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Lakota minister recalls service in WWII

For the Rev. Dale Peterson, a retired Lutheran pastor in Lakota, N.D., Veterans Day naturally ties in with weekend worship services because his service in World War II is part of the reason he entered the ministry.

For the Rev. Dale Peterson, a retired Lutheran pastor in Lakota, N.D., Veterans Day naturally ties in with weekend worship services because his service in World War II is part of the reason he entered the ministry.

Peterson, 85, came out of Warren, Minn., in 1942, and saw the world as a sailor under fire.

He quit high school after his sophomore year and joined the Navy.

On the USS San Juan, a light cruiser, from 1942 through 1945, Peterson was in much of the Pacific war, guarding troop carriers and aircraft carriers.

"Our job was to stay with the carriers and get the Japanese planes before they would get to the carriers. We were always just outside the carriers."


A yeoman who normally worked in the navigator's office, Peterson was a "loader," on a 20 mm anti-aircraft gun, hauling ammo, during battle.

"I earned nine campaign stars, from the Marshall Islands all the way to Okinawa," he said, listing the many ports he was in across the Pacific war zone.

The hottest and hardest part was facing kamikaze pilots intent on crashing their fighter-bombers into American ships.

At one point, off Okinawa, "We were under attack day and night for 59 days," Peterson said.

Toward the end, sitting on the ship's fantail in a bay in the Caroline Islands relaxing and seeming far from the war, Peterson heard an airplane motor coming closer in the night.

"I knew it didn't sound like one of ours. Next thing I know they were right over our heads, kamikazes. If I had jumped up, I could have touched the bottom of the wing with my hand."

The Japanese suicide plane hit the ship behind him and exploded.

His war duty didn't end with Japan's surrender in late summer 1945.


"When the war ended we went into Japan, into Sagami Bay, on Aug. 27. Two days later, we upped anchor and went up to Tokyo Bay. We were the first American ship to anchor in Tokyo Bay."

Harold Stassen, Minnesota's governor until he resigned in 1943 to join up -- and a 12-time candidate for President after the war -- was in charge of liberating the prisoner-of-war camps in Japan after the surrender.

"Stassen was on board," Peterson said. "We worked all of September and October getting 7,500 Allied prisoners out of camp. Most of them needed hospitalization. We worked with two hospital ships, the Hope and the Benevolence. The Marine aviator, Pappy Boyington, we liberated him out of a camp in Japan."

The noted ace pilot Boyington was commanding officer of the Black Sheep squadron and earned the Medal of Honor. In a book written about his life, Boyington mentions the San Juan and the sailors who rescued him, Peterson said.

When he came home, Peterson didn't consider going to college until a local pastor pressed him to take advantage of the GI bill and even drove him to Moorhead to take his high school equivalency test.

Now a pastor for nearly 50 years, Peterson retired from full-time ministry in 1991, but since then has preached in at least 48 congregations across the region. Most recently, until a year ago, he filled the pulpit in Kloten (N.D.) Lutheran Church, which has since closed. He still serves as chaplain at two nursing homes in Devils Lake.

His call to become a pastor was a long decision, made through college and seminary.

But being in the war was a factor.


"I know that getting those guys out of prisoner-of-war camps, I couldn't help but think then, this is no way for human beings to live and treat each other."

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