Long after his stint in World War II ended, Reginald Peterson said, the memories still haunted him.
“A jet plane would go by and I would dive under the table,” the East Marion resident said.
The traumas of war lasted a lifetime.
“I really didn’t get over it,” he said. “I couldn’t watch war pictures.”
He described the war as “Hell on Earth.”
He arrived three days after the Battle of the Bulge and served under General George Patton in a unit that was referred to as the “Ghost Division,” because “you never knew where we were coming from,” he said.
“He was a rough guy,” Mr. Peterson said of General Patton. “He didn’t take any B.S.”
Tech. Sgt. Peterson, now 90, was wounded in Hinzenburg, Germany in April of 1945 when he was hit in the inner thigh with shrapnel.
He was later awarded a Purple Heart and his unit received the Bronze Star.
But there never was a ceremony by the local congressional representative to formally present him with his medals. The medals were originally mailed in the 1980s some time, Helen Peterson, Reggie’s wife, said.
“They mailed them to him, but there was never a service,” his daughter Cathy Wood said.
“He was never formally acknowledged his medals,” Ms. Wood said. “Now, 70 years later, he’s finally being acknowledged for his service to his country.”
Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), himself a military veteran, formally presented Mr. Peterson with his medals at ceremony Saturday in the Fellowship Hall at the First Baptist Church of Greenport, where the room was filled with friends and family and members of the local Patriot Guard as Mr. Zeldin presented the medals, formally.
“We are talking about a gentleman who served in Patton’s third army,” Mr. Zeldin said. “He knows what it was like in those final days of the war, and that memory is actually in the shrapnel that is actually here.”
The shrapnel that wounded him fell out and into his boot, and stayed there for three weeks, according to Mr. Peterson.
It was cold at the time and he couldn’t feel anything — nor did he take the boot off for three weeks, he said.
He saved the piece of shrapnel and it was on display Saturday along with his medals.
Also on display were some of the letters Tech. Sgt. Peterson wrote home during the war, often describing scenes where his fellow soldiers were killed right in front of him, or where bullets whizzed by on a regular basis. He was declared missing in action twice, erroneously.
“We were so close to death and we didn’t let it bother us,” he wrote in one letter. “We always had time for jokes or tricks or gags on our buddies.”
“As I re-read it yesterday, I was really shocked at our close he was to bring hit,” Ms. Peterson said.
Her husband joined the army in 1944 at the age of 18, before he even graduated high school. She wouldn’t meet him until 1949, and they got married the following year, she said.
And there’s another side to Mr. Peterson.
For the past 18 years, he has packed more than 15,000 shoeboxes with toys, school supplies and hygiene products that are sent to underprivileged children around the world for Operation Christmas Child, a non- demoninational Christian organization.
“He does this because he remembers those kids in Germany and what it was like for them and how hard it was,” Ms. Wood said. “These boxes go into some of the most devastated areas. His heart was just touched.”
Photos: Tech. Sgt. Reginald Peterson receives his medals from Rep. Lee Zeldin on Saturday in Greenport. Below, a box filled with the honors he received. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)