Familiar face brings bittersweet moments
Bob (Pete) Petterson will be leading the Veterans Day Parade at 11 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 11 after being named as the Grand Marshal.
This is the second honor Petterson says he has received this year as he was selected to be a part of the Kansas Honor Flight in September.
"It was quite an honor to be asked to lead the parade this year," said Petterson. "I told Dennis Shoemaker when he asked, that I have probably led as many parades as the grand marshals through the color guard. The first parade started in 1955 and I only missed two. One because of a broken leg and one with a broken ankle."
This news followed after Petterson experienced the Kansas Honor Flight. A moment he says he will never forget.
Petterson is a Marine Corp Veteran. He graduated from Beloit High School in 1950 and went into the service on Feb. of 1951 at the age of
"I joined the military because I had three brothers that served in World War II and so I thought I should do my part as well," Petterson said. "All of my brothers survived the war and Don was wounded and received a bronze star in the Marine Corp. Melvin and Charlie were in the Army branch. I also had a sister Norma Fleming. I am now the only surviving family member."
Petterson took his basic training in San Diego, California before traveling to Camp Pendleton, Calif. for his oversees training. He went abroad on his birthday on July 31 of 1952. He was born in 1930.
Petterson was stationed in Korea and landed in Pusan, at the very tip of Korea. He was a part of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines Item Company, as a 3.5 Rocket man. He started out as an assistant gunner infantry as they moved forward on the lines, south of the 38th parallel.
Petterson said he felt very scared during the war, just like the rest of the men.
"I will never forget that day on Sept. 1, when my gunner was shot in the head and killed," said Petterson. "Those things you just don't forget. I try to forget a lot of things."
3rd Battalion, 7th Marines were dumped on the hills in September and then moved towards the east coast. After his gunner man was killed, Petterson took over the position. When they passed the 38th parallel, they were then faced with the Punchbowl Battle. The battle lasted from Aug. 31 to Sept. of 1951. It was one of the last battles of the movement phase of the Korean War.
"We secured our line, digging in for the winter," said Petterson. "It was colder than hell. One time it was 30 degrees below zero.
We dug our bunkers, then held that position until we were relieved in the middle of July in 1952."
The marines spent all winter, most of the time on the lines when they moved to the west coast. Then all of the Marines that were on the 11th draft were taken off of the lines and moved back to the rear. It was there, Petterson said they were de-liced in preparation to return to the states.
The 3rd infantry battalion consisted of approximately 800 marines. The Marines were tasked with capturing Hill 673, but strong opposition from the well-protected KPA bunkers forced them to stop short of their objective.
"There were so many of us getting killed," said Petterson. "When we first started out, quite a few of us got killed. The first hill, out of the company, around 200 were killed or wounded as we were trying to secure the line across the 38th parallel.
Following the breakdown of armistice negotiations in Aug. of 1951, the United Nations Command (UN) decided to launch a limited offensive in the last summer/ early autumn to shorten and strengthen sections of their lines, to acquire better defensive terrain, and to deny the enemy key vantage points from which they could observe and target the UN positions.
The Battle of Bloody Ridge took place west of the Punchbowl and was followed by the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge, northwest of the Punchbowl. At the end of the UN offensive in Oct. 1951, UN forces controlled the line of hills north of the Punchbowl.
The Korean Demilitarized Zone now runs along the line of hills captured by the UN forces in Sept. 1951. The Euiji Observartory is located in Yoke Ridge looking across to the Kammubong Ridge in North Korea.
When Petterson returned home on a Sunday, he started working on a Monday pouring cement for his brother in the Petterson Brothers construction business.
"We probably built 200 houses in Mitchell County, not including remodeling," said Petterson.
When Bob's brother Don passed away in Dec. of 1979, Bob took over the business, renamed Petterson Construction. He returned to his wife Marilyn, married in Aug.of 1952, and they continued their family way of life.
While work helped pass the time away, memories of the Korean War will never leave Bob (Pete's) thinking process. When Matt Treaster of Beloit, suggested that Petterson attend the Kansas National Honor Flight, he agreed. Bob's daughter Karen found out that her dad was accepted through Treaster's nomination. Bob was told around his birthday in July and started with the paperwork for his flight plans with his daughter Karen as his guardian.
"It was definitely an honor and very humbling to be attending with him as a guardian as I have two brothers, Bob and Wayne," said Karen. "All of the siblings decided that I should go."
"She found out things about me when we attended the monuments," said Petterson. "It brings out memories. Some special moments and some very hard moments."
The father and daughter duo left for the honor flight on Sept. 4 from Wichita and then traveled to St. Louis where they were transferred to another plane.
"When we arrived there, we had to walk down the corridor to the another flight plane and it was amazing that the whole airport gave the veterans a standing ovation throughout the airport," they said. "It was amazing."
"When departing from the Baltimore, Maryland plane a Town Squirer rang the bell for everyone that came off of the plane," said Karen. "They all received a second standing ovation. It was pretty heartwarming to experience. My dad said that is the first time that ever happened to him."
"That is what the Honor Flight is all about," said Bob. "To recognize the four WWII Veterans, the 10 Korean Veterans and the 20 Vietnam Veterans that were attending."
There were 52 all together with guardians included.
All veterans received blue hats and red shirts with the Kansas Honor Flight emblems. The veterans trip was all paid for through donations. A school in Wichita raised money through aluminum cans and benefits to raise $10,000 alone for the veterans event.
The Petterson's visited Fort McHenry at the Chesapeake Bay where the Star Spangled Banner was written by Francis Scott Key.
The veterans were treated to Mission Barbecue, a business that locates near military bases. Everything inside is military, whom they honor through food.
"They used old military vehicles and turned them into smokers," said Karen. "It was pretty impressive."
Veterans visited the Arlington Cemetery and saw the changing of the guards. While there, Petterson was chosen to take part in the laying of the wreaths for the unknown soldiers.
"It was quite an honor and very emotional," said Bob. "I felt pretty special to be a part of it."
On a certain day, a mail call was held and Petterson received an outstanding pouring of 71 cards that his daughter had prepared for others to take part in, through family and friends and local churches.
"I just figured, heck, I won't be getting called for any mail," laughed Petterson. "I was wrong. I received a lot of terrific cards."
Before leaving for the trip, Bob had called a buddy in Tennessee and told him he was going.
"He was one of several that helped get the Korean Memorial Wall started in Washington D.C.," said Bob. "He told me to look at the guys face on the wall and see if I recognized him and that is all he would say. As I walked up to it, my heart dropped as I recognized the face as my gunner that had been shot that day. I was right next to him when he was killed. Shot right between the eyes. Those things you can never forget. It was a pretty emotional moment for me."
"This was the first time that my daughter experienced the emotions coming from my military years," said Bob. "I will never forget that moment, but it made me feel really good that Hill's face was memorialized in that way on the wall."
While Petterson struggled through some hard memories he also helped create some good times through starting up the Marines cadence while attending the memorial walls.
"I suggest every veteran apply for the Honor Flight," Petterson said. "I am sure glad I attended and I will think about it always. It was such an honor and as always, made me proud to be an American."