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Ames High School Grad Honored at ISU Veterans Ceremony

Ames Patch Nov. 11, 2011

A photo of Robert “Bob” Peterson, 25.

A photo of Robert “Bob” Peterson, 25.


A lifetime yet to be lived with a daughter and a young wife went unfulfilled when Robert “Bob” Peterson, 25, flew on a night bombing mission over Korea.

The B29 Peterson and his crew were in ran low on fuel, an engine failed, and the pilot attempted an emergency landing. The plane struck a mountain; everyone aboard was killed.

Peterson’s wife, now Mary Jane Clithero, 83, of Ames remembers hearing the news. She worked part time as a ticket-taker for a Des Moines theater so her parents could watch their daughter, Dana. When she came home on a September evening in 1951 her parents handed her a “chilling telegram,” Clithero said.

“It said, ‘We regret to inform you’ just like in the movies,” she said. “I repeated it to my daughter several times.”

Clithero recalled the story before Peterson was honored, along with three other veterans, during Iowa State University’s Gold Star Ceremony Thursday.

“Today’s a tribute to him and none of us have forgotten him, none of us,” Clithero said.

The names of Peterson and the three other men, who had all attended Iowa State University and died while serving in the military in a combat zone, had their names added to the Memorial Union’s Gold Star Hall.

During the ceremony Marc Hardin and Terry Mason, read the veterans’ stories. Korean War veteran Dean Fredericks, 25, of Hampton, a fighter pilot, died in an accident above South Korea. It’s assumed lighting struck his plane.

Korean War veteran Charles Rhinehart, 23, Brooklyn, ejected over the Yalu River after his engine froze. His family thought he was dead, but his name turned up on a POW list in 1993. He was taken by the Soviet Union.

Finally Joseph Hamski, 28, Ottumwa, died in an explosion in Afghanistan in May 2011. He was working to clear a path for other men.

Peterson was in Korea for less than two weeks before his death.

The veteran had first served during World War II. Peterson graduated from Ames High School in 1943 and he and a friend spent the following summer in Hollywood working as messengers. By the end of summer, fun was over and they both joined the Army Air Corps in Des Moines. Peterson became a bombardier for the 56th Fighter Group and remained stateside during World War II; he was honorably discharged in 1945.

He enrolled in Iowa State University and later transferred to the University of Iowa, where he met Mary Jane. After graduating, times were about like they are now, Clithero said, and finding a job was tough. Peterson was encouraged to re-enlist in the Air Force, but the service wasn’t accepting anyone, Clithero said. He eventually found a good job and moved his family to Mason City. Once the Korean War started he was asked to enlist and was called immediately.

Peterson went to Korea that September and wrote daily letters home.

He described long days of work and bombing missions that took more than 10 hours. Peterson seemed to struggle with his position, “Undoubtedly some innocent people suffer,” he wrote.

Another time he said, “It also makes me feel kind of funny and maybe a little guilty to think of the damage and destruction and misery those bombs cause on the ground. … What I’m doing here sitting in a tent, eating bad food and risking my life in such a useless war is beyond me. Maybe it has a purpose that I don’t see.”

The letters home always included a paragraph for Dana, said Kathy Svec, an Iowa State University retiree who researches the veterans’ stories.

“He adored his baby daughter,” Svec said.

Clithero remembers Peterson often wrote about telling Dana not to forget him.

“Hope Dana doesn’t forget her pop,” he wrote.

Both Clithero and Peterson were worried about his possible death, but they tried to focus on a reunion they would have in Japan during a break Peterson would have earned after a number of flights. Clithero said she thinks her husband would have made a career out of the military if he had survived the war.

Clithero said one of her favorite memories is a 1940s song Peterson would sing to Clithero and Dana called “For You.”

“It was just about caring for somebody,” Clithero said.

Clithero, who often attends the Gold Star ceremonies, asked last year if Peterson’s name could be added to the Memorial Union’s wall. She never expected that they would also include him in the ceremony.

“I’m sad to do it, but I am happy to do it for Dana and all the family.”


November 11, 2011 Posted by | Ames Patch | Leave a comment