I offer great thanks to the Association for letting me use many of the photos I show on this site.
John Robert Peterson
The story you have just read has been told to hundreds of people if not thousands in area churches and high schools in south western Washington. I would like to also share with you additional events in Clayton Peterson's life.
I'm the oldest son of three brothers and three sisters of the John & Georgia Peterson family. We were all born in a little north eastern town in Upper Peninsula Sault Saint Marie, Michigan. I moved out west in 1962 following high school graduation. The following year, 1963, I asked my mother and 3 younger brothers and sister to move out to Washington, state, for a new start. My two oldest sisters were now married and my mother was separated from my dad. I had joined the Naval Reserve but had applied for and received a deferment to active duty until my mother could get her health back enough to work full time to support herself and my three brothers and one sister.
When I went on active duty in 1965, I immediately was assigned duty aboard the USS Topeka CLG-8. I was soon on my way to Viet Nam for a West Pacific cruise. I was truly blessed as I loved my job of weatherman in which there were only three of us in the Navigation Division of twenty-six men. (Winter of 1965-66) We gave support to our marines and allies with the fire power our 6" and 5" guns. We also assisted in rescuing six U.S. Naval pilots that were shot down by enemy fire. They were able to make it to the Tonkin Gulf before bailing out of their jets.
When I returned home and got discharged, in 1967; I felt I did my duty honorably and proudly. I had one misgiving about the Viet Nam War and that was we weren't fighting to win, and time was showing that. I was informed by my brother Clayton that after high school graduation he was going to enlist in the service. I told him to enlist in the Navy for several reasons. We are a Navy family as our dad was in the Navy during WWII and I told him how great I had it in the service with a clean bed, very good food, and in my opinion; the safest service to be in and still serve your country.
Clayton said he would join the Navy and would do that when he arrived in California. He had met a young good looking girl down there when visiting with family members who lived near Los Angeles. The following summer after they came to Washington from Michigan they had lived in California for six short months. Clayton had fallen in love with Barbara while living there with our aunt & uncle; a few years later they were engaged. Barb had a brother home on leave with duty in Germany in the Army. He told Clayton to join the Army. Clayton tried twice to get to the Navy recruiter but without success. The first time the car broke down and the second time his alarm clock did not work properly. The Army recruiter was only a short distance from where he was visiting his girl friend and it was easy to travel there; and so he enlisted into the Army in El Monte, California.
During the Jump School training at Fort Benning, Georgia he had a close call in which his chute didn't fully open until the last moment. He nearly broke his ankles when he hit the ground very hard. Later in the Green Berets, in which Clayton excelled, a buddy proved how dangerous jumping was when his chute tangled causing him to fall in Roman Candle Style to his death. During his extensive training we had a step brother, Frederick Larsen, who was a sergeant in the Army and in Viet Nam who was shot and killed in an ambush about the time of the Tet Offensive in 1968.
Clayton upset of not getting the promised training after finishing his Green Beret Training asked to be sent regular Army. He had thirty days leave before shipping out to Viet Nam. He spent the time home with us and just took it easy. We were very concerned when he left for duty in Nam. We had many people praying for him, as we were very active in our local church. I didn't hear from my brother for a little while, then he wrote me and said not to worry as he was on a large LST and it was like being in the Navy. He said that his company went out on Search and Destroy Missions about every three to four days. He also said he had been on one mission already and it was not that bad, at least he was not shot. That was the last time I heard from him in Nam. Our family and Clayton's new bride of four months waited. One day after he was wounded my mother and Clayton's wife received telegrams informing them of his injuries. The telegrams stated that he was severely wounded and that we would be posted on his condition as soon as possible. We had no further news, so we contacted our state congress woman Julia Butler Hanson. That got action and we got updates on the severity of his wounds and of the condition of Clayton's health.
Clayton's stay in several hospitals over the next fourteen months proved to be nothing but miracles. His amazing recovery stunned doctors and other medical assistants because they thought he was a goner. He told me in the last hospital he was recovering in that he had another GI sharing the same room with him. The GI was young like him and was paralyzed from the waist down. He wasn't hurt in Nam where he had just returned from but had been injured from a motorcycle accident in which a drunken man had run a stop sign. He survived but his buddy with him was killed instantly. The GI had sued the insurance company of the man who had hit him and received a settlement. When Clayton told his friend about his experience, his friend told him that he too had experienced a tunnel of light. During that same time Clayton was being helped with the assistance of a nurse as he was standing up next to his bed for the first time; after being in a body cast several months and in bed for over one year. He was in great pain but glad to be able to stand so that he would soon be able to practice walking again because the doctors said he never would. Clayton looked at his friend and his friend said with tears in his eyes that he would not want to miss seeing what Clayton was doing and that seeing Clayton stand up was worth more then he would know. Clayton's friend would never walk again; yet when he seen Clayton stand up, he begin to cry. He was not crying because he could not walk but because he was so happy for Clayton to be standing. A few weeks later Clayton was able to walk a little; and around that same time his buddy was sent to the Long Beach Naval Hospital. Barbara went there to visit with him one day; his lawyer had just left him with close to a half- million dollars. He told Barbara that he would give that to anyone if they would be able to help him walk again.
I was amazed when I saw my brother the first time after arriving home. He had lost so much weight and because he was not able to physically endure much most of his muscle tone had deteriorated. After two years Clayton went to our local college to begin taking classes toward a teacher's certificate. I was considering taking the Carpentry class at the same college and I suggested to him to take the class with me. I felt he could build his body and gain back some of the muscle tone he has lost. We took the course together along with about twenty-five other students. Our college instructor was a wonderful teacher and man of integrity. His name was Chet Ekman and he was like a second father to me. Chet was very much amazed in Clayton's story and his willingness to do everything that all the other students did; including pushing the wheel barrel, pouring the concrete and hauling the dirt. Our local town of Aberdeen has a newspaper called The Daily World and every year they would have a Man of the Year chosen for someone that was nominated for outstanding achievement. Our instructor nominated Clayton for such an honor. He did not get chosen but I thought it was a typical example of how Clayton has touched the lives of those around him. Most people don't even realize he wears a brace and has thirty-eight scars on his body where he was wounded. Clayton never looks for pity or attention drawn to him, he only tells his story if asked to do so. I remember one week in college that he was absent from class, a real rarity. I was told that he only had the flu. Later I found out that he had been having severe chest pains and there was a great concern that it was from a bullet still lodged near his heart. Since then the AK-47 bullet has moved further away from his heart and is now located near his rib cage in his back. The pain he experienced at that time was caused by arthritis from the broken bones that had healed.
When Clayton told me the story of what he had experienced as he stood before the presence of God, I think I may have only been the third person he told it to at the time. I asked him why he hasn't told it before and what do you make of it? He told me that it was unreal that he didn't and still doesn't have the adequate words to describe all that he saw. He also said, "And who would believe me!" Clayton was a new Christian and had only found the Lord as a teenager a couple years prior. He never grew in the Lord and in the Word of God until after his rehabilitation in the hospitals. He began to search the scriptures diligently after being discharged from the Army and some of his questions of why and why me were answered. This brought about a life changing effect on him and all who he came in contact with. God's Spirit showed him not why but "because" he loves us so much. He has used Clayton's trials, tribulations, pain and suffering to let others know that as Christians we have no accidents or situations in our lives that take God by surprise. Through them he will help us bear it and to be strengthened to be a servant of God and to be a testimony to "God's own children that there is no need to fear death and that when it does come, it is Jesus that will send his angels to welcome us home." The glimpse of glory that Clayton saw at one of the Pearly Gates truly showed how much we have to look forward to at our homecoming.
God has given Clayton not a remarkable story to tell only to the believers of Christ but also to the unsaved, the troubled, the weary, and those that need that hope of living today as if it may be your last day on earth. Our time is God's time and only he knows and allows when we take our last breath. The doctor that operated on Clayton's mouth later told him that it was a million to one that the bullet that hit his head would exit the way it did and that he was lucky! I say no, it wasn't "luck". It was exactly the way God had it planned. God's Word tells us that as Christians we have no luck. God permits small and large trials to all Christians so that he may receive the Honor and the Glory. "Amazing Grace" but for the will of God he has chosen the few that suffer for his glory.
Our family January 18, 2009 - Our 40th Anniversary
Clayton Matthew Peterson
"Out of Darkness . . .
Into His marvelous light;" I Peter 2:9
Job 38:19 "Where is the way where light dwelleth? and as for darkness, where is the place thereof."
We swept across our assigned areas looking for more V.C. In my next encounter I could see two Vietcongs in their black pajamas with AK 47s running from one spider hole to another. I shot but I don't know if I hit them. We eventually ended up in a part of the Delta that had been a French Rubber Plantation, Michelin, I think. It is weird walking through jungle to come upon a white stone mansion like the ones in Louisiana or Georgia. Large pillars at the front, rusty iron rails on what had once been a balcony. The whole place was in ruins, pocketed with bullets, with the roof gone and with trees poking up through the top. We walked past it in silence and soon it was behind us in the jungle. Made me think of a Twilight Zone show. In my second ambush, the man in front of me who now carried the M-79 grenade launcher was wounded. He received only a bloody nose from the wound, nothing more serious. Our captain had been wounded in the face months before and had told us a fragment could be in the guys brain and he would not even know it. So he sent him back to be checked out by the ships' doctors. The sergeant gave me the M-79 and asked if I knew how to use it. I said, "yes I had shot one back in A.I.T.."(Advanced Infantry Training) "Fine, you are second man in the squad then," he said. By that time we were loading back aboard the armored landing craft 'Troop Carriers',(Tango boats)they were our main means of transportation in the Delta. They were WW II landing craft that had been modified with bar armor to stop rockets and had machine guns mounted on the sides four or six extra, I am not sure. There was also a steel deck on top for Medevac Helicopters to land on. They were tough boats and could take quite a beating. I gave my M-16 to a crewman and transferred the M-79 ammunition to my rucksack (back pack). I carried 25 or 30 shells for the M-79, five or six hand grenades, smoke and tear gas grenades, some blocks of C4 explosives, (eight or ten pounds) a belt of M-60 machine-gun-ammo, six clips for an M-16, and at my belt was my personal Marine K-bar knife. My pack also had some C-rations inside and four canteens were hanging on the outsides. What did it weight? Fifty pounds or more and it felt like a hundred pounds. We motored along the water ways and the captain told us that they had found a big V.C. base camp with over 500 men in it.
We were going to be dropped off on one side of the island and sweep to the other side. The Air Force was bombing the place to pieces and artillery was chewing up what remained. As we approached the island the side machine guns sprayed the river bank then the front door ramp fell and out we ran. As I zigzagged through the bushes following those in front, I could hear the bullets slapping through the leaves around me like angry bees. "Just like a John Wayne movie," I thought "but these are real bullets." We swept into the camp but the V.C. had pulled out into the jungle on the other side. We occupied the V.C. base that had bunkers all over, all the cover had been blasted away. We soon moved out, one company one hundred men facing about 500 V.C.. Our platoon moved past the torn up terrain and into the jungle. We carefully followed a packed dirt path, looking for booby traps. We set up our parameter as dusk was nearing. The sergeant picked me and two other men to be at the forward listening post. He gave us the new "Starlight Scope" for seeing in the dark. "Remember," he said "if you are going to be overrun, and you have to leave it, smash it so the Vietcong can not use it." They were rumored to have cost $25,000 to $30,000 each. We crept out in the growing dusk, way out, over 100 meters. We settled in behind a stump and some fallen logs hid by some brush and trees. We were supposed to have four-hour shifts. But I was so unnerved by the darkness and the Vietcong that I knew were out there, that I let the other two sleep and I listened and watched all night by myself. The radio, a walkie-talkie, crackled every fifteen minutes but I could hear noise a few feet out front, I didn't want to give our position away so I didn't return the call signs. As it got light I woke one of the other men up and he called back to tell them we were okay and had not been over run. By early morning we were pulled back and found out three more companies had just came in to reinforce us. Now the odds were more even. We followed the V.C. trail through the jungle; the whole scene reminded me of a Tarzan movie, tall trees, vines, and huge palm leaves everywhere and you could take three steps into it and not be seen. We took a break for lunch, we had passed some baby pineapples growing on the side of the trail. I had passed the word back that they were probably booby trapped.
After a few minutes there was a blast! Something that looked an awful lot like a head rolled by me on down the trail. Lesson number one: food does not grow along heavily traveled paths. Lesson number two: fresh fruit is not always good for you and lesson number three: don't eat what is not rationed to you on the battle field. We moved down the trail a ways, eventually stopping. We took a smoke break while the area ahead was scrutinized. I smoked then, the Viet Cong knew we were there so it didn't make a difference. As I puffed on my cigarette behind a tree, the guy next to me said, "don't you know smoking is hazardous to your health?" Yeah! Big laugh, we both chuckled.
The captain called our squad forward, it seems that the Army wanted to be fair and democratic so they rotated those units that were out front. As it was, it happened to be our company's turn to be out front as point company. Of our four platoons it was my platoons turn. In our platoon it was my squads turn to be point squad. I was the second one in the line, with 400 men behind me and one in front of me. We moved up and the captain explained to us that the trail snaked around in front, and then crossed a small open field. There were ditches, muddy remains of an irrigation system the French had put in for the rubber plantations. These were eight to ten feet across and three feet deep with three feet of mud in them; full of leeches and small red crabs, not to mention snakes. He said they had been listening for 20 minutes and had not heard a sound. We crept up and looked out from the bushes. The dirt path came out of the jungle and crossed the field to disappear back into the jungle at the other side. The open meadow had a grass stubble only a few inches tall like a harvested wheat field, there were one or two stumps scattered on it. The irrigation ditches ran along on the left and right sides of the field to fade into the jungle ahead. We watched quietly for five to ten minutes. Nothing.
My Special Forces training told me this was an excellent ambush site. "Okay" said the captain, "be careful and move out". The point man, I'd been told had been in country six to eight months, stepped out walking slowly and carefully studying the pathway, trees, and brush. When he was at the center of the field, I stepped out and began walking. I flipped the safety on my M-79 off and searched the jungle for signs of the V.C.. When I was almost half way out and the point man was nearing the far side, the sergeant (squad leader) stepped out. I brought my weapon up to the 'fire' position; thus, we had three men in the open and exposed. I took a few steps further and I heard a sound off to my right. I started to turn but before I had moved very far, I was tossed into the air by an explosion. (A command detonated mine) Everything shifted to slow motion and my hearing was like underwater but with a ringing sound. I'd find out later that this blast broke both my legs, my left arm, and some of my left ribs. I regained consciousness a few seconds later, my actions that followed were the result of reflexes built in by my army training. I was flat on my back, my back pack with all its explosives was torn and shredded. Hanging by one strap to the left side of me as I, stupidly, starred at it in shock it began to smoke. Then I reached over with my right hand, my M-79 was still in my left hand, and I started to beat the flames that had burst out on the pack. As I pounded the fire out, I noticed a hole big enough to put a golf ball through passing clean through my upper right arm. I could see the white exposed bone, I laid back and passed out and I was awake in a few seconds. I rolled over and I could see the sergeant behind me was down, hit in the head and chest, I learned later; the point man was down, too, hit in the head and arm (it was broken) both men were unconscious. I also could see that both of my legs were bent at crazy angles and splintered bone stuck out three or four inches. My helmet was gone, my clothes were ripped to pieces, then I saw a N.V.A. (North Vietnamese Army) officer standing up in the ditch on my right. He was wearing a Khaki' uniform and had a pistol on his belt. I could see him from his waist up. He stood and opened up the M-79 grenade launcher that he had. It's like a large single-shot shotgun. The empty shell flipped out spiraling a trail of smoke in slow motion.
Knowing my legs were broken I managed to get up on my knees, I swung my M-79 toward him; as I did that, I turned slightly and yelled over my right shoulder to those in the jungle behind me,"Machine gunner, Machine gunner"! I knew we needed to lay down a field of fire to be able to pull back the wounded. As I was doing this, I noticed white flashes like flash bulbs from a camera going off in the bushes at the end of the ditch, on the left side. Then the dirt and dust started to kick up all around me. I was on my knees and the bullets were throwing dirt higher than my head. The dirt was flying all over, then something hit me in the head. I didn't feel any pain, but I did feel the impact. It reminded me of the time I'd been kicked by a horse while on a youth group camp out back in Washington state. It spun me around on my knees, as I spun I could see some over head branches go by so I started counting them each time I spun. When I got to three, I fell down. This was all in slow motion, too. I would find out later that the bullet that hit me was a 45 Caliber, probably a grease gun or a Thompson submachine gun. The bullet hit the left side of my head in front of my ear at the hinge of my jaw, it passed through then broke into two pieces. One piece exiting from the right side of my face below my right ear, the other piece stayed in until I later spit it out at the hospital. In one second my tongue was cut in half, my sinuses and the roof of my mouth blown apart; all my facial bones were broken or cracked and pieces of my jaw bone, teeth, and skull filled my mouth. I was too weak to get up on my knees, so all I could do was roll over on my stomach. I still had my M-79 clutched in my hand; the Viet Cong Machine Gun stopped, jammed, or was out of ammunition. I could see the North Vietnamese officer with an M-79 in the ditch. He was starting to duck down in slow motion, I swung my M-79 around and started squeezing the trigger. The shotgun round it was loaded with would cut him to pieces at this range. Then the thought went through my mind. "Thou shall not kill," I realize now that the Hebrew word means 'murder' not "kill"; otherwise, David could never have killed Goliath or Joshua destroyed Jericho. This thought flew through my mind in fractions of a second. The slight mental hesitation it caused was overridden and I squeezed the trigger. I'll never know if I got him; but I did find out why he was ducking down. An explosion went off a few feet behind me. He had reloaded when the machine gun shot me and the second grenade went off as he ducked down. The fragments from that second grenade hit me in the legs and the back. The doctors later told me that some one had sprayed me with an AK 47 at close range. Five or six rounds had hit me, one blew apart my right ankle, one went through my right calf, one or two went through my upper right leg, one went through the flack jacket I was wearing; ending up in the lower right chest and stopping behind my heart. (It's still in me today, and has stayed in the same position for years now) By the time our men got to me, my dog tags, watch, and wallet had been blown off; they wrapped my body in a poncho thinking me dead.
It is at this point that I have to pause. The transition from blood and death to the other side is hard to articulate even with a few years of college English under my belt. Yet, I am frustrated by my lack of words to adequately describe what happened next and what I saw. It is like: How does an Eskimo describe his world to an Arab living in the Sahara? So I can only give a basic description of what I saw. When the second grenade blew up next to me, I was enveloped in a ball of fire and flew up into the air for a second. The noise there was like a hum similar to what a high tension power line makes. Then, it was like someone reached out and switched a light off. I was in a deep blackness and I was floating on my back in deepest starless space. Time was distorted and it could of been 15 minutes or 50,000 years. The closest I can explain it is like I was a tree; I knew I existed but could not form thoughts. It eventually started to get gray, then brighter, and brighter.
The floor was like glass or polished stone , I couldn't see my feet; then I remembered my right arm being injured, I brought it up to check it. I moved my hand to the front of my face and wiggled my fingers. I could feel them but I could not see them. It was like I'd taken off a heavy wet overcoat. The real me was there, my spirit; but my body was laying back in that sweaty jungle in the poncho. I thought, "I'm dead". I said it three times. "I'm dead, I'm dead, I'm dead". Then I noticed the cloud of light had pulled back into the walls and floors of the room I found myself in. It was the size of a small gymnasium or a tennis court. The walls were eight feet tall and when I looked up there was no ceiling. I could see a tunnel stretching out from where the ceiling should be and far away was a small circle of black space with some stars in it. I glanced to the left front of the room I was standing in. From the center of the room where I was located, I could see twelve Things? Creatures? People? They were in three rows of four and they were humanoid shaped but radiated bright light. I could not tell if they were sixteen or sixty years old; I could not tell if they were male or female, either. They were 3-D, like a snowman; but they seemed to be wearing robes because I could not see any legs or feet on them. The first thing I thought was, a choir; then I noticed, they were not singing. Then I thought, a jury. But as a Christian my sins had been judged, nailed to the cross, when Jesus died there so I concluded it could not be a jury. I spent about fifteen minutes trying to pierce their brightness to see their features more clearly; but all I could see were their faint facial features, like eyes.
It was about this time that I noticed two neat things. One, I had heard about people with total recall and I never could understand it until then. It was like my mind was wide open and organized like a library of memories. I reached into it and took out one. In it I was three or four years old and was playing with my cousin, Alan, in the sand box with a toy.(a red car)
I put the memory back as easy as I had taken it out; I realized that there were only good memories, and that the bad ones or sad ones were gone. There were no memories of me being in a teen gang or getting my nose broken twice because of fights I had been in. It reminds me of the verses: Psalms 51:7 "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow", Micah 7:19 "He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea", and Revelation 21:4 "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." The second thing I noticed was that I felt super euphoric, happy, and completely joyous.
Later I had to be given triple doses of morphine for three months because they thought I was going to die anyway. They figured to at least make it painless for me. Morphine gives you a euphoric high. I compared the two feelings later and the high on the morphine was like a flea, while the room was like a whale; yet, there is not a thing on this earth to use as a proper comparison. The room is beyond comparison. A thousand times greater than the happiest day of my life. I felt great as I looked around some more; then I noticed a curtain off to the right, blocking off the right corner of the room from my vision. It was about eight feet wide by eight feet tall and appeared to be silk. It was really made of variations of light. The curtain moved and rippled in the breeze and stars and sparkles streaked and glittered through it going from the bottom to top. Only years later would I find the verse in the Bible, Psalms 104:2 "Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain:" I tried to see through this thin curtain, I saw no other doors or windows.
Suddenly, I was snatched out of the room and back into the blackness where I had come from before. I could still see the room before me; it was far away and tiny, about the size of a small box of matches. It was inside of a ball of light. It reminded me of a large weather balloon that was shrinking smaller and smaller. The ball had the luminescent appearance of Mother of Pearl. I did not know the book of Revelation mentioned New Jerusalem as having, twelve gates, each one a single pearl, guarded by twelve angels.
“And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass. 22 And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. 23 And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.”
The ball was shrinking rapidly and the glimpses from outside took only a second or two; then, I was jerked back into the room. I had time to say, "Thank you God"; for I knew I had gone through the darkness to reach the room, if the darkness was coming back, I knew I was going back to live. Then the black dark engulfed me and I was floating as before in nothingness. Again it seemed like thousands of years had passed me by; then I could hear loud noises, explosions, and machine gun fire. The air was the hot humid oppressive atmosphere of the jungle again. I opened my eyes to be greeted by a man holding a bloody knife. I had just had my throat cut. It was my friend the medic and he had just performed a tracheotomy on me so I could breath. He was talking to someone. "I was working on the other guys arm wound when I glanced over here and saw the poncho jerking around and so I yanked it open." That is when I noticed that I was laying on a poncho next to other bodies wrapped in ponchos, too. I should have been terrified but I was so full of the after glow of the room of light; I just laid there amazed at what I had seen and what had happened to me. As the medic cut the shredded remains of my boots off of me, the captain and his radioman ran up to us. While he was crouching over me he said, "How is he? We have got a chopper over head." The medic continued to put battlefield dressings on some of my thirty-eight major wounds. He said, "I thought he was dead, he had no heart beat or respiration, his eyes were fixed, and he was not bleeding." "Yeah", said the captain, "but how is he doing?" The medic stopped for a second and replied, "He has about five minutes." Then the captain spoke into the radio; called the chopper and said, "Hurry up, we've got one knocking at deaths' door!”
Well, I became concerned that they were upset; I had come out of deaths' door, not going toward it. I tried to sit up and said, "Hey, I'm okay!" They did not believe me though, probably because I sprayed blood, teeth, and pieces of bone everywhere when I tried to speak. The medic thought I was having a death seizure. They pushed me back down and said, "You are all right", but I could see the lie in their eyes. I laid back and passed out and when I came to, I was thinking that I was at home and had fallen asleep in the bathtub. Occasionally, I would do that when reading a good book and soaking in the tub. But when I opened my eyes, I saw that I was in a poncho, which was being carried by its' ends by some soldiers, like a hammock and what I thought was water, was blood sloshing over me. They were running through the jungle with me, bouncing my backside on the uneven ground and I blacked out again.
I came to the next time and I was on an Army stretcher completely red with my blood. Off to the side were six or eight other wounded and bandaged men under some trees; waiting to be evacuated to the nearest field hospital. Over head, a Medical-Evacuation-Chopper settled down to land next to us; soldiers ran up to it carrying me. Its’ bright red cross inside a white circle and its' red flashing light on the belly were both visible to me. The door gunner took me in at a glance; I was naked except for the mass of bandages that covered me. As he pulled me in, I could see it was almost full with only room for one more stretcher, mine. As the door gunner made sure I was strapped in, he said, "hang on, you'll make it, you'll be all right" but I could tell he was just trying to make me comfortable and that he did not believe what he was saying. Then we were lifting and he was shooting back at the V.C. who was shooting at us. "That's great", I thought "get shot down after all that?" Then we were speeding over the jungle and I blacked out again.
The next time I came to, we were landing at the 24th Medical Evacuation Hospital near Saigon. I was rushed into X-ray. Later I was put into the hall where I woke up a Chaplin was speaking some language at me. It was Latin, I think and he was giving me the last rites. I sat up and said, "I'm not dying and besides that I am not Catholic!" His eyes got huge and I remember seeing a lot of white as he jumped back from me, then I blacked out once more. When I got into the operating room; it had five or six tables, only one was occupied by a guy getting his arm sewed up. The four doctors that were gathered around it, joking, looked up at me as I was being rolled in. I sat up but was pushed back down by one of the doctors and the way they looked at me I could tell they thought I was nothing but raw hamburger. Over the next few days I had a heart attack caused by the bullet behind my heart. The reason that I still have it in my body today is because they felt the surgery to remove it would kill me and they did not think I had but a 10% chance living anyway.
I watched men die in the beds all around me as I continued to survive my wounds. Then I developed a high fever which they determined was caused from malaria. Days later as I lay there with a cast on both legs and my left arm, my left cast began to smell. They soon found the leg was infected with gangrene. It was about midnight when I listened to two doctors quietly arguing at the foot of my bed. I watched from partially closed eyes. They thought I was unconscious. "If we take off his leg, he will die", said one, "if we don't the gangrene will kill him!" They went back and forth debating and finally decided to pump me full of antibiotics, then check on me at dawn five or six hours later. They kept a close watch on me through those hours. When they pulled the dressing off that covered the square hole, that had been cut into the cast at the area below my knee, they were surprised. The gangrene was totally gone and they called all the other doctors around to come and see my cleaned wound. I recovered quickly, well enough to have a general stop in to give me my Purple Heart medal. In four weeks I was fit enough to be sent to Japans' Camp Zama Hospital.
When I reached the hospital I was down to 85 or 90 pounds and had lost an inch in height. I underwent surgery for skin and nerve grafts and during that time another infection of gangrene set into my ankle on my right foot. They had to remove what was left of my ankle bones but were able to save my foot. After three months in Japan, I went home to Long Beach Naval Hospital in California which was just fifteen minutes from where my wife lived in Norwalk, California. I only stayed there for a month because I pulled a prank on the Navy doctors; I found out the Navy doctors there did not have a sense of humor. It is my opinion; anyway, they shipped me up north to Fort Ord Army Hospital.
While I was still at Long Beach, an oral surgeon was checking my mouth because I was still spitting out bone chips after four months of recovery. My mouth never did heal completely and I have a soft spot at the roof of my mouth. While he was checking me, though, he became very excited viewing the X-rays. "You do not know how lucky you are!" he said, "Oh yeah I do" I replied. "No, no, you do not understand. I could put your head in a vice, paralyze you with curare so you could not blink, compute the angle of the bullet, shoot you with the same caliber, (45) and the odds of it traveling the same path would be a million to one. If it had hit 1/16" up, it would of blown off the top of your head; if it would of been 1/16" forward, it would of blown your face off, 1/16" backward, and it would of blown your spine and the back of your head off, and 1/16" lower your jaw and throat would of been gone! It's a million to one!"
While I was at Fort Ord Army Hospital, I spent nine months in recovery while undergoing surgeries and physical therapy treatment. I had spent a total of 13 months in recovery before the Army retired me at the age of 22 years old in June 1970. When they totaled up my disabilities, the percentage came up to 280%; yet, there is only 100% allowed. Therefore, I received my retirement of 100% disability benefits from the veterans. If I were to improve 100%, I would still be disabled 180%...just a thought. Something to chuckle about, and yet, you must have a sense of humor to survive many things in this world.
`In Japan they told me I would never talk properly again. I give speeches at our local High School (on the Viet Nam War) and to church groups. They said I would never walk again. It took twelve months, but I did. I wear a partial leg brace to support my ankle on my right leg. I later worked with a person who was trained in prosthesis and she did not notice my limp until four months later. In a conversation one day, I mentioned the brace and she was shocked to learn that I had it. I cannot run or walk more than a half of mile, my car has special equipment so I can drive it more conveniently, I do not always hear what others may say because of my hearing loss; I'm deaf in my right ear, but I am thankful to be here and for the facilities I still have. I enjoy reading, teaching, (we home schooled our six children at various times in their lives) and many other hobbies, too. I was also told that I would be addicted to morphine because they had given me triple doses. They did that because I was so bad and they believed I was dying. They figured why not let him die free of pain.
After three months of the morphine, (The first time they stopped giving me morphine I blacked out and threw things away from me chasing all the doctors out of my room). a few weeks later I personally requested that they take me off of it. I have never had to suffer withdrawal and I just quit cold turkey. I don't take dope, I've never used marijuana, (not even while in Viet Nam) and the only drinking I do is an occasional glass of wine at a wedding or special dinner. I am never free of pain because of the nerve damage in my legs. It has been over 30 years since I was wounded in Viet Nam. I have had only one small nightmare. It was about running in the jungle at night during a fire fight and it has never repeated itself. I am happily married to my wife of 39 years and still enjoy life with my six children, and presently, four granddaughters and three grandsons.
My wife stood by me as I was hospitalized and recovered. We were married for nine and one half years before we decided to adopt our first child; then we were blessed again with five more biological children over the next six years. I have worked with the handicapped as a Wood Shop Supervisor for several years, have been involved with our church in a variety of services, (Deacon, boys club leader, AWANA leader, etc.), and still give speeches in our community, when asked. I am presently writing five books, which take up much of my time and efforts, and I also enjoy painting my own landscape pictures. *This one below is one I painted for Barbara;those who know her, know that she loves rainbows.
QUESTIONS PEOPLE ASK OF ME?
Left Over Dream
When I get up in the morning
and see the deep blue sky
It leaves my heart aching
to know I soon will die
Some say earth is really
a living hell
but the way people act today,
I can't really tell
Flying like an Eagle, spinning
to the ground
There among the grassy knolls
my body will be found
Is life a long dream?
And our dream looks at reality?
I am soon to wake up and
see how things really be
Copyright by: Clayton M. Peterson Feb. 18, 1969
I had a dream that was so clear
all my family and loved one's dear
Standing in a room so dark,
while I stood all aglow and set apart
I was all amazed at the sadness I saw
at the grief and sorrow I glimpsed from afar
For I was full of love and joy
I smiled at them like a small boy
I told them not to worry,
I was going to a happy place
and I'd see them again after a space
Three months or maybe five
was all I had before I died
this is what I dreamt August last
Soon the sand will run out in the glass
A dream is a dream, or so they say
I'll have to wait till my big day
this is a sign of where I'll be
So please don't feel sad over me
Because when you die and go away
I'll meet you there, night or day.
Clayton M. Peterson Feb.1, 1969
Heaven Rev. 21:1-27
Angels Rev. 21:12
Gates Rev. 21:12-21
Glass walls and floors
Darkness Psalms 18:11
Clouds Psalms 97:2
Curtain of Light
Death Psalms 116:15
War Psalms 144:1
Doors of deathJob 38:17
Bad memories Rev. 21:4
My all time favorite verses: Romans 8:18-39
1. Did it hurt?
No, I was in shock from the massive trauma. The pain came later while in recovery and surgery.
2. Do I hate the man that shot me?
No I would invite him to dinner. He was just a soldier caught up in the communist brainwashing.
3. Did you see Jesus or anyone you knew up there?
No. I had only seen the Angels of Light, as I call them, and the invisible presence of God.
4. Do you hate the anti-war hippies?
No I do not hate anyone.
5. Do you really think you were dead?
Yes...the Bible says "the body without the spirit is dead" and my medic friend would not have wrapped me in that poncho if I was alive.
6. Did your wife know when you were wounded?
Yes she had a vision of a red flashing light and then seeing my face without my glasses on. She didn't know what to make of it until I described the chopper that picked me up minus my glasses.
7. Have you left things out of your story?
Yes, it would give some nightmares to hear the hospital details. In some ways they were worse.
This site was last updated on April 8, 2009
Clayton & Barbara 1970
Our Wedding Day 1968
Our Six Children
Our Grandchildren 2005
Clayton, Barbara, Shannon
John Robert & his wife Merrilee Peterson
During that first few days, I visited the base barber shop for a hair cut and shave. Four or five Vietnamese girls cut my hair and gave me a neck and head massage. When they prepared to lather me up for my shave, the Vietnamese man, in charge of the shop, said "no! no! I do" to the girls. He proceeded to shave me with a straight razor and I was so satisfied I left a nice tip. Later that night our base was attacked. As mortar rounds and rockets were falling around our barracks, our sergeant was guarding our bunker door; he was the only one around armed as we were new guys in the country. Soon, however, he was called away to fight off a sapper attack coming through the barbed wire. They were trying to get to the ammunition bunkers near us. If they would have blown we'd have all been dead. They killed them all after a hot firefight. The last V.C. who almost made it through was the barber who had given me such a good shave earlier that day. Later that week we went through a booby trap class taught by an ex-V.C., "Chieu-Hoi". Then I had to qualify on the M-16 for the third time, only this time there was a V.C. Sniper back in the trees to keep us on our toes. Soon the processing was done and I was given orders to the 9th Divisions' 47th Inf. 4th Bn.Co. D. It seems that Uncle Sam had run out of Marines, so the Army was drafted to do that job. We were to live on Navy barrack ships.
Old WW II L.S.Ts refitted to hold four to five-hundred troops. I think mine was called the "USS Benewah,APB-35". The Navy Seal teams had their own ship near us. We were to live and fight in the heart of V.C. territory, the Mekong Delta. The Tet Offensive had happened only three or four months earlier. It was the Riverine Force that had saved the Delta and Saigon by stopping the Vietcong cold.
The rest of the new replacements and I were taken out to the Landing Ship Tank by boat. The L.S.Ts never anchored but moved around the river so as to present a moving target. Viet Cong scuba divers had blown up one that had been anchored the year before, so they always moved around because of that. Soon we were settled in and another guy and I were on deck watching the river. I wondered why the smaller patrol boats kept circling our ship, when one of them stopped and pulled in its' grappling hooks to reveal a huge barrel, a Viet Cong mine full of explosives with wires leading to shore, these were quickly cut and the mine was made harmless. Later that day the medic for my platoon came up on deck and told me he had dropped out of the Green Berets four or five months before. I don't remember his name now, lost in the haze of war and time, but we had been through training together in the Special Forces. He said he had seen plenty of action dealing with many of our men who were K.I.A.; (Killed in action) we renewed our friendship and talked about our days back at Fort Bragg. "Don't worry Pete, stick with me", he said, "I'll watch out for you. We 'Green Beanies' have to stick together." A few days later we went out into the field and on my first ambush I never saw anything but muzzle flashes and explosions, fast and furious. When it was over the sergeant handed me the left arm of the man ahead of me in my squad; the M-79 man, usually called 'Thumper', "Take the watch and ring off, give them to the captain." he told me. "What do I do with the arm?" I asked. He looked at one of the hooches burning and said, "Throw it in there," so I did. It's surprising how quick we are to adjust to the sights of combat. The mind seems to put itself into a special neutral gear. We had a Light Observation Helicopter [Loach] fly in to a small clearing we hacked out of the bamboo. The soldier, minus his arm, was safely evacuated out.
There had to be a doorway there to make the breeze that moved the curtain. I looked and I could sense that there was something beyond the curtain. It was: huge, powerful, awesome, vast, yet benevolent and it was a calm, quiet, and intelligent being. It is written: Exodus 33:20 "And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live" because God must judge those who face him. It cannot be Jesus because many saw him both before and after his resurrection. It cannot be the Holy Spirit because he has manifested himself as tongues of flames, a burning bush, and a white dove. It can only mean God the Father, and if the curtain had opened, I would not have come back. I would have had to stay because I would have seen God the Father face to face. All during this time things were progressing normally, another fifteen minutes had passed and I thought about my wife, Barbara. My wife of only four months and now a widow; then I thought about my step dad who had lost both of his sons. One son died from polio and the second (Frederick Larsen) had died just one year prior (1968) in Viet Nam. My step dad had almost had a heart attack when they sent the wrong body back due to a mix up. I thought my death would kill him. He had accepted me as a son and even giving me his lucky silver dollar to take to NAM with me. It was in the wallet that was blown off of me, leaving a round scar the size of a silver dollar in my buttock. With those things in mind, I said a prayer; "God if you want me here now, then fine. It is a beautiful place but if you want me to go back and tell others, I will go back. I don't want to be the source of so much grief and sadness." I waited and nothing happened. During this time, about thirty minutes, it was total absolute silence.
As I glanced to my left I noticed that the wall that had been full of foggy light was now totally clear. The wall was eight feet tall and approximately eighteen inches thick, it was clear glass like stone with no cracks or seams in it. All three walls were clear but the fourth wall, the one to the right of the curtain of light, remained foggy. I could see the area beyond the walls and it reminded me of a golf course buried under a few inches of new snow. The smooth rolling landscape had people; creatures like the twelve still standing silently in the room. At first they were scattered across the terrain standing in groups of two and three. Occasionally one in a group of three would leave and go to stand with two others. They were never alone except when they traveled to visit one another. The people (Creatures) of light had robes of light on them that reached to the ground. I could see no ones' legs or feet. So when they moved, it was at a smooth glide. I had the impression that they were communicating amongst themselves. As I glanced to the left, the numbers of them got greater and spread out to the horizon. So many I could not count or even guess at the number of them.
As I continued to look behind me; the numbers thinned out again, until I reached the walls’ cloud (Light) on my right hand side. Then I saw the curtains of light. I was back where I had started and I took a better longer look at those standing outside. They were silent now; I could detect no communications between each other. I then had the weirdest impression. Picture yourself at the local state or county fair; then suddenly, music or mechanical sound, even the babies and dogs become silent. Everyone just stands and stares at you. That is what it felt like happened. It seemed I had interrupted some happy, fun, and joyous event and that they were waiting quietly for me to leave or to do something else. Time had passed at a normal rate and I had been in the room for approximately forty-five minutes now. Nothing was happening but I was content to bask in the euphoria of the room.
Kenneth Verrett - My best friend was killed the same time I was wounded in Viet Nam, he was in a different unit in there.
"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:" KJV
Showing forth his praises, I share my Life After Death Story in Viet Nam.
When I went to Viet Nam in April of 1969, I expected to get wounded. I was a soldier, we get shot at. I had just spent over a year, 1968-69, in the Special Forces at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The Green Berets, the "snake eaters," we were called. I had completed the Combat Engineer course and I was cross trained as Light Weapons Infantry. My falling out with the Green Berets came when the pencil pushers decided that they had too many combat engineers and canceled almost our whole class. Then they reassigned us to be trained as "RTO", Radiomen. Seems the radiomen were the first ones shot at in an ambush, so there was a shortage that they wanted us to fill. I couldn't see myself slugging through the swamp with a big radio on my back. I also thought it a waste to throw away my expensive engineer training.
I remembered my step brother Frederick Larsen who had died the previous year in a fire fight in the highlands and my cousin Gary Shumbarger who lost his leg a few months earlier. Those things were on my mind, the anti-war movement was getting started around that same time and I had been called "baby killer" by hippies at airports. So when the army lost my records for six months, I was ready to go to Viet Nam. I volunteered and after a 30 day leave with my family and new wife, Barbara, I was on my way. Like I said, earlier, I expected to get wounded; mainly, because of two dreams I had the previous year. They were so unusual that I wrote two poems about them which I will share with you at the end of this story. Several months had passed since I had these two dreams; so they receded into my memory, pushed aside by my army training and my married life. Mankind was not created to die. Genesis tells us that we were originally made to live forever. The fall of man through Adam and Eve brought death, but mentally we are not equipped to handle it. We push aside the foreign idea of death. So it was that I forgot my two dreams and settled for getting wounded as a fact of life.
I arrived in Cam Ranh Bay by modern passenger jet which was quiet and had the luxury of an air conditioner. Stepping into the hot air at the planes door we were told that the runway had been mortared, so off we ran. The next day a C-123 Caribou troop transport plane flew me to my assignment, the 9th Division's Riverine Force. During my stay at Dong Tam I walked around the base passing the artillery unit that was out cleaning their canons. I had walked past my cousin, Alan Peterson, without realizing it; I found this out some years later. Everyone tends to look alike with short hair cuts and green fatigues, so I guess that is one of the reasons why we all wore name tags.