Pete Peterson was lucky. He joined the Marine Corps at 17 in 1946, a few months after the end of World War II. Three years later he got out of the Corps in 1949, a few months before the start of the Korean War.
“After I got out of boot camp at Parris Island, S.C. I was sent to Quantico to be trained as an aviation mechanic. When I graduated I joined the permanent Marine Corps squadron at Cherry Point, N.C, VMF-222,” the 86-year-old Englewood Marine said. “I was promoted to corporal and given the responsibility of maintaining a single Corsair fighter plane. The Corsair was the finest Navy fighter plane in World War II.
“While going through mechanic’s school at Quantico we had this instructor on carburetors. who when he wasn’t talking about carburetors, was talking about the Russians. He had been in the Marine Corps in World War II. Every once in a while he would get real serious about the Russians.
“‘You guys are going to be fighting the Russians,’ he’d say. This was in 1948. He got our attention,” Peterson said.
In Peterson’s case he fought no one. The closest he ever came to a shooting war were the fleet maneuvers they took in the Atlantic on occasion.
“We would go out on some kind of a maneuver that lasted a month or two. The fleet might sail down to Guantanamo, Cuba or Ponce, Puerto Rico. At Ponce they had a big beach where the Marines would land on,” he said.
Peterson’s time at sea was spent aboard the carrier USS Saipan (CVL-48), a light flattop, home to two squadrons of Corsairs–a total of approximately 50 fighter planes. Pilots spent their time making landings and takeoffs.
“Some of our pilots were from World War II. We had a bunch of flying master sergeants. They were officers during the Second World War, but had been bumped down to sergeants after the war,” he explained. “We helped secure them when they jumped into their cockpits. You knew when you were securing a flying master sergeant he had been in World War II.
“They were all pretty good guys. They all respected what we did for them. They knew their lives were in our hands because we were the people who kept their planes in the air,” Peterson said.
“Even though it wasn’t war time, it was exciting being there during takeoffs and landings. On carrier duty no two days were the same,” he said. “It’s not an easy job for a pilot to land on a carrier in choppy weather. It’s kinda like landing on a postage stamp.”
There were occasions during Peterson’s sea duty aboard the Saipan when things didn’t go exactly as planned. Pilot’s tail hooks would fail to catch in the arresting cables and the plane would end up crashing into the barriers.
When that happened Peterson and other ground crew members would first get the pilot out of the busted up fighter and then drag the plane out of the way so other Corsairs could land. This might take the use of their deck tractor and a lot of muscle power.
“When I started out I worked on a single plane and kept it running. But later I was responsible for a line of six Corsairs,” Peterson said. “It was near the end of my three years tour when I had made sergeant.”
After he was discharged, he went to work as the parts manager at the Cadillac dealership in Auburn, N.Y. After a few years he got another job helping run an oil tank farm in upstate New York.
Then he and his wife, Carole, moved to the Englewood area in 1979 where Peterson took a job working for Sarasota Memorial Hospital. With a crew of 16 men they maintained all of the hospital’s air conditioning, heating and other heavy equipment.
The Peterson’s have a grown daughter, Donna, who lives in Leesburg.
Name: Pete Peterson
D.O.B: 29 Oct. 1928
Hometown: Lyons, N.Y.
Currently: Englewood, Fla.
Entered Service: 29 April 1946
Discharged: 25, April 1949
Unit: VMS 222, Cherry Point, N.C.
Commendations: World War II Victory Medal
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Mar. 23, 2015 and is republished with permission.
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