William Peterson was born on October 11, 1933, on a ranch in Corning, California. He was the youngest of four children, with two older brothers and one sister. Growing up on the ranch, his parents had three almond orchards and an olive grove. Young Peterson was raised in an environment of hard work and responsibility, where everyone in the family had a role to play. His father pruned the trees, and Peterson’s task was to pick up the brush. “I did what was expected of me,” he recalled.
Peterson wasn’t much into athletics but had developed a love for classical music and orchestral compositions. In the elementary school, he began to learn the violin and piano. However, when he entered high school, there was no orchestra, only a marching band. Undeterred, Peterson decided to broaden his horizons, and in his first year of high school, he took an instrumental class for the baritone horn. During his senior year, he was moved to the clarinet and played in the marching band. Peterson also took two summers’ worth of piano lessons from a cousin and has the remarkable ability to play music by ear. He explained, “I am able to pick out a hymn, church hymn, and I can pick out the melody and learned to maybe add the second part to it like soprano and then alto.”
After graduating high school in 1951, Peterson continued his education at Shasta Junior College. His pursuit of knowledge required a daily roundtrip bus ride of over 100 miles. It was during these commutes that he met Janet, his future wife, on the bus. The two began exchanging letters, and in a twist of fate, Peterson made a statement that would forever change their lives. He casually mentioned that they could get married someday. Taking it as a proposal, Janet wasted no time, and the couple tied the knot in August 1953.
Now married, Peterson tried to continue his education in Chico, California. However, it wasn’t long before his father encouraged him to take a different path. In 1954, Peterson decided to enlist in the United States Air Force. He committed to an eight-year obligation to serve his country. His older brother’s service in the Navy had inspired him to do the same, but due to his marital status, the Air Force became his chosen branch of service.
Peterson’s journey in the Air Force began with basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. After completing basic training, he was transferred to Montgomery, Alabama, for military occupation training. There, he learned how to become a medical administration specialist responsible for managing medical records. Although he only spent a little time in this specific role, his adaptability led him to take on various clerical jobs within the unit’s headquarters.
The majority of Peterson’s active duty in the Air Force was stationed in Sacramento, California. During this time, he and Janet rented an apartment off-base, and their family grew. They welcomed their first child, a daughter named Cynthia, into the world.
While stationed in Sacramento, the prospect of overseas deployment arose a couple of times. Still, each time, someone else was chosen for the assignment. However, the third time this opportunity came up, Peterson was selected and deployed to Morocco. A typical tour in Morocco was 18 months, but Peterson had only 12 months left of active duty. Although he appreciated the beautiful beaches right outside Morocco and visiting the city of Rabat, he would’ve liked to be closer to his family, especially with Janet being pregnant with their second child during his deployment. Peterson recalled, “It would’ve been nice being closer to family, but having an ocean and a continent between my civilian home and military base was, well, it had its times.” It was a letter from his mother that Peterson learned of the arrival of his second daughter, Michelle.
Upon returning to the United States, he transitioned to the inactive reserves and took a position at Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E.) Sadly, the young family also faced the heartbreak of losing a son born in 1959 with underdeveloped lungs who passed away soon after birth. Peterson recalled the limitations of medical technology at that time, saying, “They just didn’t have the technology back then that they do today.”
Peterson spent most of his career working as a bookkeeper. After nearly a decade at PG&E, he resigned and took on a graveyard shift at a local gas station to assist his wife, who managed a mobile home park during the day. He read meters and prepared bills for the park’s residents.
In July 2011, when his wife fell ill with dementia, Peterson worked at a grocery store while a caregiver came in to help his wife daily. As his wife’s health deteriorated, the stress of nightly caregiving while still working took its toll on him. He experienced a stroke while in the dentist’s chair, leading to a three-day hospital stay and one week of respite care. Peterson described, “I could hear what people were saying, but I could not form the words to answer them.” After the scare from the stroke, he decided to retire, and his wife was moved to a hospital for round-the-clock care. Peterson spent two years caring for his wife, stating, “I took care of her the best I could.” After a decade in the hospital, she passed away in 2019. The family endured another loss in May 2016 when their daughter Michelle succumbed to cancer.
Toward the end of 2021, a car struck Peterson as he stepped off a curb while walking. The driver failed to notice him, resulting in a severe accident. The impact left him with a fractured pelvis in three places. Every rib on his left side, front and back, was fractured, and multiple others on the right. He was swiftly transported by ambulance to a trauma center, where he spent a grueling two weeks with ten days in the ICU. During this time, medical professionals reconstructed his pelvis, securing it with a 6-inch screw. Subsequently, he transitioned to a rehabilitation center, where he underwent three months of intensive therapy led by dedicated physical therapists. Peterson said, “I have to say that the physical therapy lab did a magnificent job of helping me.” Their efforts played a pivotal role in helping him regain his strength. This incident occurred only a few months after he had undergone hip replacement surgery. Despite the challenges, Peterson’s determination and resilience have shone through. While he keeps a cane nearby for added support, he maintains a strong desire to be self-sufficient, saying, “I like to park my cane and take off on my own two feet to do what I have to do.” He humbly acknowledged, “I have to say a lot of people are absolutely amazed that I was able to recover and do as well as I am in the period of time since the accident happened.”
Peterson turned 90 this month, and his daughter Cynthia threw a birthday party for him on Sunday, the 8th. His 90th birthday celebration was a remarkable occasion, filled with love and joy. Approximately 40 family members and friends attended, some traveling from as far as Alaska to come together to celebrate this significant milestone in his life.
While Peterson may describe himself as a bit of a loner, his life is rich with connections and activities. He has four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He finds companionship in the company of his beloved cat, Archie, and remains active in various community and social groups. His involvement in his church, participation in the Veterans Honor Guard through the local post of the American Legion, and membership in a community choir are just a few things that keep him busy. One remarkable aspect of Peterson’s social life is his monthly lunch date with friends from his late wife’s high school. This friend group has been gathering for over 70 years to chat and stay connected.
According to Peterson, the most significant lesson he learned from his military service was the importance of punctuality and discipline. He stated, “It was more or less like doing the same thing in civilian life, only a little bit more structured, and your actions are more precise.”
Veterans Care Coordination is proud to recognize William Peterson for his service to our country. We are privileged to have the opportunity to share the stories of our nation’s heroes. Thank you for your service, William.