The World War II Victory Medal pinned on 93-year-old Bob Peterson’s chest was late in coming. Judging by the smile on the Marysville man’s face, and the gratitude expressed to him Sunday, it wasn’t too late — even more than 75 years after the war’s end.
“We could be no prouder. Today is your day,” Traci Williams, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Department of Washington, told Peterson during the tribute at the VFW’s Old Guard Post 2100 in Everett.
The elderly veteran was beaming after Douglas Roulstone, a retired Navy captain, pinned the long-overdue medal on Peterson’s plaid shirt and gave him a salute. Three loving daughters — Cheri Peterson, Janet McDonald and Susie Schmidt — were at their dad’s side for the touching moment. Roulstone is the former commanding officer of the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier.
A proclamation signed by Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring declared March 14, 2021, “Bob Peterson Day in Marysville.” Citing U.S. Navy records, it said Peterson had been eligible for the World War II Victory Medal when he was discharged from military service as a Hospital Apprentice First Class at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Bremerton.
Peterson, who graduated from Everett High in 1945, joined the Navy later that year. He served until June 1947.
He trained in San Diego and at Camp Elliott, California, then was on the USS Hamlin. The Hamlin, a Navy tender, supported seaplane operations in the Pacific, at Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Peterson was an admiral’s driver, according to the proclamation.
The Japanese surrender was formally signed on Sept. 2, 1945. In July 1945, Congress authorized the victory medal to be awarded to all members of the armed forces of the United States or the government of the Philippines who served on active duty in World War II between Dec. 7, 1941, and Dec. 31, 1946.
“Unfortunately that medal of honor was never properly awarded, and the Monroe and Everett posts of the Veterans of Foreign Wars are seeking to right that wrong,” the Peterson proclamation said.
Sunday’s event came about thanks to a younger veteran.
Drew James, 41, is a past commander of VFW Post 7511 in Monroe, and Iraq/Afghanistan Committee chairman with the state’s VFW Department. He was in the infantry, with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, and was among the first 10,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan in 2001.
James met Peterson and his daughter, Cheri, through a good deed.
Last September, he was asked by Cheri Peterson for help in repairing a leaky shed roof on her father’s Marysville property. She lives with her dad in what was her childhood home. Over several weeks last fall, James secured donated materials from the Lowe’s store at Smokey Point. With three others from the Monroe VFW, he made a weekend project of repairing the roof.
In talking with Cheri Peterson about the Monroe VFW post’s auxiliary, James asked to see her father’s service records. He learned Bob Peterson likely never received the victory medal he was entitled to. Sparing the family paperwork and expense, James bought the medal himself and arranged for Sunday’s ceremony.
More than 12 million veterans were eligible for the medal. Made of bronze, it shows the Liberty figure, a broken sword and the “World War II” inscription on the front, and on the back “Freedom From Fear and Want” and “Freedom of Speech and Religion.”
“Both my grandfathers were in World War II, one in the Pacific Theater, one in Europe,” said James, adding that his father served during the Vietnam War era.
While James said, “I absolutely love hearing the war stories” of older veterans, he’s working to bring those who’ve been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan into the VFW. “What’s important to the younger generation, it has to be family oriented,” said James, who has hosted vets and their families at his Machias area home.
“This is our mission, taking care of veterans whether they’re members or not,” said the VFW’s Williams, noting that the organization marks its 100th anniversary in Washington this year.
For Peterson, life back on the home front brought education, sports and family.
At Everett Junior College, he played third base on the 1948 baseball team. In 2019, that championship team, coached by Ray Hutchinson, was inducted into the Everett Community College Athletics Hall of Fame.
His civilian job was as a delivery driver for Foremost Dairies. Cheri Peterson remembers her father bringing home ice cream, sometimes when a batch couldn’t be sold because an ingredient was missing — “like if they made chocolate chip mint without the mint.”
Peterson raised five children. Long after the war, he experienced heartbreak. Youngest daughter Verona Bosanko died in a 1996 house fire that also claimed the lives of her three children. Son Kenneth Irving “Kip” Peterson, an Army veteran of the Vietnam War, died in 2018.
Toward the end of Sunday’s ceremony, Williams told Peterson “we have one more surprise.”
Eileen Hartzell, of Monroe, presented him with a quilt donated by the Quilts of Valor Foundation. The nonprofit, with about 10,000 volunteers nationwide, has donated nearly 270,000 quilts to veterans, said Hartzell, whose two sons have served in the Marines.
“This quilt is our way of saying thank you,” said Hartzell as she wrapped the quilt around Peterson’s shoulders. “May it forever remind you that you are loved, you are remembered, and that your service is greatly appreciated by all of us.”
Julie Muhlstein: firstname.lastname@example.org.