May 26, 2010

EARN THIS

By Idaho Senator Mike Crapo

On April 3, 2010, at a small cemetery in Richfield, Idaho, a Medal of Honor grave marker was placed to honor the life and service of Medal of Honor recipient Oscar Verner Peterson. That the placement of this marker comes so close to this year's observance of Memorial Day is fitting. The valor and sacrifice of Chief Petty Officer Peterson is but one shining example of the heroism Americans have benefited from throughout the course of our history, and it is an excellent example of what we acknowledge and show gratitude for each Memorial Day.

Peterson was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1942 for his actions during World War II in the Battle of the Coral Sea. According to his citation, Peterson was awarded the nation's highest military honor for:

"…extraordinary courage and conspicuous heroism above and beyond the call of duty while in charge of a repair party during an attack on the U.S.S. Neosho by enemy Japanese aerial forces on 7 May 1942. Lacking assistance because of injuries to the other members of his repair party and severely wounded himself, Chief Watertender Peterson, with no concern for his own life, closed the bulkhead stop valves and in so doing received additional burns which resulted in his death. His spirit of self-sacrifice and loyalty, characteristic of a fine seaman, was in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country."

Peterson was born in Wisconsin in 1899, enlisted in the Navy in 1920, and assigned to the U.S.S. Neosho in 1941. On May 7, 1942, five months after the Pearl Harbor attack, the Neosho and the U.S.S. Sims were attacked by Japanese bombers. The Sims was sunk; the Neosho, greatly damaged. Peterson sustained his injuries and accomplished his heroic deed in an effort to save the ship and its crew. The crew was rescued four days later. Peterson died two days after that, on May 13, 1942, and was buried at sea. Peterson's wife, Lola, and his two small sons moved to Richfield, and received his Medal of Honor posthumously in 1942. In 1943, an Edsall class escort ship, the U.S.S. Peterson, was named in his honor.

In the movie "Saving Private Ryan," Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) is sent to find Private James Ryan (Matt Damon), after the D-Day invasion of German-occupied France. Ryan's three brothers have been killed in battle, and he is to be sent home to avoid the possibility of his mother losing all of her four sons. After finding Ryan and before dying in battle, Miller says to Ryan, referring to the sacrifice and lives lost to find him, "Earn this; earn it."

We have all benefited from the great and many sacrifices made by other Americans who have made the choice to fight for freedom and defend the American Dream so we can live it here at home. On top of making this choice to serve, Oscar Verner Peterson made the additional selfless choice to sacrifice his own safety for the others on his ship. There is no doubt that they were grateful for his action on their behalf and felt compelled to earn it. But that doesn't just apply to those saved in battle. Captain Miller's words are more than just a powerful movie line; they are a great Memorial Day message. To live a life worthy of the sacrifices made and the lives lost on our behalf is the best way to show our gratitude on Memorial Day-we as Americans must "earn this", too.

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