SGT. Harold P. Peterson
40th Bomb Squad

Mining Missions Start 27 March 1945

On March 27, 1945 two aircraft were dispatched to obtain radarscope photos of western Honshu and the Shimonoseki Straits. The photographs were needed for future aerial mining missions, the first of which came on 27 March. Thirty aircraft flew to the Straits, the western entrance to Japan's Inland Sea, and dropped mines at night by radar. Two crews were lost on this mission, one of which was Sgt. Harold Peterson's.

Both crews were from the 40th Squadron. The airplane and the crews of Lt. WIlliam Grounds (Peterson's) and Lt. Paul A. Steel were lost over the target. Very little information was available concerning the loss of Lt. Grounds' plane, since V-J Day the entire crew has been found in a POW camp and liberated. Five minutes after "Bombs Away", Lt. Steel's crew sent out a distress message telling of "one engine out", but this was the last report received. Twelve search sorties were flown by the Sixth with only negative results.

Torture, Starvation, B-29 Crewman's Fate
Saginaw News
Sunday, October 7, 1945

Sgt Harold Peterson
He Tells of Brutal Treatment by Japs

A fresh and personal account of the torture and starvation of a Saginaw soldier as the hands of the Japs is contained in a series of letters received by Mrs. Opal Peterson, 1606 North Michigan, from her husband Sgt Harold P. Peterson.  Sgt. Peterson is the son of City Manager, Carl H. Peterson.

Sgt. Peterson was kept in solitary confinement for four months and was made to assume a kneeling position, Jap fashion, for 16 hours a day, while in prison camp, following his capture after his B-29 was shot down.  When he became too weak to kneel, his captors beat him with poles and a baseball bat.

For the only apparent purpose of extending their fiendishness to affect his parents and wife and two children in Saginaw, the Japsmade no announce-
ment of his capture and for five months his relatives did not know whether he was dead or alive.

“When I was shot down I weighed 176 pounds stripped”, Sgt. Peterson wrote in his first letter home, written Sept. 2 on the hospital ship Benevolence in Tokyo Bay.  “Yesterday they weighed me and the score was 109.  Sixty-seven pounds of flesh the damn Japs took from me.”

"As to my physical condition, it’s just plain malnutrition, with a good case of beri beri.  The last five weeks in the cell U had Jap dysentery and that’s what really ran me down.”

In subsequent letters Sgt. Peterson tells how the Japs released the B-29 men from solitary confinement when “they knew for sure the Yanks were coming.”

“Our crew was all together for the first time since April 5 when we were pout in solitary confinement”, he wrote.  “I was so far gone that I passed out and the other fellows in the crew had to take turns carrying me.”

“We were taken to a prisoner of war camp in Tokyo.  In this camp were prisoners of all nationalities, among them three doctors who were taken prisoner at Bataan.  They had set up a small office and hospital in this makeshift hospital is where I spent my time from Aug 15, when we were brought to the camp, until Aug 29, when I was taken to the hospital ship.”

“While I was in the POW camp 14 days, I was given 12 blood transfusions.  I sure would like to have the names of the 12 people who saved my life.”

“At 4 PM on Wednesday, Aug 29, the medical captain, a couple of doctors and some seamen from the Benevolence walked into the little room I was in.  I had been used to seeing nothing but living skeletons walking around for so long that these healthy looking Yanks looked like supermen.

Now right here at this moment I broke down for the first time since I had been in Jap hands.  Honey, I cried like a bay.  They put me on a stretcher and I was taken out to the hospital ship in the first boat going out.

On the ship they took off all my clothes and burned them and then gave me my first bath since Tuesday afternoon, March 27.  Then they sprayed me with some kind of powder and for the first time since March 28 I did not have lice, fleas or bed bugs.  I wore my clothes for 155 days without taking them off and as a result had at least a combination of all three – lice, fleas and bedbugs.

Then they put me in the cleanest and softest bed I can ever remember.  It had real sheets.

Several times in his letters the Sgt promises to tell about the nightmare of the loss of his plane and the horrors of the prison camp, but it is only in small snatches that the story id told – the whole tale will apparently have to wait until he gets home.  Last word from him was from Honolulu aboard a Navy ship bound for the US.

In his last letter, dated Sept 21 he tells some of the story of his imprisonment.

“I think that I am putting on a little weight, but it is coming awfully slow,” he writes.  “I haven’t any strength in my knees or thighs at all.”

“The Japs made me kneel, the way the Japs kneel (or call sitting down) for 16 hours a day, from 5 AM until 9 PM.  As a result my legs just became useless.  When I became too weak to kneel they would come into my cell and beat me across the back with a 4 foot bamboo club.  The club was about as thick as a baseball bat, but a Jap officer saw him and made him stop.  That was the only kind thing I ever saw a Jap do.”

The pettiness with which the Japs permeated their treatment of American prisoners is described when Sgt Peterson tells how is captors took from him the pair of baby shoes he carried as a reminder of home.

When I was captured the Japs took everything I had away from me”, he writes.  “Before I left the plane I put the baby shoes in my pocket hoping I could bring them back to you, but the rats took them away from me.  They also took my Hamilton watch.  The only thing they didn’t’ take was, and I managed to keep through it all and still have,  the wedding ring you gave me.  I had plenty of trouble keeping it and almost lost my finger at one time.  But I kept it so now it has double value.

Sharply contrasted throughout the letters are the gentle care and kindnesses provided by the Red Cross and the US service doctors, compared with the cruelties of the Japanese

The above information was given to me by Sgt. Peterson's sister, Mary Peterson Gore who also did a lot of Internet research to find out exactly what did happen to her brother .

She says, "When harold returned to the US he was stationed at an Army Hospital outside of Chicago. I went by train one weekend for a visit. We were to met Harold in the lobby of the hotel. The bellhops were on strike, so we just sat and waited. From time to time we checked at the desk to see if had left a message or was actually at the hotel. Somehow we connected."

"To me he looked the same however he had much recuperating ahead. The trip home on the hospital ship, Benevolence, had given him time to gain his strength and weight. He had also learned to walk again. It seemed like a good idea to go to a Swedish Smorgasbord restaurant. When Harold first called, he was told there were no tables. When he said his name was Sgt. Harold Peterson, they told us to come right over."

The Red Cross supplied rooms for servicemen and their families. Mary took a subway to some suburb, got off at a crossing and walked to a residence where she spent the night. She visited the hospital the next day. The return ride was a nosy one, with lots of service men returning home. What a trip!

Mary also found out upon his return that when sending his mail he would always give a different middle initial. Harold used the letter "T" to tell them he was on the island of Tinian.

On March 30, 2002, Mary received an email with news of Harold's POW shirt pocket patch It can be seen below with the translation.


Pocket in English

english pocket
Pocket in Japanese


Harold Peterson's 10 Medals



The Grounds' crew: 1/Lt William C. Grounds (Aircraft Commander), 2/Lt Jack Hobbie, 2/Lt William J. C. Leslie, 2/Lt Ollin W. Williams, Jr., M/Sgt Neal R. Cooper, Sgt Arvid A. McPherson, Sgt Maynor B. Hanks, Sgt Harold P. Peterson, Sgt Clarence L. Pressgrove, Sgt Julian W. Steele, Sgt Warren R. Thompson

The names of the crew do not follow the position in the photo. Sgt. Harold Peterson is 4th from the left on the bottom row.


I would like to thank Mary Peterson Gore for sharing this valuable information with us. Her brother, Sgt. Harold P. Peterson, took his last flight on July 9, 1994 in Texas.

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