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The true meaning of a hero/Paul Peterson

October 17, 2012
By Paul Peterson - For the Gazette , The Daily Mining Gazette

Whenever I hear the word "hero" used to describe the antics of some professional athlete nowadays, I roll my eyes.

I don't believe there is anything at all heroic about an overpaid, self-indulged, tattooed athlete celebrating after making an ordinary play.

As Chicago Bears legend Dick Butkus, who was a true sports star, once advised a modern day player: "Act like it's something you've done before."

Don't get me wrong. There are many heroes walking in our midst.

The men and women doing thier military duty in some far-off country certainly deserve that billing. So do the firemen and police officers who regularly put their life on the line every day. Or the off-duty nurse who goes out of her way to help a person in need of aid.

My personal idea of a real hero is Houghton's Robert "Bob" Peterson, a recent inductee into the Michigan Tech Sports Hall of Fame.

No, Bob and I aren't related. But his life story is one that is worthy of talking about.

Growing up during the Great Depression, he was a standout athlete at Luther L. Wright High School in Ironwood. That meant he played every sport that was available.

But football was his first love and he became rather proficient at it - good enough to get a scholarship offer to Michigan Tech in 1941.

Bob played two seasons at quarterback for the Huskies before enlisting in the Army Air Corps and eventually ended up being assigned to a base in England. He was assigned to a B-24 Bomber crew that was involved in the bombing of Nazi Germany.

On his second mission, his plane was shot down over enemy territory, and he was taken prisoner.

He would spend the next year and half of his life in a prisoner of war camp in northern Germany. Conditions were far from ideal, but as the war began to go against the Hitler war machine, they got even worse.

"When they (Nazis) saw they were going to lose the war, they didn't pay a lot of attention to the POW camps," he once told me. "They sure didn't worry too much about keeping the barracks warm .... and our food rations got slimmer and slimmer."

Once a strapping 6-foot-3, 195 pounds in college, Peterson lost more than 75 pounds before the Allies finally arrived to liberate the camp.

After recovering his strength after the ordeal, Bob enrolled at Tech and resumed his athletic career in 1946.

"I was still playing quarterback but I was actually just handing the ball off to our running backs," he joked.

"We passed sparingly and I was really just a glorified center."

College football back then usually required playing both ways. Peterson did that and also handled the placekicking and punting duties for the team. He was also named captain.

After graduating from Tech, he got married, took a job downstate and had a succesful professional career.

He would also be instrumental in helping to reorganize the Detroit Chapter of Michigan Tech Alumni and played a role in setting up a hospitality room at the Great Lakes Invitational Hockey Tournament.

I first met Bob at a Veterans Day ceremony a few years ago and got to know him pretty well. He was a positive person with a great sense of humor. And we had the common bond of having served in the military.

He had a keen interest in sports, particularly Tech. He was especially impressed with the Tech men's and women's basketball programs. His favorite player was Sarah Stream, the do-it-all standout of a few seasons ago who had to endure several knee operations to keep competing.

I think he admired the courage and tenacity of Stream, certainly something he knew a lot about.

Whenever I think about the word hero, I think about Bob Peterson. He's a true example of that much overused word ...

 
 

 

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