Pete Peterson and Jodi and Brian Harsany riding in the vintage Huey.By John Mullen

May 10, 2019 – Orange Beach, AL (OBA®) – On April 20 in Orange Beach, a Vietnam-era vintage Huey helicopter was taking folks up for rides from The Wharf for rollicking tours over Gulf State Park complete with combat-like dips and rolls.

In August, Pete Peterson got what his wife said was one of the best thrills of his life by being a passenger on one of those flights during a 2018 stop at The Wharf.

Pete Peterson with Huey volunteer from Friends of Army Aviation-Ozark.“I guess his crowning moment was when he got to meet those guys from the Huey,” wife Diana Peterson said. “That was a real treat for him to fly in those again. I can see from the pictures, you could tell by looking at him that he was a man in his element right there. He couldn’t have had any wider grin even with the little split in his teeth. He didn’t want people to see so he would never grin like that.”

Navy veteran Carl “Pete” Peterson died on March 31 at the age of 75. Reaching the rank of captain, he had a decorated career that started in the 1960s where he flew helicopters along the rivers of Vietnam providing support for Navy PBR boats.

In the 20 years since his retirement, he and Diana lived in Orange Beach where he was an involved citizen who served on the Board of Zoning and Adjustments and rarely missed a city council or planning commission meeting. Diana just hoped he wouldn’t run for office.

“The problem is he did a lot of that stuff and I didn’t know what he was doing,” she said. “I was actually trying to keep him from thinking about running for anything. He did look like he was pondering the idea of being in the government. I don’t know if I could deal with that. I’m sure he thought about every now and again. People for sure have asked him.”

When he’d bring it up, she says she’d try to change the subject and direct him downstairs where he was working on several project cars.

“I said ‘what about this car down here?’” Diana said. “He had enough stuff going on.”

But the day on the Huey back in August, she said, really brought back some memories of his favorite times and squadrons during his Navy career.

“He really bubbled up with that,” Diana said. “He loved that aircraft and there were two things he really loved. He loved HAL-3 when he was over in Vietnam and he loved his squadron when he was over in San Diego in HS-6. A lot of those guys were here like a week before he died and we had a big party. Five of the guys were in town. They always included him whenever they tried to get together. Some of them ended up in Pensacola and we had a party for them over here.

“Actually, the day Pete died they were all leaving to go home.”

Pete talked to the OBA Community Website in a story about the Huey flight. It was the first time since his Vietnam service he had been aboard a Huey.

“The only place the Navy had those was Vietnam,” Peterson said at the time. “I’ve seen them because I’m a member of the Seawolf Association because I was in that squadron. The squadron only existed for five years and it started in Vietnam and ended in Vietnam.”

He came away impressed with the professionalism of the Friends of Army Aviation-Ozark, an Alabama nonprofit dedicated to the promotion of Army Aviation with the Vietnam-era flying museum piloted by Vietnam veterans. And, the thrilling ride they provided.

“There is an angle bank on a helicopter which you should not go beyond routinely unless is a life-or-death or emergency type of thing,” Peterson said. “And they went to that angle bank and held it right there. Most people never see that.”

Seawolf logoOrange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon was on hand on that August day as well and had his chance to fly. Recently, he was talked about the service to the city that Pete was always willing to provide.

“To me, Pete was the example of what an American is,” Kennon said. “His patriotic service to his country, he was unselfish, he was at every meeting he could be at and participated. He was a sounding board for the mayor and council. Just one of those guys who’d give you the shirt off his back and never think twice about it, never expect anything in return. I just don’t have enough good words to say about Pete Peterson.”

Diana said he was well-liked at City Hall and the planning department and spent lots of times visiting. The only time during a recent conversation she teared up was when she talked about his interactions there and how they have reached out to her since his death.

“He liked dealing with the people in City Hall,” she said. “He didn’t just run in and run out. He’d sit and talk a little bit. The City Hall and people in planning have just been really great and offered me all sorts of help asking if I needed anything. He was really loved up there. They shared it with me a little bit, too. I really appreciate everything they’ve done.”

During a celebration of life ceremony at their home, Diana invited friends to help remember Pete through one of his last projects.

“He was known for his projects,” Diana said.

His final one was to refurbish a sidewalk from the Peterson’s home to the boat dock, one that started out as a simple repair job.

“My walkway was deteriorating and after all, we’d been living here 20 years,” Diana said. “My grandchild was coming, she’s 2 years old and just starting to walk. I needed replacement of some of the boards and the streamers were kind of rotten. I asked him to replace some of these boards to make life a little easier for me, for one, I wouldn’t be tripping. And this child wouldn’t be tripping, too. He went out there and in two days ripped out the whole darn thing.

“He said we’re going to do concrete. It took him from June until the end of March to finish it. He did it himself. I tell you he was proud of his walkway, he did it the way he wanted to, he framed it. All he did was have the people come and pour the concrete. That was about two weeks before he died.”

Diana decided to break out the bubbly for guests to celebrate Pete’s accomplishment.

“I said, ‘you know what? I’ve got some leftover champagne, this was his last project, I think we just need to take this champagne and pour it on there and christen it’” she said. “That’s what we did.

“Somebody came up with maybe we ought to put a little plaque on it here somewhere. Pete’s walkway. I think I’m going to do that. I’m going to get one of those brass plaques they put in concrete, that’s what I’m going to do. He loved this concrete walkway.”