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Cherokee County WWII War Stories

Roy Willis Petersen

QUIMBY SAILOR FIGHTS STEAM, WATER TO LIVE - An East Coast Port...A lanky, midwestern sailor who couldn't swim a stroke but who through sheer grit fought live steam and sea water that rose 15 feet high in the compartment of the ship in which he was trapped after an aerial attack by enemy planes, arrived in the states in time to celebrate his thirtieth Christmas and to forget the ghastly horrors of that death chamber.

He is Machinist Mate Second Class Roy Willis Petersen, son of Mr. & Mrs. W.E. Petersen, of Quimby, IA.

With him arriving home for the holiday was Chief Machinist Mate Harold M. Steeves, of Quimby, Mass., who has been awarded the Silver Star medal for his quick thinking in bringing Petersen out of the steaming cauldron when, as Petersen says, "I was just about on my last stretch."

Petersen wears the Purple Heart medal awarded him for his injuries and his tenacity in fighting the odds against him.

The Quimby sailor enlisted in the Navy at Des Moines, IA on March 9, 1941.  He participated in the Battle of Casablance, North Africa, the invasion of Sicily and did convoy duty to Marmask, Russia and South Africa.

In one aerial attack, Petersen was in the engine room when the order came for full speed ahead.  Just then a bomb hit.  This is his story from then on: "The explosion dazed me and knocked me out, but not for long.  I found my way to the ladder.  Stuff had fallen over the hatch and i had to fight my way through.  I managed to get my head above water to keep from drowning.  I got part of my body loose and then tore myself away from the wreckage.  Steam was blowing out of the pipes and I couldn't quite make it.  I let myself back under water as much as possible. The scalding steam had burned me about the head, shoulders and arms.  I saw I couldn't quite make it and would have to stay where I was until help came.  I kept thinking the only way to do it was to keep cool as I could and keep the steam from blowing toward me.  I kept splashing the water in my face to cool it off.  The water kept coming up fast.  There was now about 15 feet of water and only about 5 feet of leeway before it would be taps for me, and I can't swim a stroke."

"After the steam quit blowing I could see a little light and it gave me more hope of getting out.  I saw one of our officers come down and get another one of our boys out.  I thought he knew I was there, but apparently he could not see me.  No one came for sometime.  I hollered.  I kept hollering.  Finally I saw Chief Machinist Mate Harold Steeves, wearing breathing apparatus, looking for me in a far corner.  I splashed water to draw his attention.  He got hold of me and helped me out of a spot not big enough to draw an eighth inch cable through.  How I ever got out of there is still a mystery to me.  I was just about on my  last stretch when the chief came after me."

 Source: Cherokee County Historical Society Newsletter, Vol 15, Num 1, Jan 1980, Sec V, Pg 3.  From the Cherokee Daily Times of Jan. 5, 1944.

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