Saturday, October 31, 2015

Larry Ray Peterson

I've exchanged a few messages this week with Larry Ray Peterson's daughter, Nicole --- a very small child when her dad was killed on June 13, 1969, off the coast of California when the helicopter he was serving aboard crashed while on a rescue mission.

Peterson was Lucas County's first loss during what we now call the "Vietnam era" and although he didn't die in the war zone, he had been there only a few months earlier.

Nicole had "Googled" her dad's name and found the following brief account of his life that I'd included some years ago in an attempt to account for Lucas County's Vietnam-related dead. You can read that entire post by following this link.

PETERSON, LARRY RAY. U.S. Navy Aviation Technician Navigationman 3C Larry Ray Peterson died during the early morning of June 13, 1969, when the helicopter to which he was assigned went down and sank in the Pacific off the coast of California. The UH-2c Sea Sprite, with six aboard, was transporting to the naval hospital in San Diego a sailor injured when blown off the flight deck of the U.S.S. Constellation by a jet blast about 90 miles off the coast. The bodies of Peterson and the helicopter pilot, Lt. Richard A. Fitzsimmons, 26, were recovered; the others were reported as missing at sea.

A son of Jess G. and Wilma Peterson, Peterson was born Oct. 23, 1941, in Osceola and grew up near Derby and Chariton. He was a 1960 graduate of Chariton High School and also attended Simpson College and the University of Iowa before enlisting in the Navy during March of 1967. In addition to his parents, he was survived by two daughters, Laurie Lynne and Nicole Rae, and a brother, Glenn. He is buried in Goshen Cemetery.

That conversation with Nicole reminded me that I'd always intended to scan Peterson's photograph, in the Lucas County Historical Society collection, and add it to the earlier post. Which I've now done, and posted here for good measure.

I also came across a news story from The Herald-Patriot of Oct. 24, 1968, that included quotes from a letter Larry had written home to Lucas County from aboard ship in the Gulf of Tonkin, describing his part in the rescue of LCDR Wayne Lambertson, 31, of San Diego, pilot of a Phantom F4-B jet that went down immediately after takeoff from the U.S.S. Constellation.

"The plane went over and the pilot couldn't pull it out shortly after being catapulted from the carrier," Larry wrote. We were already aloft on airborne guard duty and I yelled at the pilot that we had a plane in the water. We were over them in a minute, spotting the pilot's light, a director's wand, a cone-shaped flashlight for directing planes at night aboard a carrier.

"The motor whaleboat from a destroyer arrived shortly and picked up the radar intercept officer from the plane, but our crew was having difficulty getting Lambertson free of his entangled parachute shrouds.

"I went into the water to help. Usually you can pull a man away from his chute but this time we couldn't do it since they were all tangled around his feet. I asked if he was ok, so that I could move him more freely than I could if he had suffered back injuries in the crash. One man lifted him up and I went to work on the lines, using my knife while I made several dives to completely free him. Time was important because the chute which can have a terrific pulling effect was starting to pull him down.

"To make matters worse there was a sea snake in the area but when we got into the water it scurried away a short distance and remained an observer. Finally, the two of us in the water got the lines all cut and he was lifted into the helicopter. We were exhausted but happy."

The Herald-Patriot article added, "Peterson is an aviation electronics technician in Helicopter Combat Support Squadron I. His unit in addition to flying plane guard for launching and recovery of aircraft makes mail visits and personnel transfers to other ships in the area."

It is somewhat disconcerting to realize that those little girls Peterson left behind are approaching 50 now --- I hope I'm not violating confidences here --- and that those of us who also served in that now-distant war are nearing 70 or beyond. 

It's good to keep the memories fresh, however, and Nicole has added a memorial brick to honor her father to the Armory and Veterans Memorial at 925 S. Dubuque St. in Iowa City.

I've also added his photo and a brief report of his death to his Goshen Cemetery memorial site at Find A Grave --- and swiped Doris Christensen's photo of his tombstone in return.


Anonymous said...

My parents were friends of the Petersons. Thanks for sharing.

Nancy Ritter said...

I am Larry's daughter's, Laurie and Nicole's aunt and thought of Larry as the big brother that I never had. I have many great memories of time spent with Larry. He taught me to drive with a great deal of patience. He took me to the State Fair where I met his brother Glenn and got to hang out in the sheep barn and hear all of the tales of his youth. We visited Wilma and Jess in Chariton. We kept in contact and I looked forward to his visits. He was a very special guy. This is such a great way to bring back the good memories as well as be reminded of that very special person being lost to all of us. Thank you for keeping his and others memories alive and history known.

Nancy Ritter