Danielson vet to get award after 70 years
By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Killingly - posted Mon., Feb. 18, 2013
Wallace Peterson's room at the Westcott Wilcox Home in Danielson is comfortably modest. Nearly 88 years of living has been distilled into what can fit into one room: a recliner from which he watches television, some bureaus, a desk, a bed and framed photographs on the walls. He points to one of them. His daughter Sandra Nabozny, granddaughter Angela Nabozny, and great-grandson Kaleb Herrick sit together on a couch. The child is an infant. “I want my grandson to know that he had someone mixed up in the military when it meant something,” Peterson said.
Peterson was drafted in December 1943, shortly after he tried to enlist but was rejected. “They said I had bad teeth,” he recalled. So one of the first things Navy dentists did was give Peterson 32 fillings and extract four teeth. “I couldn't eat for days,” he said.
His service days were memorable for a string of lucky coincidences that brought him through alive. The first was when he reported for duty. “We were all lined up and the officer said they'd lost a lot of Marines in Guadalcanal, did anyone want to volunteer to be a Marine? No one raised their hand,” he said. So the officer went down the line picking men arbitrarily. “He skipped me,” Peterson said. “I was glad of that. Someone was looking over me.”
Peterson went to school for aviation ordnance in Norman, Okla., and ended up a dry land sailor, working with modified B-24s. His initial orders were to the South Pacific, but those orders changed at the last minute and he was sent to the Aleutian Islands. The Japanese had bombed Dutch Harbor and occupied the city of Attu.
“There was no soil,” he said. “It was tundra. It was like walking on an inner spring mattress.” Men were issued arms for an invasion of Japan. “Thank the good Lord for Harry Truman,” he said. “We didn't have to go.”
Peterson's stint in the Aleutians qualified him for a Connecticut Wartime Service Medal. The medal recognizes veterans who served for at least 90 days in wartime service. From the end of World War I to just recently, the medal hasn't been awarded. That changed last fall when the Connecticut State Department of Veterans Affairs re-instituted the award. Peterson has been working with Am-Vet James Neeland on securing one. Seventy years after the fact, Peterson hopes to add his Wartime Service Medal to the three he currently has: one for the American Theater, another for the Asiatic Theater and a Victory Medal. “I want to go out in style,” he quipped.
Out of six friends with whom he joined initially, Peterson is the only living vet. “World War II vets are dying off fast,” he said. Almost 1,000 a day, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Great-grandson Kaleb Herrick is 3 years old. Peterson saw him just that morning. “He was a prince,” he said. So he is doing what he can to be remembered by his great-grandson. Last Christmas he recorded “The Night Before Christmas.” “He'll hear my voice. It's something to remember me by,” he said. Peterson knows that he may not be around when the boy reaches the age of reason. “Just the idea of him liking me is enough,” the vet said.
Still, the medal would be a nice touch, to go along with the flag in its display case, the framed copy of his DD214, the sailor's hat and his other medals.
Neeland is Second Vice Commander for the Department of Am-vets in Connecticut. He has sent in Peterson's paperwork and is waiting on its approval. He hopes to schedule a ceremony as soon as the medal arrives. “I've waited 70 years,” Peterson said with a shrug. “It's not for myself.”
Aide Carol Shepard came to tell him that dinner was ready. “Hot or cold?” he asked.
“Cold,” she said.
“I'll be down,” he said.
She saluted then turned on her heels and left.
“It's been quite a life,” Peterson said, and he got in his wheelchair for the trip down the hall to dinner.