At the age of 90, Morris “Morrie” Peterson still looks fondly on the time he served in the military.
“It’s a lifelong story that you cannot forget,” he said. “You cannot tell people what it was like because they haven’t done that. To some of us, it was a lot of fun. We were young.”
Peterson, who moved to Federal Way a year and a half ago after living more than 30 years in Kent, joined the Navy in 1945 at the end of the World War II and served as an electrician’s mate in the Pacific theater. He spent 12 years in the Navy Reserve, including as an instructor during the Korean War.
“They called me up to ship me out to Korea, but when I got down there to Swan Island [in Portland, Oregon] to get ready to go to Korea, they found out I knew how to work on these engines, and that ended that right there,” Peterson, who grew up in Raymond, Washington, recalled. “They said, ‘You get on that ship,’ and we never went anywhere.”
One of Peterson’s happiest memories of the war was after it ended and his ship picked up Japanese men and women who had been on the island of Truk, now Chuck Lagoon, in Micronesia.
“You couldn’t get into it to invade it, so it was uninvaded,” he said.
The men and women, who were mostly family members of Japanese soldiers, were grateful to be taken back to Japan from the island at the war’s end.
“They were so happy,” Peterson said. “They all wanted to work. That ship was spotless when we got back to Japan.”
Last May, Peterson, accompanied by his daughter, Liz Bottemiller, took a trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the war memorials through Puget Sound Honor Flight.
The nonprofit organization, founded in March 2013, has taken about 950 veterans on the trip, which has the slogan of “one last mission.” The trips are provided at no cost to veterans though individual and corporate donations.
Bottemiller learned about Puget Sound Honor Flight through a friend and applied for her father to take the trip.
“They were looking for anybody with World War II first,” she said. “Dad had heard of it, but I had not, and he didn’t know how to get involved.”
Beginning in 2018, Puget Sound Honor Flight will begin taking Vietnam veterans on the trips, while giving precedence to those who served in World War II and the Korean War.
Peterson heard about the organization through a fellow resident at Federal Way’s Madrona Park Retirement Community who had made the trip previously.
“He just couldn’t say enough about it,” Peterson said.
Although Peterson had been to Washington, D.C., before, he had not seen the memorials for the wars in which he had served.
The most moving part of the trip for Peterson was seeing the Vietnam Wall.
“I think the most terrible thing to look at there is the Vietnam War memorial,” he said. “I don’t think people realize how many people have got their name on that wall in non-alphabetical order. It is on there in the order of their death. You can’t just walk up there and say, ‘This is my friend.’ There’s thousands of names. It’s unbelievable to look at a thing like that and know that you could have been part of it. World War II was bad, but Vietnam was worse.”
Peterson’s favorite part of the trip was the plane ride, which included a stewardess dressed in a 1940s uniform who delivered mail call to the veterans with letters written by children thanking them for their service.
Peterson said it is important honor veterans. He was an active member of the Elks and helped with the Auburn Veterans Day parade for many years.
For more information about Puget Sound Honor Flight, or to apply, visit pugetsoundhonorflight.org.