during Peterson's time in the White House, and the possibility of a nuclear strike was a constant threat.

Peterson recalled that Reagan was a warm, genuine man “who was just the same in person as he was on TV.” He showed many photos of himself with Reagan at ceremonial events and in unguarded moments. “That's the same guy you see here, only he doesn't have white hair,” Peterson joked as he pointed out his younger self.

The audience listened closely as Peterson showed photos such as Nancy Reagan handing around a basket of snacks aboard Air Force One, or meeting with Reagan before his annual Christmas Eve phone calls to members of the military. “The door you see behind him in this photo led to his bedroom,” Peterson said. “There were times when I'd have to get papers signed for something, and he'd be in his jammies, but he'd get up and get the work done.”

In his opening remarks, Peterson said, “Without veterans, we would not be the country we are today, and I thank you all for that.”

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email [email protected].