WWII, Korean War veteran dies at 90
Ernest Peterson, a veteran of the Pacific theater of World War II, the Korean War, and member of the Benelux Retiree Community, credited his world travels for his accepting nature.
"I've been all over the world and came across all sorts of people during the war and since," Peterson remembered in a written piece entitled "Memories of World War II." "It taught me to be tolerant to other ways of life and I made a point of passing down my attitude to differences to my children."
Peterson, who worked at SHAPE and Chièvres for 14 years before retiring in the mid-90's, died Nov. 14. He was 90.
Peterson enlisted in the United States Navy in 1942 at just 17 years old and trained as an assault boat coxswain and Underwater Demolition Team member.
Peterson spent the next few years aboard the USS West Point protecting the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, two of America's largest troopships in WWII from German submarine attack.
While serving in Guadalcanal, a yeoman noticed Peterson had UDT training and said they needed him in a heavily-mined area on the enemy-controlled beach.
Peterson lost most of his hearing for a month after an underwater mine exploded before he could reach the surface. Peterson refused to leave his fellow sailors for treatment back in the U.S.
He was then assigned to an assault boat for the Invasion of Iwo Jima. The Navy ran the assault boats right to the beach and lowered the ramps; the Marines went ashore and had to cross about 75-meters of open beach to the dunes which provided some protection from Japanese fire, Peterson recalled.
"Marine casualties were horrific… the beach was covered," he wrote.
With each landing craft run to the beach, Marines were increasingly reluctant to leave the boats. Peterson's job quickly became more than just getting Marines ashore; he needed to get them out of the boat and onto the beach.
"My clear orders… were to not, under any circumstance, return with Marines aboard," Peterson remembered. After three Marines refused to leave the boat, Peterson "argues and begged them to go ashore, reminding them that their buddies needed them and that, if they returned to the ship they faced immediate court-martial and permanent shame."
Peterson estimated he made 15 landing on Iwo Jima under enemy fire.
In retrospect, Peterson wrote that he was glad his children had not known the terrible experiences of WWII and hoped they never will.
"Sometimes I feel that all the pain, all the suffering, all the agony that we endured then have helped build a better world," he wrote. "But I also get the impression at times that all we did has long been forgotten and has come to nothing at all."
After serving nine months providing naval gun support for troops ashore during the Korean War, Peterson volunteered for a mission in the Arctic. He and his Navy team worked with Harvard University to study weather and climate at a base about 200 miles from the North Pole.
"When I learned that the temperatures dropped to 60 degrees below zero, this Florida boy decided to 'un-volunteer,'" he wrote.
On a port call in Cannes, Peterson met his future wife, Marinette, at a USO dance party. They were married for more than 50 years with two adult children, each with two children.