On Friday, November 17, Judy Christian brought her WWII Veteran father, Karl Petersen, to The Greatest Generations Foundation Veteran’s Portrait Session at Newhall’s American Legion Hall and there we agreed to meet for an interview at their Saugus home. While jotting notes on Karl’s life experiences, Judy and Karl both reviewed their treasure trove of memorabilia with me and I have attempted to capture it all here.
1922 – A Banner Year
Karl E. Peterson was born March 11, 1922, in Warren, Pennsylvania, where he grew up graduating from Warren High School on June 6, 1940. Karl grew up during the Great Depression, which meant Americans of all ages worked, so during high school, Karl worked at Will’s Dry Cleaners and as a soda jerk at Smith’s Drug Store. Karl remembers what a pain it was making banana splits. 1922 was the year that President Warren G. Harding ordered all remaining troops home from Germany, Egyptian King Tutankhamen’s tomb was discovered and President Abraham Lincoln’s Memorial was dedicated. Most notably, Chicago police officers arrested bathers for indecent exposure for baring arms and legs in public. 1922 certainly was a banner year!
Fast Track to Europe
After high school, Karl worked for Gaughn’s Drugstore delivering pharmacy to their customers until at age 20, he and his best buddy Paul Graham drove to Erie, Pennsylvania, and joined the U.S. Army December 8, 1942. It’s noted that Karl’s father, also named Karl, who hailed from Denmark, served in combat as an infantryman with the 1st Infantry Army in France during WWI. Following induction, Karl was sent to Fort Meade, Maryland, for Basic Training, then home for a two week leave of absence. Next, he traveled 5 days by train across country to Fort Erwin in California’s Mojave Desert for 10 weeks of grueling infantry training. Karl’s next assignment was returning to the east coast at Camp Shanks, New York, dubbed “Last Stop USA,” to prepare for deployment aboard troop ship, USS Aquitania to Greenock, Scotland. Throughout WWII, Karl’s mother Olga proudly burned two candles in her kitchen window for her son Karl and her daughter Jean who served in the Marine Corps. Olga and Karl prayed that their children would return safely home.
D-Day Plus 7
Karl’s Baker Battalion, 461st Anti-Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion, was next sent by train to Warrington, England, for preparations to journey across the English Channel to Omaha Beach one week following the D-Day Invasion of June 6, 1944. The 461st was part of the 1st Army which was Karl’s father’s unit and the oldest and longest established Field Army of the United States. Under command of Lieutenant Colonel John F. Bonner, the 461st AAA Battalion was assigned to the 69th Infantry Division which soon had Nazi forces on the run across Europe. Baker Battalion routinely advanced their guns every few days to stay with the 69th as they pushed the Nazis across France into Germany. At times Baker Battalion lowered their guns and fired directly into advancing German troops and the result was not pretty. The 69th had all units bloodied in short order as they proved a top notch fighting unit. Combat was brutal, bloody and quick paced. Karl’s assignment as a communications expert was constantly laying lines from switchboards to artillery emplacements and to headquarters. It was critical to maintain constant communications to support accurate firing on enemy forces as the 69th Infantry Division troops advanced from Normandy to Northern France, the Rhineland, the Ardennes Forest, and into Central Europe. Once the Siegfried Line was broken via the Battle of the Hürtgen Forest and the fierce Battle of the Bulge, the war was all but over.
A WWII Love Story
By April 25, 1945, Nazi Germany was split in half 75 miles south of Berlin and Karl and his fellow troops had come together with the Russian 58th Guards Division on the Elbe River at Torgau, Germany. Baker Battalion was quartered in and around the town of Schkeuditz near Leipzig. With the war practically over, Karl met a lovely German nurse by the name of Anita, whom he was
instantly attracted and it was mutual. However, they had a language barrier that they partially overcame with a German to English dictionary. At War’s end, Karl and his boys were shipped home to America and Karl returned to Warren, Pennsylvania, where he continued corresponding with Anita, but alas, his letters always were returned to sender. But finally, after two long years a friend discovered where Anita had moved and they were back in touch with each other. For another year they continued corresponding until Karl paid Anita’s fare to New York City in December 1948. They were married January 15, 1949, in the Catholic Church Rectory in Karl’s hometown of Warren.
Karl and Anita lived in Warren from 1949 to 1964 where Karl worked for the US Postal Service but when Anita’s doctor determined that her asthma was severe enough he recommended that they relocate to a drier climate. By this time Karl and Anita had three lovely daughters. Karl checked the Postal Record Magazine and discovered that a postal carrier in Newhall, California, was seeking a transfer to Pennsylvania and soon Karl sold his two houses and their furniture. They packed up their clothes and kitchenware and off they went in a brand new 1964 Plymouth Valiant Station Wagon to a new life in an apartment on Newhall Avenue. By Thanksgiving that year Karl bought a new house in Saugus for $17,500 where Karl and his oldest daughter Judy live to this day.
Proud WWII Veteran
Karl’s postal career spanned 38 years and following retirement at age 57 in 1979, he and Anita enjoyed traveling but sadly 10 years later Anita succumbed to kidney cancer. It was a terrible loss for the family, however in time Karl became active in “Parents without Partners”, a support group for single parents which he presided over for awhile. Karl loved to dance and sing at their parties as it was a lively time for Karl and while dancing he loved belting out his favorite song, “New York, New York.” He worked the crisis hotline during the 1980’s and he facilitated his old high school reunions for years. Until recently, Karl has had a very active life and he remains very proud of his military service and having achieved his American Dream. Karl is a great American.