An Air Force pilot in World War II, he flew 35 bomber missions over Germany, airlifted food to the starving Dutch, finally had his plane hit by anti-aircraft fire, and crash-landed in a field somewhere in Belgium. He crawled out of the plane and walked to safety.
Then the excitement really began in the life of Pete Petersen.
Leaving the horrors of war behind, the guy proceeded to pilot his way through a lifetime of achievement:
1. He made up his mind he wanted to build a hospital--and did.
Petersen is the man who called the action in Lane Stadium and Cassell Coliseum as the P.A. "Voice of the Hokies" from 1979 until his retirement from his duties at Tech last spring.
In 20 years, Petersen guesses he announced about 125 Tech football games and over 300 men's basketball games. He did it with flair and with distinction, as he has done everything in his life.
Petersen still is going strong, too, as a P.A. announcer at other sports events. He has served in a number of P.A. capacities since he first got started as an announcer 44 years ago for Roanoke Valley high-school games. He's also been "The Voice" at Roanoke College basketball games for 28 years. Along the way, he also announced games of the Virginia Squires of the ABA and the Roanoke Buckskins.
Pete has been behind the mike at the Amos Alonzo Stagg Division III football championship games in Salem the past five years and also calls the Division III NCAA Basketball Final Four. He announced Metro Conference and Southern Conference Tournaments in Roanoke one year each and has called the Old Dominion Conference Basketball Tournament the past 12 years.
Petersen admits that the games at Virginia Tech have had special meaning and that he became "quite a fan" of the Hokies. While handling the Tech P.A. duties, he never missed a home football game and was at the mike for all but three home men's basketball games. He singles out Bruce Smith and Jim Druckenmiller as his favorites in football and Bimbo Coles and Dell Curry as the best he covered in basketball.
A native of Morrison, Ill., and a graduate of the University of Iowa, Petersen moved to Salem, Va., in 1955 to open the General Electric Plant. He held a number of jobs with GE through the years, mainly serving as personnel manager and manager of compliance and health benefits. He retired 14 years ago.
When Petersen was president of the Salem Chamber of Commerce in the 1960s, he ramrodded the drive to build the Lewis-Gale Hospital. "We only had one hospital in the area at the time," Petersen says, "so I got it in my mind that I wanted to build another one.
"Now 76 years young, Petersen continues to occupy a desk at Lewis-Gale Hospital. He serves as a goodwill ambassador for the hospital in the Salem community and also performs duties as a business consultant
Petersen's great deeds have earned him high praise from many sources. He's been named Outstanding Civic Leader in America and received awards from the Mental Health Society and the Boy Scouts' coveted Silver Beaver Award, to name just a few.
Looking back, Petersen says he was lucky just to survive the plane crash in Belgium during World War II. "Miraculously, no one in the plane was injured. We all walked," he says. He finished his military career in the reserves as Lt. Colonel Petersen, Commander of the 9480th Squadron.
The Air Force honored Petersen for his 35 bombing missions and his heroic service. He received the Air Medal with four clusters and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
This year, though, it was Virginia Tech's turn to praise and honor Petersen as he stepped down from distinguished service.
Jack Williams is the former director of media relations for sports information at Virginia Tech.
A unanimous vote by the presidents of the Big East universities cleared the way for Virginia Tech to attain full membership to the conference. Tech will become a member in all sports except wrestling--which is not a conference sport in the Big East--in July 2000, a year ahead of a schedule announced in late summer.
The change comes as Tech officials and the Big East were given a commitment by the University of Miami that it has no plans to bolt the conference. The Tech athletic department made acceptance of full membership contingent on Miami staying in the Big East.
The Hokies will compete in winter and spring sports in the Atlantic-10. That conference agreed to waive a $300,000 early departure fee it could have levied against Tech.