Fallen Marine Sgt. Jason D. Peto remembered

Adventurous youth who grew into brave young man killed in Afghanistan

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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Sgt. Jason D. Peto’s spirit of brotherhood and sacrifice was celebrated Saturday in a funeral Mass for the Vancouver Marine.

Peto, 31, died on Dec. 7 of wounds suffered about three weeks ago in Afghanistan.

On Nov. 24, Peto led his squad to the scene of an explosion to help evacuate a Marine who’d been caught in the blast. Then another hidden bomb went off, severely injuring Peto. He died at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

Peto — born on Jan. 28, 1979, in Montebello, Calif. — was remembered as an adventurous youngster who matured into a brave young man.

During Saturday’s Mass at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, Brian Moore shared memories of his cousin riding motorcycles and teaching younger kids in the family how to fish. Moore recalled Jason enjoying his first BB gun with a day of target practice in the desert. And when the guys headed back to where Jason’s grandfather was tending the campfire, Jason couldn’t resist one final target: his grandfather.

The family moved from California to Vancouver when Jason was about 10. Peto attended Mountain View High School and Clark College, and joined the Marines in 2004.

“He was my best friend and my brother,” said Marine Sgt. Leroy Prior, who also shared some personal remembrances during the service.

“They let me come me come back for this,” said Prior, who will be heading back to Afghanistan.

Prior noted how Peto served two deployments in Iraq. Four years ago, Peto was wounded in Ramadi during a combat tour and received the first of his two Purple Heart awards.

And after that, “He re-enlisted,” Prior said.

“He became a trainer,” Prior said. After two years of teaching young Marines how to handle the hazards of combat, “he decided it was time to join them on the front lines.”

Peto was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.

In a letter to the family, battalion commanding officer Lt. Col. Jason L. Morris described how Peto was coming to aid of a fellow Marine near the village of Jushalay in Helmand province. The improvised explosive device (IED) killed the other Marine, and “Jason was himself struck by a secondary IED and grievously wounded.”

Lt. Col. Morris added that Peto “is the type of Marine that I would want leading my son.”

According to casualty records, Lance Cpl. Arden Joseph Benagua is the Marine who was killed on Nov. 24 in the initial IED blast.

Peto is survived by his wife, Tiffany, the high school sweetheart he married in 2005.

He is the son of Ernest and Janie Peto of Vancouver. He also leaves three brothers, Michael Peto, Garry Peto and Darin Peto.

Peto will be buried with full military honors Friday at Riverside National Cemetery in California, about 70 miles east of Los Angeles.

Peto’s uncle, Gary Wesselman, died in Vietnam and is buried there.

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558 or tom.vogt@columbian.com.