Numerous Englewood High School graduates went into military service during World War II but only 1935 EHS graduate Lt. Edward J. Peterson has a base and museum in Colorado Springs bearing his name.
Jeff Nash, assistant director of the Peterson Air and Space Museum, said Peterson —who died in a crash at the base in 1942 — was the first Colorado man to lose his life in the line of duty at the Colorado Springs Army Air Base, hence the base being named for him.
Englewood Mayor Randy Penn, a 1968 EHS graduate, said the fact an Air Force base is named for an Englewood graduate is a pretty big deal.
“The Edward J. Peterson story is a heck of a story and I would guess it is something many Englewood residents don’t know,” Penn said. “I didn’t know about Edward Peterson until a presentation about him at the 2013 Veteran’s Day event at EHS.”
Nash said Peterson was assigned as a pilot and operations officer of the 14 Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, stationed at what was then known as the Colorado Springs Army Air Base.
“As the squadron operations officer, the lieutenant was also the squadron test pilot,” Nash said. “He took an aircraft up for a test flight after an engine change in August 1942. The plane crashed and caught fire. Lt. Peterson died later that day of injuries he received in the crash.”
Peterson was born in Loveland on Nov. 16, 1917. Before moving to the Denver area in 1930, he and his family also lived in Berthoud for a time.
They then moved to a house on South Sherman Street in 1931 and Peterson attended Englewood Junior High School and EHS. An Eagle Scout, he helped spearhead the creation of an Order of DeMolay, an organization for young men sponsored by the Masonic Lodge. According to Nash, Peterson was an athletic and academic standout, receiving all-conference recognition in both football and track for the Pirates before graduating fifth in his class in 1935.
After his 1935 graduation from EHS, Peterson continued his education at the University of Denver and earned a bachelor’s degree in education in 1939, before earning his master’s degree in communications in 1940.
“About 1939 or 40, Lt. Peterson became interested in aviation,” Nash said. “He enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Training Program at Walt Higley Flight School at the airport located at East 26 Avenue and Oneida Street in Denver.”
Nash explained the CPTP was a government flight-training program designed to create a pool of pilots that could be called on for military service if the United States went to war.
“While at flight school, he met and later married Ruth Wallrich, who was also a pilot,” Nash said. “In March 1941, Edward Peterson enlisted in the Aviation Cadet program. When he completed his military pilot training, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant.”
He went on to advanced military flight training in 1942 and, upon completion, he was promoted to first lieutenant.
When he reported to Colorado Springs, Peterson was flying the F-4 which was the photoreconnaissance version of the P-38 Lightning. He was flying the F-4 when he crashed and was killed.
At Peterson’s wife’s request, the lieutenant was cremated and a P-38 spread his ashes across Colorado.
At the time of his death, his wife Ruth was pregnant. She gave birth to a daughter, Vickie Lee, now Vickie Huskey and a resident of Nebraska. The lieutenant’s daughter and his granddaughter visited the base and the museum in 2013 where they viewed the museum’s collection of items related to the lieutenant, including his service dress uniform and identification card.
Peterson’s younger brother Maurice also attended Englewood schools before entering the military in 1943, where he trained as a navigator and served with a B-17 squadron in Europe for the remainder of the war.