John G. Peters, 78, TV engineer, helped integrate Boy Scout troop

July 21, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

John G. Peters, a pioneering television engineer whose career dated to the early days of WBAL-TV and who helped integrate a West Baltimore Boy Scout troop, died of Alzheimer's disease Tuesday at FutureCare Cherrywood in Reisterstown. He was 78.

He had lived for many years in Yale Heights. He was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., the son of immigrants from Germany.

After graduating from high school in 1941, he enlisted in the Coast Guard, where he became a ship's radio operator, code machine operator and assistant gunner. He served aboard cutters and saw action in both the Atlantic and Pacific.

He was an assistant gunner aboard the 165-foot cutter Icarus in early 1942, at the height of German U-boat attacks on Allied shipping.

Some 25 miles off Beaufort Inlet, N.C., the Icarus made contact with the U-352 and drove the surprised sub to the bottom. After dropping depth charges, which brought the U-352 to the surface, the Icarus pursued the attack with its deck guns.

The sub's officers and crew abandoned the sinking vessel and were later rescued by the cutter and detained at Fort Bragg, N.C., as prisoners of war.

"They gave him an unloaded rifle to guard the prisoners, who spoke freely in German. What they didn't know was that he was bilingual and he picked up a great deal of useful information," said his son, Kenneth J. Peters of Reisterstown.

After being discharged in 1945, he attended the Valparasio Technical Institute in Indiana, where he studied broadcasting engineering, graduating in 1947.

His first job was at WARK, a Hagerstown radio station, in 1947. He joined WBAL-TV in 1951, which was then operating in studios on North Charles Street.

"He was a very good engineer who got a lot of us performers through some very rough and difficult times. He was a cameraman on a variety of programs I did and was also a control room operator," said retired WBAL general manager Brent Gunts, who lives in Roland Park. "And he did them all very well. He was on the quiet side, but very well thought of."

Nicknamed "Moose" by his co-workers, Mr. Peters developed a reputation for hard work when overseeing the set-up and tear-down necessary for remote broadcasts.

"We had lots of heavy equipment and cable that we had to drag to the top of Memorial Stadium that was needed to do a sports remote," said Otto "Otts" Claus of Parkton, chief engineer at WBAL for 25 years until retiring in 1987.

"He was a good worker and always pulled his share of the load. He also always worked the home-plate camera, which in those days was in black and white," said Mr. Claus.

"John took pride in his work and always pitched in to help solve problems," he said.

When WBAL moved to Television Hill in 1962, Mr. Peters helped design and install the wiring in the new studios. At the time of his retirement in 1991, he was in charge of maintaining WBAL's broadcast equipment.

He was a member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers.

Active in Scouting since the 1930s, Mr. Peters was awarded the Silver Beaver Award in recognition of his efforts in leading Troop 180 in Irvington, which he helped to integrate in the 1960s.

"It was the first significantly integrated troop in Maryland, and we had over 100 Scouts who were African-Americans. And we got along like brothers. It was fantastic," said his son.

"He brought an untold number of boys to manhood and success while saving many from temptations and crime of the city," he said.

Mr. Peters, an active outdoorsman, enjoyed hiking, camping and bass fishing in the mountains of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. He was a former member of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church in Catonsville.

Services were held yesterday at Northwest Baptist Church.

Other survivors include his wife of 55 years, the former Helen T. Lasanowski; a sister, Elsie Scala of Florida; and two grandchildren.

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