Monday, May 30 , 2016, 2:02 pm | Overcast 63º

Santa Barbara YMCA Member Art Petersen Recounts Army Service During WWII

By Thomas Schmid for the Santa Barbara Family YMCA |

Art Petersen is one of four local veterans of the D-Day invasion of Normandy who were honored recently by the Channel City Club and the Pierre Claeyssens Foundation.

Art Petersen
Art Petersen enlisted in the U.S. Army In 1942. ( photo)

As it happens, Petersen is a member of the Santa Barbara Family YMCA. His story can be found online by clicking here.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Petersen and listen as this active 99-year-old gentleman filled me in on some of the details.

When asked how someone named Petersen happened to be born in Mexico City, he explained that his paternal grandfather was a German consul there. Petersen's family moved to Los Angeles during his childhood.

Before his graduation from Manual Arts High School, all the male students were told that they were required to register for the draft when they turned eighteen. At graduation in 1942, he tried to enlist in the Marines, and then the Navy, but was declined by both services because he was not a U.S. citizen. Then he was drafted into the Army. 

At the completion of basic training, he learned that paratroopers were paid an additional $50 each month.

“That was a lot of money back then,” he says, so he signed up.

Additional training took place at Camp Taccoa and Fort Benning, Ga. In September 1943, he was in England preparing for a secret operation the following spring. The June 6, 1944, invasion is a story all its own and can be found at the above website.

Not long after the D-Day invasion, Petersen was wounded in the liberation of the Netherlands.

“The 101st Airborne lost more people in the Netherlands than we did at Normandy,” he says.

His wound occurred before his jump and he was ordered to remain on the plane. He jumped anyway when the plane was hit and was going down. After recovery in England he was wounded a second time at the Battle of the Bulge. 

“So when did you become a U.S. citizen?” I asked. “About two weeks before D-Day," he said. "There were five or six of us and we were taken to the U. S. Consul’s office in London and raised our right hands.” “Did you have to take any classes or answer questions about the Constitution?” “Are you kidding?” Petersen replied. “We were in the U.S. Army and that was enough.”

Art and Gloria were married in 1947 and settled in Santa Barbara. His disability payments were $27.60 a month, and here they lived in former POW housing on the site of the present Gelson’s Grocery Store for a rent of $17 a month. He began his own business, an industrial cleaning service, which he sold in 1990 and began his long retirement. He volunteered with the Boy Scouts where both of his sons became Eagle Scouts.

When I asked Petersen what he does for fun, he replied that for 20 years he volunteered twice a week at the Veterans’ Clinic. He retired from that when he turned 90 in March. He continues to participate in several veterans organizations: VFW, DAV, American Legion, the Order of the Purple Heart and the Korean Veterans Association, although he is quick to point out that he did not serve in Korea. He is very pleased that in conjunction with the 70th anniversary of D-Day the government of France is now awarding the Legion of Honor to all American veterans of the D-Day invasion.

Art and Gloria Petersen participate in Silver Sneakers at the Santa Barbara Y every Tuesday and Thursday morning.

For information on how your family can live a healthy, active life, click here or stop by your local branch.

» Camarillo Family YMCA, 3111 Village at the Park Drive, 805.484.0423
» Lompoc Family YMCA, 201 W. College Ave., 805.736.3483
» Montecito Family YMCA, 591 Santa Rosa Lane, 805.969.3288
» Santa Barbara Family YMCA, 36 Hitchcock Way, 805.687.7727
» Stuart C. Gildred Family YMCA, 900 N. Refugio Road in Santa Ynez, 805.686.2037
» Ventura Family YMCA, 3760 Telegraph Road, 805.642.2131

— Thomas Schmid is the Active Older Adult Program specialist for the Santa Barbara Family YMCA.

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