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
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
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.
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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."
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
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
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