By Staff Sgt. Aaron Breeden and Michael Golembesky
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — The past and present came together June 2 at the Peterson Air and Space Museum when Vicki Lea Huskey (Vicki as she likes to be called), the 70-year-old daughter of 1st Lt. Edward Joseph Peterson, was given a private tour and access to see many of her father’s personal effects.
Stepping out of the bright sun, Vicki and her family entered the Peterson Air and Space Museum, greeted by a lone mannequin resembling Lt. Peterson.
“We walked in and the first thing that caught my eye was him,” Vicki said through tears of joy. “Even though I had not been raised by him, I had seen pictures and all I could think was, ‘That’s my dad!’”
The day was full of firsts for Vicki. Namely, it was her first time visiting the base, named after her late father, since being born months after he died.
“It was overwhelming,” said Vicki. “It was overwhelming just seeing the base itself and knowing it’s named after my dad. It’s just an indescribable feeling.”
Lt. Peterson perished during a training accident in August of 1942 when the left engine of his Lockheed F-4 failed just after takeoff causing Peterson’s reconnaissance aircraft to crash. Peterson was pulled from the fiery wreck and transported to Glockner Hospital — now known as Penrose-St. Francis Hospital — where he died a few hours later from his wounds.
Vicki continued through the displays, soaking up every detail about her father whom she knew very little about. She also got a pleasant surprise from the museum curators who had recovered a scratchy phonograph recording of Lt. Peterson’s voice from a college poetry reading.
Through the dull scratching and tings of the old phonograph, Vicki said that hearing her father’s voice made her feel like a kid again.
“Hearing his voice for the very first time, it just takes you back,” said Vicki. “He reminded me of my Uncle Maurice (Peterson’s brother), but he had a deeper voice.”
When Vicki’s grandson asked where the voice was coming from, she simply said that it was his grandfather talking to him from heaven.
The group shuffled through the museum and its myriad static displays before finally working their way across the campus to the old Broadmoor hangar.
Once inside, Vicki was led to a barren room except for a long table draped in white linen, which was filled with assorted documents, newspaper clippings, photos and other items that had once belonged to her father.
Vicki sat with Gail Whalen, Peterson Air and Space Museum director, who thoroughly explained the significance of each item allowing Vicki to soak in, reminisce and discover, as she visited her father’s life from the early 1900s until his death in August of 1942.
Whalen, museum director for the past eight years, commented on how Vicki’s visit was special.
“Everyone wants to know their parents,” said Whalen. “Vicki never had a chance to meet her father, so for us to be able to put together the pieces that she’s heard over the years from her family is invaluable.
“I think the visit helped Vicki get a more complete picture of who her father was and what he and her mother experienced in their short time together,” Whalen added.
“To me it means a lot,” said Vicki. “It means that my father didn’t die for nothing … he was trying out planes to make our country safer.”
While stories like Peterson’s might seem like any other from a history book, Whalen added a reminder that many of these tales are still very real today.
“What all of us really want is a human connection to the past,” said Whalen. “Lt. Edward Peterson’s story isn’t a fairytale — it happened to three real persons — ‘Pete’ Peterson, his wife Ruth Wallrich Peterson, and his daughter, Vicki Lea Peterson.”
Peterson’s museum houses many important historical artifacts related to the evolution of Peterson AFB, but also offers history buffs with a wide array of Air Force heritage from a Minuteman missile launch control capsule used for training to an authentic Nazi Reich battle flag that once flew over a World War II Luftwaffe prisoner-of-war camp in Moosburg, Germany.
“Our museum is not just a collection of artifacts,” said Whalen. “It’s also a collection of stories. Even though we can’t capture everyone’s experience, we’re so grateful for the chance to keep a few alive.”
As John Gardner, former Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson and 1964 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom said, “History never looks like history when you are living through it.”
For information about the museum, call 556-4915 or go to http://www.petemuseum.org/Index.html.