On April 5th, 23 WWII Veterans are going to be awarded the Medal of the French Legion of Honor in the city of Delray Beach , Florida. Stan Peterson, who recently turned 93, is one of them. Lieutenant Peterson joined the USAF and became a navigator of one of the B-17 Bombers of the 96th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force.
Mr. Peterson, why did you choose to join the Army and the Air Force?
When I was a child, Charles Lindbergh, who crossed the Atlantic back in 1928, was my hero. That’s why I chose to join the USAF at that time. I wanted to be a flyer and I ended up becoming a navigator in the 96th Bomb Group in England . I enlisted myself in the Army before Pearl Harbor .
It was during an economic depression, there were not a lot of positions open and, being in the Army, I had a daily meal and training to fly.
During wartime, is there a moment or a period in time that you would like to recall?
A large one. It was December 1943, and we did a New Year Eve Parade over Paris.
It was a big one because we circled around the city, it was a clear day and all the Parisians could see our airplanes.
They were celebrating because they made the best of NYE and I think our parade helped them a lot. They could see 300 bombers circling the city and they watched them heading to the target area.
Afterwards, as we were leaving the target area, one of the German Anti-Aircraft cannons, which were pretty accurate, hit the front of our airplane and knocked out one of the engines and damaged the second one.
Immediately, we were all alone, losing altitude. As we were falling, the pilot tried to get the engines under control but he said “Get ready to bail out!”.
I thought that our tour of duty was over then. However, as we got lower in altitude, the two engines restarted and we slowly made our way back to England .
The amazing thing about it was that I knew as a navigator that we were flying right over a German Air base so I said to the crew “if those Germans come out and start firing at us, get ready because we are not going to make it!”.
Years later, I ran into a German officer and I knew he was a classy type of officer. I asked “why didn’t those Germans come out?” and he said, “Because we Germans like to celebrate our NYE!” And that’s how we made it.
Do you still have friends or acquaintances in France ?
After the war, Pierre Baudier, who is a Sergent in a French reserve Air base and who is 62 and a grandfather now, discovered that I was on a mission when one of our bombers fell over his town. He’s been such a friend to me during all those post-war-years. I’m looking forward to meeting him in Reims on my next trip to Paris .
I have another dear friend, an Englishman, who witnessed a crash in Sheffield England of a few bombers of our group. So I’ve been corresponding with those two for several years now.
How do you feel about being awarded the French Legion of Honor on April 5th, 2012?
I’m telling you, I feel so good about it, I’m so proud that I qualified. I have great pride in knowing that I’m going to be a “Chevalier”!