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Veterans Day 2019

Veterans Day is more than free food, although that’s nice. It’s a time to pause and remember the military veterans in your family who sacrificed a conventional civilian life to operate our nation’s armed forces.

As a veteran of course I enjoy Veterans Day. Memorial Day is poignant, but it’s mostly about veterans and warriors who have passed on. On Veterans Day, the nation pauses for a minute to recognize ordinary people like me who decided to interrupt the normal advance of a civilian life to staff our nation’s military.

Was it a sacrifice? Yes! Boot camp is not pleasant and then you throw yourself on the mercy of some personnel office to assign you to anywhere in the world. After arriving at Anywhere in the World, the warrior-to-be must quickly learn to navigate a strange, insular world where normal civilian rules of behavior only roughly apply. Most people adapt. Some don’t and are ushered out. The military has no patience with rebels and nonconformists. Does that mean those of us who stayed are compliant sheep? I don’t think so. It means we had enough intelligence (and toughness) to learn and accept new ways of living.

Photographer's Mate 2nd Class (e-5) John Peterson in 1975 at Brunswick, Me., naval air station.
Here I am as a fresh-faced photographer’s mate third class serving at the Brunswick, Maine, naval air station circa 1975. I was talking with a Vietnam combat vet recently who asked me what I did in the service and I answered “I protected the state of Maine” from mean Russian submarines. The vet noted, “You did a good job. Maine is still there.” I appreciated that.

Appreciate Veterans Day

I finished my four-year term of enlistment and got out. I admire those who made it a career. But we both earned the right to be called “veteran.”

Veterans Day bestows some nice perks on veterans. I know an Army guy who eats a free breakfast, lunch and supper and then attends a free movie in the evening. I don’t like long lines so I usually skip the restaurants, but it’s comforting to know the free offers are there. Even better, in Mokena, Ill., I live two blocks from a Home Depot, which reserves parking spaces for veterans and gives a 10 percent discount on purchases all year. I took advantage of a deal in Illinois where I got the little word “veteran” typed on my driver’s license so I don’t have to carry around my DD-214.

I’m a federal employee (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) so I also enjoy the Veterans Day federal holiday, which this year happens to fall on a Monday. And I don’t mind that all federal employees and many government workers get the day off. It’s also a sacrifice to work for government, especially in these times when government workers are vilified and demonized, but that’s a subject for a different type of blog.

Veterans Day doesn’t move around to Mondays like Labor Day, Memorial Day, Columbus Day or President’s Day. It stays on Nov. 11 in honor of the original Armistice Day in 1918 when WW I ended, although the federal holiday moves to the Friday or Monday if Nov. 11 falls on a weekend.

It was my father’s fault

John Peterson's father and mother, Ernest and Meta Peterson, in their wedding photo in 1945.
Ernest R. Peterson with his bride, Meta van Twuyver, when they got married while dad was on leave in 1945.

My father was a man of few words, very few words. He told me only one humorous story of his time as an electricians mate on the U.S.S. Lexington, an aircraft carrier fighting the Japanese in the Pacific during WW II. Fortunately, or unfortunately, my father left the Lexington’s yearbook on the bookshelf in the hallway of our Humboldt, Iowa, house. Little Johnny poured over the yearbook and studied every one of the hundreds of photographs.

From the yearbook I learned (not from my father) the Lexington survived a kamikaze (suicide) attack that killed hundreds of sailors. By studying the roster of names, I learned that University of Iowa Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick was killed during a training flight (he was a Navy pilot) in the Caribbean.

I must have missed out on dozens of fascinating stories, but it didn’t matter. I was determined to join the Navy. I didn’t try to hide my fascination. I didn’t read the Lexington yearbook under a blanket with a flashlight. So I was surprised when my mother was shocked, and dismayed, upon learning I enlisted in the Navy in 1973. What did she expect? At the same time, I also announced I was marrying my sweetheart, Janice Crouse, so maybe that accounted for some of the shock.

Aerial view of the U.S.S. Lexington aircraft carrier.
My dad, Ernest Peterson, was a “plank owner” or among the first crew when the U.S.S. Lexington was commissioned in 1942. Dad had enlisted the week after Pearl Harbor. The Lexington was named after an aircraft carrier that had been sunk in the Battle of Coral Sea. The “new” Lexington fought in battles from Tarawa atoll onward and wound up in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered.

I actually saw and toured the Lexington. It was still on active duty and berthed in Pensacola, Florida, as a training ship for new Navy pilots, when I attended photography school there. It was a weird feeling to walk the same passageways my father could have walked 30 years before. The Lexington can still be seen today. It is a floating museum in Corpus Christi, Texas.

My father-in-law

Glenn Crouse pictured in his Navy uniform and as a boy in Duncombe, Iowa.
My wife’s father, Glenn Crouse, was only 17 when he enlisted in the Navy. WW II turned a lot of teenagers into seasoned men. On the right Glenn is pictured as a youth in Duncombe, Iowa.

Strangely, my father, father-in-law, and myself all were sent to the Great Lakes naval training center north of Chicago for boot camp. I slept in a fairly modern building, but some of the old barracks were still standing.

Glenn Crouse was also an electricians mate like my dad. He served on a destroyer in the Pacific. I imagine his destroyer and my father’s aircraft carrier probably crossed paths a time or two.

I married his daughter, Janice, a month and a half before Glenn drove me to the Navy intake center in Des Moines, Iowa, where I was formally sworn in. I never heard any objection from Glenn that I was joining the Navy and subjecting his daughter to a military life, although living in Brunswick, Maine, wasn’t too primitive.

Today we have one of the flags that draped Glenn’s coffin displayed on a bedroom dresser. It’s a nice reminder of our family’s naval heritage.

Obviously I’m still fascinated by the military and veterans because I started this warhistorybuff.com blog. I hope to be writing about war stories and warriors for many years to come.

Posted in veterans, Pacific, U.S. Navy, WW II, military, U.S. government, War History

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