Here at the Association we love to give our members and prospective members, the opportunity to get to know our staff and board members. In this three part autobiography, our Board Chairman Dean Peterson tells us about his time onboard as well as other details of his exciting life of service. Read on to learn more our Chairman Peterson.
I’m sure some of you reading this have heard the Navy term “Kiddie Cruiser” but many of you may have not. I’m a “Kiddie Cruiser” and a few of my Yorktown shipmates are “Kiddie Cruisers”. I’m almost certain “Kiddie Cruiser” was never an official Navy term and I don’t know if it even exists in today’s Navy. I doubt it. Back in my days of serving in the Navy it was a very well known term and applied to a certain group of very young sailors.
When I enlisted in 1962, for a young enlistee to qualify as a “Kiddie Cruiser” in the Navy he had to be over the age of 16 but under the age of 18; had to have written permission from his parents to enlist; being only 17 years old there was almost a 100% certainty that he was a high school dropout; and, finally because the young enlistee was a high school dropout the Navy recruiter could not guarantee him anything in the way of trade school after boot camp. The only thing at this stage of the “Kiddie Cruiser’s” life in the Navy that Uncle Sam would promise was what was then called “three hots and a cot” translated to maybe 3 meals a day and maybe somewhere to sleep. In addition the U.S. Navy offered an ironclad promise that a “Kiddie Cruiser’s” love affair with the Navy would end on the day before the “Kiddie Cruiser’s” 21st birthday (more to say about this at later).
A common thread in the “Kiddie Cruiser” Club was that many of us found our way to a military recruiting office because we were down on our luck for one reason or another. Obviously being a high school dropout was a strike against most of us as well and some of us had been in trouble for one reason or another, maybe also being homeless, etc. In my era, drugs were not a big part of society so they played no role in our destiny.
My problems started when I was very young in life. I grew up in a family where alcohol was a problem to the extent that it really affected me, especially my relationship with my father. We grew further and further apart the older that I became. Secondly, as a young lad I lived for and loved sports. Just like almost every other kid in America. When I was going into the 9th grade I went to get my physical exam in order to play in interscholastic sports. I flunked the heart exam part of the physical and competitive interscholastic sports would no longer be a part of my life. The crazy thing was I was allowed to play intramural sports, but couldn’t go out for any of the school teams. My life began to change from the day I flunked that physical and walked out of that doctor’s office.
I mention the above, because when I was at the Navy Recruiting office I knew darn well that I would flunk the physical but I was at such a low place in my young life that I really didn’t care about anything and was at the end of my rope. So, the paperwork is completed, my parents signed for me to go into the Navy and now it is time for the physical.
There were about 40 of us in a room the day of our physical. All different branches of the military were represented. As we were standing in rows we were told the doctors would come by and check us out one by one. If they found anything wrong they would just tap us on the shoulder, no verbal communication. As the doctor approached me and was standing in front of me, he reached for his stethoscope. I knew what was going to happen next. Sure enough. He tapped me on the shoulder. I knew I was back on the streets with no where to go. When everyone’s physicals were completed they asked all of those who had not received a tap on the shoulder to leave and continue on with the military induction process. There were four or five of us who had received the fatal tap on the shoulder and we were left behind standing in this now very empty room. After about a 15-20 minute wait the doctor team came back in and spoke with each of us individually. When it was time to talk to me they said that the examining doctor detected a heart murmur but they wanted a cardiologist to give me a further examination. Two days later I met with the cardiologist. He listened to my heart, he then asked me to do quite a few jump and jacks. He listened to my heart again right after the exercise and said my murmur is only at rest and I had a very normal sounding heart when exercised. He said I was cleared for induction into the Navy.
Two days later I was on a bus from Des Moines, Iowa, to Kansas City, Missouri where I was sworn into the United States Navy on June 20, 1962.
My life began to turn around that day. I was now a “Kiddie Cruiser”.
I was ready to find out what was next for me in my new life.
I’ve often heard in life that one should strive for lofty goals and have big ideas. Not me. All I ever wanted out of life when I was young was to just be normal. Define normal any way you want to, but for me it was to have a life that was not filled with stress, disappointment and heartache. I was now on a train going from Kansas City to San Diego with a group of other young teenagers headed to the United States Naval Training Center (NTC) – San Diego with hopes of finding my new normal. No doubt, stress was going to go up because in a few days I would pass through the gates of NTC and be in Boot Camp for the next three months. Regardless, I felt this would be the first time in my life when I wasn’t confronted with roadblocks and struggles which I had no control over.
My plan for getting through Boot Camp unscathed was to keep my mouth shut, my eyes open, blend into the crowd and draw as little attention to myself as possible. I worked exceptionally hard at being invisible.
As a result of my scores from the aptitude tests that we had to take about half way through boot camp, my orders “to the fleet” was to the U.S. Naval Station in San Diego for temporary duty for four months and then back to NTC-San Diego to attend the Interior Communications Electrician (IC) “A” School for about four months. I was on a roll. First I passed the Navy induction physical and now the Navy had decided I was worth something and they were willing to invest in me by sending me to a school.
My four month temporary duty tour at the Naval Station-San Diego was mostly spent setting up/taking down tables and chairs at the Navy Recreational Center. Boring yes, but I became very proficient at the task and to this day still consider myself to be an expert at it. More importantly, I met another “Kiddie Cruiser” who was also doing temporary duty at the Naval Station, waiting to go aboard his ship, the USS Carter Hall (LSD 3), about the same time I was to leave to go to IC “A” School. This “Kiddie Cruiser’s” name was David Patterson and he was from Dallas, Texas. Little did we know at the time when we were stationed together that a few years later we would become brothers-in-law and we have remained so for the past 54 years. I became pen pals with David’s sister Barbara. We met face to face about 2 years later when she came out to California to attend a funeral. It was love at first sight and the rest is history. In the below wedding photo is the bridesmaid Sue Cunningham, my bride Barbara, me, and my best man, David Patterson, that other “Kiddie Cruiser”.
While I was at this temporary duty assignment, I took the GED test and passed it. This was my very first step to get back to some form of future with education. I also took a test for promotion to Fireman (E3). It doesn’t sound like much now, but it was my first promotion in the Navy and was a big deal to me then. It also turned out to be a big deal just a few months later when I entered IC “A” school. Most of my classmates came directly out of boot camp as E2’s and I was named class leader because I had an extra strip on my sleeve. How many remember RHIP – rank has its privileges. It’s all relative.
Upon completing IC “A” school, I received orders to the USS Yorktown home ported in Long Beach, California. I went aboard the Yorktown on June 20, exactly one year to the day from my Navy induction date. Things were beginning to look up. I now had a rating (IC) which gave me a technical background and a skill set. I also had my ship, which from what I was told had the reputation of being one of the best ships ever to set sail in the United States Navy.
Aboard Yorktown I found my home. Like any young enlisted sailor coming aboard a U.S. Navy ship there are dues to be paid and I paid them right along with everyone else. Throughout my time on the Yorktown I worked on numerous work parties, first at the bottom of the lowest reefer (refrigerated space) loading food and supplies to later in my time aboard ship as a petty officer being in charge of work parties.
On the Yorktown I applied what I was taught in IC “A” school. I learned so much from people who were my mentors in the IC gang. My shop supervisors taught me so much about Interior Communications beyond classroom stuff. I also learned about leadership from our leading PO’s who were first class Petty Officers (E6) and/or Chief Petty Officers (E7).
These were some of the finest people I have ever met in my life and I owe so much to them for spending time with me. I am especially grateful to E. Westbrook, ICC, one of the best Navy Chiefs ever. When I worked for him he was pretty young for being a Chief. He had just one hash mark on his sleeve, which meant he made Chief in less than eight years of Navy service. Chief Westbrook passed away much too soon a few years ago at the young age of 69. He was from Anniston, AL.
Two of my shipmates who had a major influence on my life were Tom Clary and Claude Pettit. They were a couple of years older than me and both had a year or so of college under their belt before coming into the Navy. Both studied correspondence courses in their spare time aboard ship, knowing that they would be returning to college when their enlistments were up. These two took me aside one day and gave me a “come to Jesus” type of talking to. They both told me I needed to get my act together and get into studying to further my education. It didn’t take me long before I took their advice.
I wrote a letter to the Principal of Mason City High School (MCHS) in Mason City, Iowa, the town where I was from and grew up. His name was Russell Clarke. In my first letter to Mr. Clarke I told him how much I regretted leaving high school, that I had taken and passed the GED test, but still wanted a high school diploma from my hometown high school. Mr. Clarke responded back to me and said how saddened he was to receive letters like mine, but there was a way I could re enroll in MCHS through a military education organization called the United States Armed Forces Institute (USAFI) which offered essentially the same courses I would have had if I had stayed at MCHS.
Long story short, I signed up for the program and completed it taking the same courses I had signed up to take at MCHS. These included among others Advanced Algebra, Calculus, Analytical Geometry, Physics, Chemistry, History, English and a number of electives. My Division Officer aboard Yorktown was LTJG Robert Blantz. He offered to help me out on occasion if I needed some tutoring along the way. I’ve always felt indebted to him for his help. This past fall of 2020, as a result of the Association Virtual Reunion, Mr. Blantz and I reconnected for the first time after 55 years since our leaving Yorktown. It was so great to hear from him.
I finished the program just 2 months before my discharge from the Navy and received my high school diploma from Mason City High School in the spring of 1966. I proudly have it displayed on my office wall today. It’s physically quite a bit smaller than the other diplomas surrounding it, but it’s the one I’m most proud of. Also, I still possess the 13 letters between myself and Mr. Clarke logging my progress over the 2 1/2 year period it took to complete the approximately 13 USAFI courses. The last letter to me from Mr. Clarke said when he first heard from me he doubted very much that I would be able to complete all of the courses in order to graduate.
I would like to comment next on what my hometown of Mason City, Iowa, has done to honor military veterans from the North Iowa area who have served their country. Mason City has placed a Veterans Monument located in Central Park, which is downtown and in the heart of the city. My name is listed on a stone there along with my father Donovan Peterson and my Uncle Roy Peterson, brothers and both WWII Veterans. Also, there are many of my other uncles and a number of my cousins and friends’ names inscribed on the other memorial stones at the site.
I have four sisters. Three live in the Mason City area, one lives in Florida in the winter and returns to Mason City for the summers. I occasionally visit them and their families in the summer. When I do I always take time out to go to Central Park, to this Veterans Memorial, and sit on one of the stone benches there for a few moments and reflect on my life. It’s good for my soul. It’s a place for me where my life story seems to come full circle. It’s in the center of the place where I was born and today it’s a place where I now go back to with no hard feelings or regrets.
AFTER THE NAVY
I mentioned in Chapter 1 that I was a “Kiddie Cruiser” and had signed this iron clad agreement with Uncle Sam that stated we would end our relationship one day before my 21st birthday. A couple of months before my birthday in 1965, I received a cordial notification from Uncle Sam which said he so much appreciated my hard work and dedication to the United States Navy that he thought it would be a good idea if we extended our relationship by an additional 4 months. Long story short, after peeling myself off the overhead and getting a few choice words off my chest, I eventually came around to begrudgingly accept Uncle Sam’s suggestion and invitation.
On Christmas Day, 1965, instead of celebrating Christmas and my Navy discharge with my fiance and her family in Dallas, Texas I was on an airplane from Dallas to Los Angeles to rejoin the Yorktown and my shipmates for my second deployment back to the South China Seas and return back to Yankee Station and Vietnam.
Four months later I flew off the Yorktown in the Yorktown COD aircraft from off the coast of Vietnam to Subic Bay, Philippines. I was in Subic for three days and pulled one Shore Patrol duty in Olongapo. I then caught a bus to Clark Air Force Base and caught a flight on an Air Force C141 aircraft to Japan where the aircraft was refueled. We then departed Japan for the long flight to Travis Air Force Base in California. From Travis AFB I rode a bus to the Naval Station at Treasure Island, California.
At the Treasure Island Naval Station, located in the San Francisco Bay between San Francisco and Oakland, I was discharged from the Navy. The Vietnam War protest movement was just gaining attention and was heating up, especially in this part of the country. Military personnel like me were becoming targets for anti-Vietnam war demonstrations.
The last time I wore my Navy uniform was on the Naval Base at Treasure Island. I purchased some civilian clothes at the Navy Exchange. I put them on and left Treasure Island to blend in with the rest of the civilian population. Not quite the homecoming reception one would hope for. In spite of this, March 31, 1966, was still a great day.
I flew home to Iowa to visit my parents. Barbara flew up to Mason City from Dallas and met my parents for the first time. It was a great visit and after a few days Barbara and I flew to Dallas to begin our new future together.
Barbara and I married in September of 1966 (see our wedding photo in Chapter 2).
In 1970, we adopted our first child, our son Jeff. Our family grew again in 1973 when we adopted our daughter Deanna. Barbara left her job to take care of our two children.
Today my son Jeff is married to our daughter in law Tiffiny and they are raising two of our grandsons – Wyatt and Drake. Jeff has had a long career as an EMT/Firefighter for the city of North Richland Hills, Tx.
Our daughter Deanna has been a Special Education teacher and administrator for a number of years and works for the Texas School for the Blind and Hearing Impaired. A few years ago she was selected as Teacher of the Year in Texas by two different organizations. Deanna is a single parent, adopting a little girl almost seven years ago named Gisela.
We also have two adult grandchildren by Jeff. Beau is 29 years old. He is a Navy veteran. He graduated with honors from the University of La Verne in California a couple of years ago with a degree in Accounting and has just recently successfully passed his CPA exams.
Lexi is 22 and is happily employed in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. Lexi loves art and is a very talented young artist.
Like all parents and grandparents, we feel so blessed to have our family.
MY WORK CAREER
During my first visit to Dallas back in December of 1965, I had taken the opportunity to go job hunting. The first place I visited was the Texas Employment Commission and they immediately sent me to Texas Instruments (TI) who was in a hiring frenzy because it was supplying the military with electronics and weapons in support of the Vietnam War. Within two hours of arriving at TI, I took a test, filled out an employment application and had a job offer doing final acceptance flight testing on Shrike guided missiles. This new job would be waiting for me when I returned back to Dallas after my quick trip out to Vietnam and back thanks to Uncle Sam’s gracious invitation that I mentioned earlier.
Upon arriving back in Dallas in April, 1966 I went straight to work at my new job.
I worked at TI for about two years. A friend I met while working at TI named Ron Park went to school to get an FCC License because he had an opportunity to go to work for American Airlines (AAL) at Dallas Love Field in their avionics repair shop.
A few months later, Ron called me and said he thought he could get me on with AAL, but I would need the FCC License. I was used to cramming the books from my Navy/USAFI days and for the next two months I studied on my own, went down to the FCC office and did well enough to pass the 2nd class FCC License test.
Ron managed to get me an interview with the AAL avionics shop foreman and in January, 1968, I became an employee of American Airlines. I loved working for American Airlines. Over a 12 year period I learned how to troubleshoot and repair a wide variety of aircraft avionics components (you may have heard of them called black boxes). These included VHF communication units, VHF navigation receivers, ADF receivers, distance measuring equipment (DME), transponders, radar, voice recorders, gyrocompasses, a host of other avionics equipment along with a variety of ground communication systems, etc.
In 1974, the Vietnam Veterans GI Bill came out and I started attending college in the evenings at Tarrant County Junior College(TCJC). I graduated from TCJC in 1976 and transferred to the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) and graduated from there in 1979 with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Finance. American Airlines began to send me to some business management classes within the company with the prospect of me moving from the avionics job I had into Purchasing or Finance. If I was to go into Purchasing it would most likely mean we would have to move to Tulsa, Oklahoma which neither Barbara and I were too excited about.
Within a few months of graduating from UTA in 1979, I heard of a job opportunity at a small upstart airline in Dallas called Southwest Airlines (SWA). Southwest was founded and launched in 1971 and by 1979 was beginning to expand. They were looking for a Manager of Avionics Reliability working in the Aircraft Maintenance and Engineering Department. I decided to take a look at the job and interviewed for it. I couldn’t believe I was considering leaving American Airlines, at the time the biggest airline in the world, for this little 11 airplane airline. Barbara thought I was crazy. Regardless, I decided to make the job change and what a move it was!!
My six year experience working at Southwest was exciting, intense, demanding, super challenging and more. From the first day that I walked into the Southwest Airlines Maintenance and Engineering facility to the day I left them my job was non-stop. During my time at SWA I was responsible for all aspects of avionics including supporting line maintenance in troubleshooting aircraft, responsible for all aircraft modifications relating to avionics, developing Aircraft Change Orders (ACO’s) in accordance with Boeing Service Bulletins, selection of new avionics on new type Boeing aircraft (B737-300), flight attendant training and on and on.
Also, while at SWA I was directly involved in 35 new B737-200 aircraft deliveries in Seattle, including flying on all flight tests of the new aircraft delivered from Boeing Field.
Below are two photos of the very first triple airplane delivery in the history of the Boeing Company to take place on the same day.
The first photo is on the tarmac at Boeing Field with the 3 new SWA aircraft in the background and a party of SWA employees who won a contest to come to Seattle for the deliveries (I’m at the center top of this group). The second photo is on the same day of the delivery and was taken during our meeting with Boeing to purchase the aircraft. I’m second from the right in this photo.
In 1984, I left Southwest Airlines to go with an English based company named Smiths Aerospace. The position was Regional Marketing Manager covering the Central United States for a small division of Smiths Aerospace located in Malvern, Pa.
This was the start of my 24 year career with the company.
Through the next few years Smiths Aerospace made a number of acquisitions and mergers of avionics and systems companies in the U.S. As a result, I ended up in a Corporate Marketing organization of Smiths (they dropped the Aerospace tag in the early 2000’s) as the Director of Airline Marketing and Sales in the Americas. I had a team of thirteen people who were among the very best in our industry at what they did working out of field offices spread from Toronto, Canada in North America down to Santiago, Chile in South America, with a number of locations in between.
During this same time frame, for a two year period, I was also responsible for the Asia Pacific region. My travels took me to Beijing, China, to Singapore, to Sydney, Australia, to Hawaii and everywhere in between this vast region. Needless to say, I became a multi-million miler frequent flyer.
In the early 1990’s I took on another challenge. The company offered to pay my way through graduate school and in 1992 I earned a Master of Business Administration in Business Management from the University of Dallas. The time was well spent and I learned a lot in “B” school that carried over directly to my work, especially in areas of financial analysis and program management.
General Electric Aviation bought Smiths in 2004. During my last four years under the GE organization I was Director of Retrofit Programs, focusing on airlines who were considering major cockpit upgrades for older aircraft to new technology consisting primarily of large area flat panel displays and advanced flight management systems.
To begin to wrap up this bio let me say a little bit about my activities and relationship with the USS Yorktown Association. In 1982 I found out the ship had not been scrapped but was floating and moored to a pier in Charleston Bay, SC. I couldn’t believe this when I heard it.
Coincidentally, one of my wife’s brothers had moved his family from Texas to South Carolina the year before and would end up eventually settling in the Charleston area. Today we are fortunate to have this fairly large family to visit whenever we make it into the Charleston area to coincide with my activities with the Yorktown.
My family and I visited the ship in 1982 and from that visit I knew if I was ever to get the chance to be involved with the Yorktown and the Association I would take it. Unfortunately, at the time I also had to face the fact that would have to wait until I was closer to retirement before I could actively get involved.
In 2004 I revisited Patriots Point and attended my first Yorktown Association Board meeting. I was welcomed by an amazing group of people. I was fortunate to meet the likes of Pop Condit and Joe Sharkey. Both of these WWII war heroes would pass away not long after I had the honor of meeting them.
I’m currently in my 17th year serving on the USS Yorktown CV10 Association Board of Directors and I’ve loved every minute of this time of service. I’ve held most of the positions on the board and even created a few along the way.
I know I’ve drug you through a long dissertation of my personal life and my time in the Navy. For that I apologize, but I want to give you a sense for why I feel the way I do about the state of South Carolina, the Charleston area, Patriots Point and especially the Fighting Lady and our Association.
And, I don’t think my story is all that unique.
Just sit down with any Yorktown shipmate and listen to their story. The facts may be a little different, but the love of our ship, the love we have for the U. S. Navy and the love we have for each other and our families is a common thread that runs through all of us.
There’s an old saying “The devil is in the details”. I want to modify that saying just a little and say to my shipmates “Your story is in the details”. Take some time, put your story together and share it with all of us Yorktowners.
God Speed to all and I hope to see many of you at the ship this fall during our 2021 reunion,
From an old “Kiddie Cruiser”
IC2 E. Division
USS Yorktown CVS10
Chairman and CEO
USS Yorktown CV10 Association