Dale Orlando Peterson is from Warren, Minn. He was born Feb. 13, 1926, the only son of a piano tuner technician father and a stay at home mother.
He had some struggles with his health in his early years and missed nearly a year of school because of double pneumonia and serious ear infections. However, his health issues didn’t stop him from becoming a tremendous athlete lettering in football, basketball and track through his early high school years.
He was crowned with a laurel wreath for winning a decathlon as a sophomore, the youngest winner of that olympic-level competition. A decathlon is “an athletic event taking place over two days, in which each competitor takes part in the same prescribed ten events (100-meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400-meter dash, 110-meter hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and 1,500-meter run).”
The U.S. Navy
At age 17, before graduating from high school, he had to have his folks sign for him to volunteer for the U.S. Navy. He and his buddy, Ronald Westman “Westy” went in together.
It was 1943 and it was right in the heart of World War II.
After basic training in Farragut, Idaho Peterson spent some time in Southern California and then on to Hawaii, he was assigned to the USS San Juan hitching a ride on its sister ship the USS San Diego to its anchorage near Majuro, the capital city of the Marshall Islands.
The Pacific Ocean Theater
Once the Marshall Islands Campaign was successful, they were on their way, working their way toward Japan. Peterson participated in several more campaigns including Western New Guinea, Mariana Campaign (1944), Leyte Operation/Campaign (1944), Luzon, Iwo Jima (1945), Okinawa (1945) and the Third Fleet Strikes on Japan.
Yeoman Peterson at the rank of Seaman First Class was trained as a typist and office clerk was also assigned to be the chaplain’s assistant on ship. While engaging the enemy, he was a projectile man, handling the shells for the anti-aircraft guns on board the USS San Juan, an Atlanta Class Cruiser. It was their mission to protect the troops and larger ships from enemy planes.
The USS San Juan was the first American warship to anchor in Tokyo Bay, they were there for the Sept. 2 surrender of the Japanese in 1945.
Peterson spoke with deep emotion of the sinking of the USS Juneau that took the lives of all five of the Sullivan brothers; Joe, Frank, Al, Matt and George from Waterloo, Iowa. Although it happened in November of 1942, no seaman could think of this family that lost all five of its sons in one terrible act without feeling strong emotion, Peterson explained.
In his years in the Pacific Ocean Theater Peterson witnessed other terrible things, burning ships and explosions, but the worst was ahead. Nearing the end of the war their mission changed to liberating prisoners of war under the leadership of Harold Stassen, the “Boy Governor” from Minnesota who at 31 was the youngest person to be elected governor in the U.S. Stassen resigned his office to serve his country in the Naval Reserves.
Peterson recalled one of the first places they liberated was the Omori Prison Camp near Tokyo where Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, the WWII flying ace who shot down 28 enemy Japanese planes was a POW.
Working alongside the hospital ships “Hope” and “Benevolence” they evacuated nearly 20,000 Allied POWs held by the Japanese at the end of the war.
They left Tokyo Bay on Nov. 14, 1945, to return to the U.S. but upon returning to Hawaii received orders to help with Operation Magic Carpet, the worldwide effort to expedite returning Allied troops. So the San Juan turned right around and headed to New Caledonia Islands, east of Australia. They brought back 450 Army troops to the states and ended up in Seattle in February 1946, just in time for a magnitude 6.3 earthquake to hit the Puget Sound on Valentine’s Day.
Peterson remembers the rocking ship and wondering what would cause that to happen. He says it was in Washington that they decommissioned the ship and they mustered out to Minneapolis, Minn. to head home. And who did Peterson see standing in the line, waiting for the train? His pal “Westie,” the friend he had first joined the Navy with was also heading home to Minnesota, the two friends reunited.
It was 1946 and Peterson was 20 years old.
He spent the summer recovering and doing manual labor, clearing the right of way for the REA power lines, back home in Warren.
What would he do with the rest of his life? He confided to a friend wondering if he should finish high school, go to college, take advantage of the GI Bill or what. His friend’s advice, “You’re crazy if you don’t!”
So he ended up in Moorhead taking high school equivalency tests and passing. Knowing that his options still might be somewhat limited he applied to a small college in Iowa and all they had to do was see his high school sports records and they welcomed him with open arms. He studied social sciences, sang in the choir and later majored in Social Work at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. After graduating, he went on to theological seminary at St. Paul but didn’t finish. After studying Greek all summer in 1951 he had his fill and left seminary. “I just had to get out!” he admitted.
The next few years he worked with Minnesota Youth Conservation Corps as a counsellor, a parole officer, and tuned pianos like his father before him, trying different things.
Love and marriage
During this time, he also married and had two boys but unfortunately that marriage ended after about five years.
After the divorce he found himself in Fargo, ND, and continued piano tuning until he received a call to be the assistant lay pastor for Our Saviors Lutheran Church in his hometown of Warren, Minn.
A few years later Nadine Anderson, from the Devils Lake, ND, area moved to town, the new 4th grade teacher in Warren. She thought she should go to the local Lutheran Church and introduce herself to the pastor as a way of getting to know a new community and reaching out. The pastor she met in the parish offices was Rev. Peterson, the regular pastor had left and Peterson, was filling in. Through the next few years the two got to know each other and on Aug. 1, 1970, they were married at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Devils Lake.
The Petersons had four sons and served parishes in Alvarado, and Michigan, ND, until it was time to retire. They chose Lakota as their retirement home, so the boys could continue going to school with and living near their friends. They’ve lived in the home they purchased in Lakota for nearly 30 years.
Two sons followed in Dad’s footsteps; one served in the Navy and one served in the National Guard.
In May of this year Rev. Peterson and one of his sons had the opportunity to go on the Honor Flight to Washington D.C. It was a memorable experience that he wants to share with our readers in the near future.
On Monday, Nov. 11 for Veteran’s Day Rev. Dale and Nadine had supper together with other local vets and their loved ones at the American Legion in Lakota.