Becoming a Soldier

Deployment

Service in India

Combat in India

Conditions in India

The CBI

Returning Home

Postwar

Reflections

Annotation

Cleveland Peterson was born in Baudette, Minnesota in 1922 and grew up there. Baudette is on the Canadian border in Lake of the Woods County. He had a sister and a brother growing up. Other siblings were lost. His father was a depot agent for the railroad. His family was lucky because his dad had a steady job. Peterson would fish the lakes until winter. In the winter, he would go hunting for rabbits. The excess of fish or rabbits were given to neighbors to help them out. Life was pleasant in the North Country. There were a lot of winter sports including ice hockey. Peterson enjoyed sports. Even though Peterson was in college, he entered the military in 1941. He knew the draft would select him so he avoided the infantry by enlisting. After enlisting, he chose the Army Air Forces. He was sent to mechanic training at Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His basic training was in St. Louis, Missouri. The weather was not to his liking. The marching with the sergeant at his side was not good. It was disgusting. Peterson enlisted in January 1941 and finished mechanics training late that summer. He was assigned to the 59th Air Service Squadron which was made up of all the specialties such as engine, propeller, instruments, sheet metal and other repair and maintenance specialists. Peterson, like a few others, did a little bit of all the different specialties that made up the company. When Peterson completed the mechanics training at Tulsa, he was skilled enough to handle the job. Prior to his assignment to the 59th, he temporarily went to a bomb group, but they had too many personnel so Peterson was assigned to the 59th Air Service Squadron.

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Cleveland Peterson heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor after boarding a ship in San Francisco, California in early December 1941. The ship was destined for PLUM, the codename for the Philippine Islands. Their ship, the SS Johnson, was due to dock in Pearl Harbor on the afternoon of 7 December. The morning of the Johnson's planned arrival, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The ship turned around and returned to San Francisco. After staying in San Francisco for about a month, Peterson boarded the SS Mariposa. That ship was also destined for the Philippine Islands. The Mariposa was a luxury liner that had been converted to a troopship. While en route, they received word that the Philippine Islands had fallen to the Japanese. The Mariposa was rerouted through the Tasmanian Sea to Australia. There were two Australian Navy destroyer escorts for the troopship. The ships hit a storm at sea. Peterson saw the bow of his ship go under the waves and the two escorts go up and then disappear as they went down with the heavy seas. Peterson was glad to get out of that storm. They docked at Melbourne, Australia. Having no duties, they received leave and had a good time for awhile. After about a month in Melbourne, they were transferred to Perth, Australia. Entering Perth Harbor, they saw the aircraft carrier Langley [Annotator's Note: USS Langley (CV-1)] and the cruiser Phoenix [Annotator's Note: USS Phoenix (CL-46)] along with many other ships. The convoy of ships in the harbor was destined for Java. The American plan was that the Japanese were to be stopped at Java. The troopships were to be at the end of the convoy. On the way, word came that the combat ships in the lead of the convoy were attacked by the Japanese with severe losses. The troopships were then routed to Ceylon, India, now Sri Lanka. They were then sent to Bombay, India. Bombay was full so they were routed to Karachi, India.

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Cleveland Peterson landed in Karachi, India. There was a British airbase with a huge dirigible hanger. The P-40s [Annotator's Note: Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter aircraft] and other aircraft that were in the cargo ships that accompanied the troopships were assembled in the dirigible hanger. There were also A-20s [Annotator's Note: Douglas A-20 Havoc light bomber] destined for Russia that had been side tracked to Karachi. Even though the instruments and manuals were in Russian, the mechanics assembled the aircraft. Eventually, Russians took the aircraft. P-66s [Annotator's Note: Vultee P-66 Vanguard fighter aircraft], P-40s and P-47s [Annotator's Note: Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter aircraft] were also assembled for the Chinese Air Force. New Delhi was Peterson's next destination. After being there for two weeks, Peterson's group was transferred to the Assam Valley near the Himalaya Mountains in the north of India. The Japanese were nearby. It was the base where the flights over the Hump originated. The hanger they used was just a revetment. Peterson stayed there until rotation home after two years. Combatants were allowed rotation home after two years in a combat zone. Thus, Peterson returned home in September 1944. Upon arrival in India, there was a lack of equipment. Supplies were slow in arriving. There were frequent crashes of the Allied aircraft so the crash sites were scavenged for parts. Salvageable instrumentation was particularly in demand from the crashes. What were referred to as hanger queens were put together to replace lost aircraft using recycled parts. One C-47 [Annotator's Note: Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport aircraft] had been strafed by the Japanese right down the middle. The sheet metal man patched all the holes. Peterson repaired the hydraulic lines for the landing gear. The plane went back into service and was there when he left India. Peterson was required by the flyers to accompany them on test flights to make sure his repairs were done properly.

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When Cleveland Peterson arrived in India there was a culture shock. There was also a physical shock as many of the men were struck with diarrhea. After a period of time, the illness passed. It was predictable as it passed through a person's system. The flying personnel had a lot of crashes. One B-24 [Annotator's Note: Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber] was circling above the mountains, stalled and crashed about a mile from the base. There was nothing left of the plane and the airmen were killed. Another memorable incident involved a Japanese observation plane over the base. After being bombed by the Japanese, an enemy observer would pass over the base about noon the next day. A P-40 [Annotator's Note: Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter aircraft] had been stripped down and was available to go up. It had only one gun in each wing, not the three that were normally there. The P-40 went up and shot down the enemy aircraft. No more observation aircraft came over the base after that. Another time, there was a big rumble that the men heard. They thought it was a Japanese bombing attack so they ran to trenches for cover. It turned out to be an earthquake and the men joked about jumping into trenches trying to escape an earthquake. The Assam Valley area saw quite a bit of combat, but Peterson's location in the low valley circled by the mountains was protected from artillery fire.

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Cleveland Peterson and the 59th Air Service Squadron left the United States for India with as much aircraft repair equipment as they could take. There were good mechanics in the squadron. Peterson's group did not do fueling or ordnance loading. They strictly maintained and repaired the aircraft operationally. There were three airfields near him in the Assam Valley. The 59th covered all three of the bases. On one occasion, parts stored at another base were needed at Peterson's base. Peterson took a command car from the motor pool and tried to drive to the parts location. Instead, the tires got bogged down in the heavy mud. Peterson had to return to his base and fly to get the parts instead. The weather was very wet in the monsoon season. Jungles were surrounding them so there were a lot of mosquitoes. Each individual had to get four shots every six months to prevent disease. Four medics would cover the unit. Each individual had two shots at one time twice in sequence to get all the troops done. As far as dental work, when Peterson got a tooth ache, the dentist immediately pulled the tooth without thinking about repairing it. The drill that was used by the dentist was manually powered by an enlisted man who would use paddles to run it. If he stopped paddling, the drill would stop. After the war, Peterson had to have dental work done when he returned home. There was very little interaction with the locals because Peterson was confined to base. The closest village was about ten miles away. The British had built the runway in Chaba, India where Peterson was based. At the end of the runway, there were lights for night landings. One night, a pilot reported that there were no lights. The natives had stolen them to make jewelry. Peterson was billeted in a hut with no walls. The shower facility was an overhead large drum that natives would pour water into after carrying the water up a ladder to the top of the drum. Peterson was on call daylight to dark, seven days a week. Holidays were just another day. Scottish troops manned the antiaircraft guns that lined the runway. On the Fourth of July, the Scots would put on their kilts and come over to help the Americans celebrate their Fourth of July holiday. They had fun but not much celebration. Working conditions were largely outside. There were some hangers that they used but most repairs on the large aircraft were carried out in their revetments. In the summer the mechanics got wet most of the time as there was no cover to repair the planes. Anybody who had a problem with their aircraft would be serviced. A fuel line from India to China was being installed so a C-47 [Annotator's Note: Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport aircraft] had brackets installed underneath so the pipe could be flown to the installation site. C-4 gliders [Annotator's Note: CG-4 Waco glider] carried small bulldozers but when they landed the latch mechanism broke as the bulldozer pushed its way out. The pilot and copilot were pushed up and out of the way with the hinge assembly placing them in the overhead. There was a lot of innovation and luck, too.

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Cleveland Peterson was aboard the SS Johnson when he heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. They had been sailing with lights on but after the attack, the portholes were all painted black from the inside. Japanese submarines were close so it was a real concern. The CBI [Annotator's Note: China-Burma-India Theater] had a great lack of equipment. There was a lot of salvaging that had to be done. It was lucky that the aircraft models were fairly standardized. Peterson worked constantly day and night. After almost two years of being in India, they received one week of leave. He went into an area of Burma that had a golf course and that was enjoyable. Otherwise, there was nothing enjoyable about service in the CBI. Peterson did not want to serve in any other theater because he felt safe being away from the front lines. Base security was through the British who were very good to the Americans. Other allies were represented. There were Scots, Australians, French and other allied troops. News of other theaters was available. Peterson did not receive much mail from home. He missed everything about the United States during his service. The natives were only three generations away from being headhunters. Before the British arrived, the natives ran naked. The British told them to cover up. There were no clashes between the natives and the British, but there were conflicts between the British and Americans. There were fights between the Allied soldiers in saloons and bars in Calcutta. The most difficult thing to give up was ice cream. He gave it up for two years and missed that. As the war progressed, things somewhat improved. The natives did not change much but the supplies of aircraft and parts improved. That was particularly true after General Arnold's [Annotator's Note: USAAF General Henry H. Arnold] visit. Peterson's squadron [Annotator's Note: the 59th Air Service Squadron, 51st Air Service Group, 10th Air Force] was told that they were at the end of the supply chain and had to live off the land. They could only live so long on K rations. They had a lot of eggplant for chow. When the men boarded ship to return to the United States, they had hot dogs and they thought that was great. Calcutta was a port where there was a good bit of supplies. They would fly a C-47 [Annotator's Note: Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport aircraft] there with the cook who would bring back a lot of supplies. Besides eggplant, they ate a lot of chicken chow mien since they were based on the border of India, Burma and China. After two years, the whole wing that Peterson belonged to was rotated back to the United States. While in the CBI, Peterson heard about some of the events of the war but learned most of the story after returning to the United States.

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Cleveland Peterson made the trip home aboard a Liberty ship. He had flown to Calcutta first, then rode a British train from Calcutta to Bombay. At Bombay, they boarded the American Liberty ship. The ship hit a storm as they left. The ship would ride up and down the waves and shudder and creak. Peterson had trouble when he went over to India and then again when returning home. Confusion seemed to be everywhere in Bombay. This was true when he arrived and when he departed. British rations were terrible tasting when Peterson had to consume them. After returning to the United States, Peterson first had leave but then was sent to Casper, Wyoming where Chinese pilots were being trained. He serviced B-24s [Annotator's Note: Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber] there. With poor depth perception, the Chinese pilots would land short and tear the wheels off. Next, Peterson went to Alamogordo, New Mexico to help on B-29 [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bomber] training for Pacific action. After two weeks of training on the B-29, the sergeant in charge took a 30 day leave and handed the crew chief authority over to Peterson. After returning home, much of the war continued. Peterson was at Alamogordo when the test of the first atomic bomb occurred. The whole sky lit up. The troops were told an ammunition dump blew up. At a great distance from the explosion, they saw the sky light up and witnessed the first atomic bomb. The rest of the war was spent at Alamogordo. When the point system came up after the surrender of the Germans, Peterson was told at first he could not be released but in October 1945 he was told he could be discharged. His release was at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. He was a sergeant. After his initial return from the CBI [Annotator's Note: China-Burma-India Theater], Peterson received a month's leave. He visited with his family during that time. He was happy to be home. When Germany surrendered, Peterson was at Alamogordo, New Mexico as he was when the Japanese surrendered. When the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, Peterson knew what they were since word about the bombs had leaked out. The end of the war was celebrated quietly by Peterson.

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Cleveland Peterson did not take advantage of the GI Bill for education, but he did use it to build a house. After the service, he went to work as an apprentice electrician and soon was promoted to electrician. He moved to Denver and went to work for the telephone company. He became a supervisor. After he went to an engineering school, he became an engineer. Peterson then was promoted to supervisor of engineers. He ran the scheduling and acceptance groups and then became an administrator. After 35 years, he retired. The postwar years were enjoyable. He had no problem transitioning from soldier to civilian. He had no problem finding work or a home.

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Cleveland Peterson's most memorable experience was being close to Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked. During the war, he rode in a C-47 [Annotator's Note: Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport aircraft] that was carrying three Pratt and Whitney engines. The aircraft was overloaded and there were trees at the end of the runway. The takeoff clearance under the strain was limited when they reached the end of the runway. When American aircraft flew supplies to China, they would sometimes bring Chinese soldiers back for training. The soldiers would get sick and the Americans would have to lower their windows to try and reduce the odor of the sickness in back. The C-47 would not go above 16,500 feet so they had to fly through the passes. With the monsoon season and its bad weather the flying was rough. It was dangerous flying as mountains would often be on both sides of the aircraft. It was said that the wreckage of aircraft lined the flight path over the Hump. Peterson's decision to enlist was based on not wanting to go into the infantry. He was not on the front lines, but the fighting was close. It was a frightening thing to be that close. The slit trenches gave them some protection. The nearby airbase had potholes from the Japanese bombing. There were some bomb runs on his base but the accuracy was not good. Peterson selected the Army Air Forces because of his previous civilian flying experiences. He enjoyed riding in a Ford tri-motor aircraft and was impressed with it. His grandson now is a pilot for a commercial airline. The war made Peterson grow up. He obtained a good work ethic as a result of his service. His war experience helped the country and he was glad he did it. World War 2 made the United States a powerhouse because of its production capability. The civilian population really produced for the Arsenal of Democracy. The National WWII Museum is important and should continue its efforts.

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