Early Life

Becoming a Sailor

Living Aboard a Cruiser

Recreation on the Cruiser

Difficult Missions

War's End

Postwar Service Aboard the USS San Juan (CL-54)

Returning Home

Reflections

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Pastor Dale Peterson was born in Warren, Minnesota in February 1926. He grew up in the Great Depression. His life was affected in many ways. His father was a piano tuner technician who found work difficult to find. When he did work, he often returned with food in lieu of money from the clients he had helped. His mother was a housekeeper for the family. Peterson was the only child. Warren was a farming community. He lived there until going into the service. He was at a bowling alley the morning that Pearl Harbor was attacked. He knew little of the Navy or what was going on in the Pacific. He would have joined the military immediately but he was not of age. His parents had to agree to his service, but they feared for his safety. He was their only child. When Peterson joined the Navy, it was because his best friend joined him in enlisting on 8 July 1943. His parents reluctantly signed authorization for him to go into the Navy. He always loved water and loved swimming. That was one of his main motivations. He also felt he had to serve after keeping up with the wartime events in the world. The country was on the defensive most of that time. As he entered the service, the nation was beginning to turn the tide in the Pacific in the Marshall Islands.

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Dale Peterson volunteered for the Navy and was sent for training at the Farragut Naval Training Center in Idaho. He rapidly learned the skills he needed whether it was with a rifle or otherwise. His trainer was a chief petty officer who was a fine man and Peterson could not have asked for a better instructor and mentor. Peterson rose to first class swimmer quickly and managed the rifle range well. He enjoyed boot camp very much. He was in good condition and did not find it difficult. He was a skilled sportsman having participated in school sports. Growing up in the country was an advantage to him during his training. From Farragut, Idaho, he went to San Pedro, California where he boarded the USS Gemini (AP-75) which carried lumber to Pearl Harbor. It was a rough voyage that made Peterson seasick. The ship had a gun mounted forward on its bow. The crew would practice firing the weapon out into the ocean. When he arrived in Pearl Harbor, the sunken ships were still there. The Oklahoma [Annotator's Note: USS Oklahoma (BB-37)] was being righted at the time. It was quite a project to get it upright. The righted battleship sailed again after that. Sailing the Pacific Ocean was a big change for a young man from Minnesota. He learned how to cope with the ship movements and had no further problems with seasickness. He attended yeoman school at Pearl Harbor. He learned typing and filing. Afterward, he was assigned to ComCruPac or Command Cruisers Pacific Fleet. He worked four hours on duty and eight hours off. Many nights he was a posted guard for the building. He carried a loaded .30-06 [Annotator's Note: .30 caliber M1903 Springfield or M1 Garand rifle]. He was ordered to shoot to kill if someone did not respond to his "halt and identify" command. He was glad he never had trouble with anyone trying to break into the building. While off duty, Peterson enjoyed swimming at Nimitz Beach which was named for Admiral Nimitz [Annotator's Note: Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz]. There was live ordnance underwater near where he swam. Honolulu had a few things to do plus there were hotels to visit. Peterson never became interested in any women while he was there. He had other things to do. He was in Hawaii in December 1943 until he was assigned to the cruiser San Diego [Annotator's Note: USS San Diego (CL-53)] which was the flagship toward the end of the Marshall Islands campaign. Ships were gathered at a fine mooring location in Majuro. That was when Peterson was transferred to the San Juan [Annotator’s Note: USS San Juan (CL-54)] which was sister-ship to the San Diego. He would carry on with the same type of office work as he had previously done.

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Dale Peterson served on two different cruisers, the USS San Diego (CL-53) and the USS San Juan (CL-54). His battle stations were supporting 20mm and 40mm guns and then five inch 38 caliber guns. His sleeping arrangements were very tight in the four tier racks. He often took his sleeping gear above deck and slept in a gun tub. The officers did not mind the men doing so because of the extreme heat in the quarters. The ship had absorbed the sun all day and then the engines also generated heat. A typical day would start with reveille being piped to the crew. Peterson would meet with his division on the foc's'le deck and begin the monotonous daily work. It became so tiresome so the crew looked forward to a scrap with the enemy. The first one happened in the Marshall Islands. The ships fired on enemy aircraft. A five inch hit usually destroyed a plane, but the 20 and 40mm would not necessarily immediately bring them down. The enemy did not target his ship until Okinawa. Peterson started in the Marshalls and then the ship participated in the Asiatic and Pacific raids. His ship escorted fast carrier task forces which moved rapidly. The task force fought at New Guinea, the Marianas, Leyte and the Philippines, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. It bombarded Guadalcanal and other islands. The five inch 38 caliber guns were the cruisers principle battery. There were three mounts each forward and aft, and two waist mounts. Quad 40s were on the fantail with 40mm and 20mm guns at various locations on the ship. The ship also had some .50 caliber machine guns. Peterson was positioned in the lower handling room for the Mount 3 five inch gun forward. He could feel the recoil of the gun but heard very little when it went off. Being in the open with the 20mm gun mount was quite different. Even wearing headphones and a large helmet, it would shake Peterson when it fired. He communicated with Battle 2 which was responsible for any incoming targets for his area. Fire direction on the cruiser was efficient. Peterson's cruisers were antiaircraft cruisers packing firepower to knock down enemy air attacks. The lead ship of the class, USS Atlanta (CL-51) and the USS Juneau (CL-52) had both been sunk in previous engagements. The ships were called "seagoing ammunition dumps" because of the ordnance they carried. All five of the Sullivan brothers died when the Juneau blew up. Peterson never focused on his ship being sunk. In battle, he never felt he was going to die. It was the right attitude.

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While on his cruiser [Annotator's Note: USS San Juan (CL-54)], Dale Peterson's favorite form of entertainment was boxing in the mid-ship mess hall. He learned about the sport in high school. Onboard, Peterson would work out with a former professional boxer who was about his size. When the boxer stopped pulling his punches, it taught Peterson a lesson. [Annotator's Note: Peterson chuckles.] Peterson recently watched a boxing match with a fighter who had the same last name as his friend aboard ship. It could have been his grandson. Occasionally, ships would compete with boxing matches while at an anchorage. They called them "smokers." There was one aboard the New Jersey [Annotator's Note: USS New Jersey (BB-62)] on 25 September 1945. Work outs were reduced as a campaign neared. Ships would tow targets for aircraft to practice strafing runs. Similarly, TBM Avengers [Annotator's Note: Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bombers] would tow a sleeve for the ships to fire upon. During combat, Peterson preferred being topside with the 20mm gun so he could see what was going on. It was more dangerous because of the chance of being hit by friendly flak. Peterson never was hit. Gun crews had to study aircraft silhouettes in order to identify friend or foe planes.

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Dale Peterson felt the Okinawa campaign to be the most difficult. He was at battle stations 113 times. Fear of death was constant. The fighting was long and brutal. It seemed the Japanese were not going to quit. Kamikazes had started in the Philippines but were heavy during Okinawa. There could be over 100 suicide planes attacking. The Franklin [Annotator's Note: USS Franklin (CV-13)] was a pile of junk after being hit. Same was true of the Belleau Wood [Annotator's Note: USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24)], the Ticonderoga [Annotator's Note: USS Ticonderoga (CV-14)], and the Randolph [Annotator's Note: USS Randolph (CV-15)]. The kamikaze that hit the Randolph just missed Peterson's ship [Annotator's Note: USS San Juan (CL-54)]. They were anchored in the Caroline Islands in Ulithi. Two Japanese kamikazes flew over them while they were watching a John Wayne movie. The crew was relaxed and not expecting any attacks. Peterson could have almost touched one of the incoming enemy airplanes. It hit the Randolph resulting in just a few casualties. The other plane hit the island with no American injuries. Fighting the kamikazes was difficult. A five inch hit on one would destroy it. The crew had to make fun when the enemy was killed. Otherwise, a person could go nuts under the strain.

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Dale Peterson's battlestation on the USS San Juan (CL-54) was a five inch 38 caliber gun mount that had a seven man crew of mixed ancestral and racial backgrounds. They got along wonderfully. For them to work together and stay alive, they had to rise above prejudices. The ship would hear some of the news of the ETO, European Theater of Operations, but the crew was too busy to focus on the events there. Nevertheless, they could tell progress was being made against the Germans. After Okinawa, Japanese cities became the objectives of the fleet carriers that Peterson's cruiser escorted. The Japanese population centers were clobbered. Japanese air opposition was significantly reduced with their dependence on unskilled pilots. On 15 August [Annotator's Note: 15 August 1945], the Japanese surrender was announced. There were concerns about Japanese kamikazes still attacking the fleet. Admiral Halsey [Annotator's Note: US Navy Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey] told his fleet to shoot down the intruders down "in a friendly fashion." [Annotator's Note: Peterson chuckles.] Preparations were made to enter Japan. The San Juan entered Sagami Bay on 27 August. Over 300 ships anchored in the bay. The ship maneuvered through Tokyo Bay using a Japanese pilot to avoid the minefields. Peterson was on watch in Battle 1 that day. He saw no other vessels in Tokyo Bay except two minesweepers. The USS San Juan (CL-54) was the first ship to anchor in Tokyo Bay. The crews from San Juan and other ships liberated over 7,000 Allied POWs [Annotator's Note: prisoners of war] from that area including "Pappy" Boyington [Annotator's Note: US Marine Corps Major Gregory Boyington] from the Omori camp. The prisoners were emaciated. Many had to be carried out. Some had been in captivity since Hong Kong fell in 1940. They had been severely abused and yet managed to stay alive only by doing things behind the backs of their captors. Peterson befriended one POW who was in that shape. It made a distinct impression on him. He felt pity for the former captives as well as the people of Japan. The local population lived in a region of mass destruction from the firebombing. They would bow to the victors and plead for cigarettes. Peterson gave one man a whole pack because he felt so badly. The Japanese population had been misled by the military about their chances of being victorious. Their cities were destroyed and the American blockade had prevented food from entering the country. They were hungry and subservient. The Americans passed out candy bars to the children. Peterson never hated the Japanese anytime during or after the war despite how they mistreated their captives.

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Looking back, Dale Peterson feels honored that he participated in the 2 September 1945 surrender of the Japanese. At the time, he was so busy liberating Allied prisoners of war that the liberation mission was his main focus. When the San Juan [Annotator's Note: USS San Juan (CL-54)] entered Tokyo Bay, Peterson could see white flags on the enemy emplacements on the surrounding hills. Meanwhile, battleships had their guns at the ready in case there was any incoming fire from the Japanese. Following liberation of the camps, on 14 November, the San Juan left Japan, ostensibly for a return to the United States. When she reached Pearl Harbor, the ship was rerouted to Nouemea, New Caledonia to pick up troops for "Magic Carpet" to return to San Francisco. The ship shuttled back and forth multiple times bringing troops home. While at Seattle, Peterson managed liberty in town. An earthquake occurred while he was on his ship prior to his liberty. Then, he went into town on liberty. There were aftershocks while he was there. Nature had previously given Peterson a startling experience. Peterson was in a typhoon prior to the end of the war. Many thought Halsey [Annotator's Note: US Navy Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey] could have avoided the raging storm. Three destroyers were lost. Peterson lost a friend on one of them. The storm reminded Peterson of a foggy, snow storm. The ships were ordered to forget fleet formation and just stay away from each other. The storm was very destructive. Peterson was skeptical of the outcome while the winds blew. Peterson was also in a second typhoon which was not as bad. The storms were very powerful forces of nature.

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Dale Peterson returned to the United States aboard his cruiser, the USS San Juan (CL-54). She was decommissioned in Everett, Washington. He spotted a friend from his hometown [Annotator's Note: Warren, Minnesota] and boot camp training at that time. They returned to Minneapolis together and were mustered out on the same day. Peterson left the Navy in March 1946 as a Seaman 1st Class. He did his job and did not try to improve his rate. After the service, he took advantage of the G.I. Bill to complete his education. He achieved his high school equivalency and college diploma. He enjoyed singing in the college choir. He went out for football but was too small. He decided to try out as a lightweight boxer. That lasted one year. He completed junior and senior college. He ran track in senior college. He enjoyed college and may not have been able to go without the G.I. Bill. Peterson was a chaplain's assistant on the San Diego [Annotator's Note: USS San Diego (CL-53)]. He was exposed to multiple faiths. Seeing the treatment of POWs [Annotator's Note: prisoner of war] in Japan tried his belief in mankind. He thought more and more about seminary. It became difficult for him to continuously study. He left the seminary with no bridges burned. He worked as a consular in the Minnesota Youth Commission. He later became the parole officer for the juvenile court. He met and married a young woman. They had two sons but the marriage ended. He then experienced the call to become a pastor in a Christian church. Shortly thereafter, his hometown church sent a request to Peterson to become a lay assistant to the pastor of that church. After seven years in that position, he applied for ordination and was accepted. He served for 52 years as a church pastor.

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Dale Peterson had no problem transitioning back to civilian life after his discharge. His most memorable experience was liberating Allied prisoners of war. It was hard for him to understand how people could treat other humans so poorly. The Bible teaches people to treat others better than what he saw. Peterson was happy he could liberate those POWs [Annotator's Note: prisoners of war]. Freedom is not appreciated until it is withdrawn from an individual. Hope kept many of those captives alive. The released POWs came up to Peterson and touched him to be assured that he was real and that they were getting their freedom back. Peterson fought in the war because he wanted to be a part of the military and actively take part in keeping our country's freedom. His friend was also enlisting. Peterson worries about the circumstances in the country today. The war and living through the 1930s taught him to be conservative. His service is a source of pride that the country has had many years of freedom. Peterson worries of God's attitude toward the country because of what has been happening. Reading the 24th chapter of Matthew in the Bible will show what the end of times will be like. Peterson believes America should get back to God. The consequences of not doing so will not be good. It is important to teach about World War 2. Institutions like The National WWII Museum are necessary to aid in this. Peterson's concluding thoughts focus on staying close to God's principles for the country's survival.

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