Peter Ovian: A Son, A Rock, A Hero

Pvt Peter Ovian

The story of Peter Ovian begins in 1923 in Whitinsville, a small village in Massachusetts, and ends 20 years later in Dinozé, a small village in northeastern France. It starts with an adorable boy playing with his brothers and concludes with an admirable man buried by his brothers in arms.

Peter Ovian with members of his family

Peter was the son of Ephraim and Zabelle Ovian, an Armenian couple who left their beloved country and settled in Whitinsville, Worcester County, Massachusetts. He grew up with two brothers, Edward and Leo, and a sister named Angel. Peter was a very special boy. He was big, strong and robust, which earned him the nickname “the Rock.” He also had a heart of gold. This gentle giant loved life, and above all, he loved his family.  

In 1943, Whitinsville was quiet and peaceful, but thousands of miles away, the forces of tyranny were destroying cities and nations like a tsunami. So Peter and his brother Leo decided to join the US Army and rescue a world in agony. Peter served as a Private with the 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, and was sent to France, while his brother Leo served as a Technical Sergeant with the 486th Bomber Group, 834th Squadron, 8th Air Force. Leo survived the war and later became a priest.

Like so many courageous Armenian Americans, Peter risked his life to liberate people he did not know living in unfamiliar towns. Day after day, French civilians throughout the countryside welcomed him with smiles, hugs and tears of happiness. In August of 1944, Peter was near Brest, a port city in Brittany. The Allies desperately needed to capture this port to ensure the delivery of an enormous amount of war material. It was estimated that by September, Allied troops would need 26-thousand tons of supplies each day. Peter knew the battle for Brest would be fierce and deadly as the Germans were well entrenched and partially made up of elite paratrooper forces. Led by an extraordinary sense of sacrifice, Peter fought with remarkable courage until a German bullet hit his stomach and threw him to the ground. Critically injured, he was transferred to a field hospital. Peter fought to stay alive, but on August 29, 1944, he died of his wounds. He was only 20 years old.

A few days later, Peter’s mom received the terrible news, and her entire world stopped. She had seen her baby’s first steps. She had seen her little boy become a man. She had seen her young man go off to war. Yet just like that, Peter was dead, and she would never see her son again. The pain was unbearable—a pain no mother should ever feel.

Peter was later buried among his brothers in arms at the Epinal American Cemetery in Dinozé, France (Plot B, Row 44, Grave 29). Established in October of 1944, this cemetery is the final resting place of 5,255 fallen heroes, including 14 pairs of brothers (who are buried side by side), two chaplains, four women and four Medal of Honor Recipients.

Peter Ovian’s gravesite at the Epinal American Cemetery

More than 75 years ago, so many Armenian Americans fought to liberate Europe from tyranny, and so many never returned home. T/4 Edward Yessian (buried at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium), PFC Albert A. Melkonian (buried at the Florence American Cemetery in Italy), 2nd Lt Harry Kasbarian (buried at the Cambridge American Cemetery in England), 1st Lt Antrony J. Zakarian (buried at the Netherlands American Cemetery in the Netherlands)…These brave men, and so many others, are eternal reminders of the sacrifice made by Armenian Americans, and they must never be forgotten.

As a tribute to Peter “Rock” Ovian, a square in his hometown of Whitinsville was named after him. The “Ovian Square” is located at the intersection of Church Street and Cross Street—3,665 miles away from Dinozé, where this true Armenian American hero is resting in peace in a village that has become his home—a home where Peter is loved, honored and remembered.

Ovian Square, Whitinsville, Mass.
John Dekhane

John Dekhane

John Dekhane grew up in Paris before moving to the South of France. He works for a sport organization in Monaco. Since he was a child, he has always been interested in World War II with particular emphasis on American soldiers. In order to honor them, over the past years, he has located and purchased WWII U.S. artifacts in Europe and donated these items to more than a hundred museums in the United States.
John Dekhane

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  1. Thank you for this outstanding portrait of a hero. I always assume that when an Armenian liberates an innocent person from tyranny and death, he takes satisfaction twice: once for the victim in front of him, and once for his own family and people.

  2. a very poignant piece about another hero who helped saved the world. Thank you for helping us not to forget them.

    • My mother was Aroxy Ovian Zacarian. I recognize the family photo that was in the driveway behind the commercial buildings on Church Street and my grandparents home (Arsan and Anna Ovian). As a little boy I remember Zabelle and Father Leo. They lived in the home next to my grandparents. Great memories and truly a great generation of Armenians.

  3. Dear John Dekhane, with much interest I read another moving and poignant story, by you, portraying an Armenian hero during WWII. Thanks for your noble job of keeping the legacy of our heroes alive. It was most compelling to see the picture of Peter Ovian’s Tomb and the square named after him. And what a timely article, to be published coinciding with the date he died. Million thanks for bringing these stories to us…

  4. The next time I go to Whitinsville where my father’s family’s roots are, I will stop and say a prayer at Ovian Square.
    Thanks for sharing this story.

  5. I thank my Uncle Peter for his sacrifice every day. His picture hangs in my dinning room. I wish I had the chance to meet him.

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