As he opened his protesting eyes, the unfamiliar surroundings slowly cleared into focus. The room was cold. Dim lights, rows of Army cots, and no one there to answer the hundred questions he had. He ignored the blinding pain in his shoulder and the fogginess in his head, and gingerly sat up to find a cigarette. With another scan of the room it dawned on him that blankets were covering lifeless bodies on the cots. He then realized the place he came to rest was a morgue.
The year was 1944, and World War II had been raging for nearly five years. Lloyd Peterson, U.S. Navy veteran and Carpio, North Dakota native, had been deployed in the area of operations for just a few short weeks. Serving as a coxswain, he headed a crew operating a landing craft, vehicle, personnel amphibious vehicle, which was off his main ship the USS Southampton. The LCVP crews' job was to take shipments from the main vessel to shore.
July 10, 2015 - Lloyd Peterson, U.S. Navy World War II veteran, poses with a photo of himself from 1944 at his home in Carpio, North Dakota. Peterson served aboard the USS Southampton from 1944 to 1946. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Apryl Hall)
It was his third day on the Pacific Ocean surrounding Iwo Jima when the hospital ships were unable to take anymore wounded. Rising to the occasion, Peterson's crew helped haul men to and from the island. Upon return to the Southampton with a load of wounded men, Peterson allowed another crewmember to steer the vehicle while Peterson hooked up the LCVP to be raised to deck. An inexperienced driver combined with rough waters led to Peterson being thrown over the side of the boat.
"There was such an impact there that I flew through the air and caught my arms over the side of the boat," Peterson recalls, saying the last thing he remembers was the LCVP swinging back towards the main ship, crushing him between the two. "I don't remember anything from there on out."
After regaining consciousness in the ship's makeshift morgue hours later, Peterson had no recollection of how he got there or what his prognosis was, but he did know he wanted out of that room immediately.
"Well, you don't want to stay in a place like that!" Peterson said. "And I didn't. I got out and got to my own bunk and slept through the night."
The next morning, Peterson was awakened by the sound of his name over the PA system. His LCVP was the only one aboard the ship and they needed him and his crew to transport a load to shore. Although he was in a great deal of pain, he tied a neckerchief around his shoulder and went to work. He continued making shipments for the next several weeks before he finally decided to go see the doctor.
"I went to the doc and he said 'I want you to know one thing'," Peterson recalls. "He said 'When I checked on you when you came in here before, you were bleeding so internally that there was no chance for you.' He says 'I know and you know too, it took an awful lot for the Lord to get you here'."
Recounting the words his doctor said to him so many years ago, Peterson's eyes fill with tears and he has to pause to regain his composure. Then, he is asked about his very first trip towards Iwo Jima in his amphibious vehicle, and his response is almost inaudible.
"You know, you wait for the boats that went in before you to come back," Peterson said. "That day they weren't coming back."
Peterson recalls several stories about his time spent in the Pacific that bring him to tears, including the night his crew was sleeping out on the LCVP and were suddenly awakened by an explosion.
"I woke up real fast and thought we'd been hit with a bomb," Peterson said. "Then we hit something and it had a uniform on. We decided the guy had swam out there and tried to drop a grenade in the boat, but it went off right alongside of us. I don't think we slept anymore that night."
Another emotional recollection involved an American bomber crash at Guam. Peterson and his crew watched the aircraft approach the west side of the island, which was a drop-off cliff. As the bomber came in, Peterson saw the aircrew throwing out weapons, fuel and anything else they could to cut weight and make it over the cliff. They were unsuccessful.
"They missed by about 10 feet," Peterson said. "That's not much fun to watch."
Although Peterson shared countless heartbreaking memories, perhaps the hardest for him to tell is the story of the day he watched the Marines climb Mount Suribachi to raise the American flag.
"We saw them when they started with it and I'd say it took them about three hours before they got it up there," Peterson said. "We just hoped that everybody would make it fine. They ended up sacrificing a lot to get up there."
Peterson explained the biggest problem for ground forces on Iwo Jima was the tunnel system the Japanese had rigged the island with.
"They knew where we were, and they had doors that they could swing open and then they would shoot missiles or flamethrowers out," Peterson said. "That's where we had an awful time."
Despite the continuous threats, the Marines finally made it to the top and Peterson and his crew watched as the flag went up.
"It was quite a wait, but we were right down below it on the south side of it," Peterson recalls. "We were just proud."
While he may not share his stories with many or talk openly about his experiences, his memories of World War II, whether of fear or hope, pain or pride, loss or victory, will be with him forever, he said. The most vivid memories though, are the ones involving heroes.
"There's so much you see that you can't remember at all," Peterson said. "I think I left it behind pretty well, but I just want to say, there are no heroes here. The heroes are all over there."
By U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Apryl Hall
Provided through DVIDS
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