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Chinook WWII veteran Frank Pehrson

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TasunkaWitko View Drop Down
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aka The Gipper

Joined: 10 June 2003
Location: Chinook Montana
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    Posted: 03 December 2018 at 10:52
This man is one of America's best. I've known him since my teenage years, when I would deliver newspapers to his house. Even now, over 30 years later, he will stop what he's doing and come over and talk to me when we see each other about town. I am honoured to call him a mentor and a friend.

Ron

Quote Chinook WWII veteran Frank Pehrson served both country, community

SCOTT MANSCH
GREAT FALLS TRIBUNE
3 December 2018

Franklin (Frank) Pehrson was 21 years old and a long way from his Hi-Line home on December 7, 1941.

It was a Sunday morning and Frank was riding to his construction job near the Ohio River and Jeffersonville, Ind. The car radio was on and news of the surprise attack by the Japanese upon United States forces at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii rendered the vehicle’s occupants speechless.

Frank recalls the shock.

“I was really shook up about it, that’s for sure,” says Frank. “But of course there was nothing I could do about it.”

Frank had moved to Montana as a teenager and after working on the Fort Peck Dam project graduated from Glasgow High in 1937. Four years later he was operating a crane for a Montana contractor that had extensive work many miles from home.

Though Frank had no idea at the time, the attack on Pearl Harbor meant he would soon be traveling all over the world - and then returning to his Hi-Line home to carve out a living and raise a family.

He's dedicated his entire life to service, both to country and community.

THE PEHRSON FAMILY was from North Dakota. Frank’s father worked for the John Deere Co. and had a small hardware and sports goods store in a small town.

“Then all of a sudden all the banks went broke and there was no money in the country,” Frank says.

The depression had hit hard. Frank was 14.

“So my father and I came to Fort Peck in 1934 looking for some prospects,” Frank says. “My father decided to build a small motel in the boomtown of Wheeler.”

Frank landed a job cleaning barracks, and a year or so later at age 16 finished his high school requirements at Glasgow. The following summer he was working on the spillway wall at Fort Peck.

“It was hard work, real dirty and dusty and so forth,” Frank says. “But jobs were few and far between and I was happy to have it. Then there was a big layoff in the middle of July and I lost my job. I started hitchhiking west, looking for a job.”

LIFE WAS NOT easy back then, of course.

The teen-aged Frank was a high school graduate. He was out of work but not lacking in ambition. He worked the wheat harvest in parts of Montana and picked apples in Washington state before coming back to Wheeler.

Was he afraid?

“No, not particularly,” Frank says.

Then he tells a story of his first hitchhiking venture west when his ride stopped in Chinook. The sun was sinking in the west and Frank, who had a hole in his stomach and 35 cents in his pocket, was famished.

“So I walked up town and the first business I saw had a JC Penney on one side and a bar and gambling hall and so forth on the other,” he says. “There was a poker game going on.”

Frank chuckles.

“I thought, as crude as these guys look I could sit down and make five dollars in a few minutes so I asked the guy running the game if I could play and he said ‘Sure, Kid. Sit down right here and I’ll take care of you,’" Frank says.

He took out the only money he had and was soon ready to ante up. The first hand, he thought, was a winner.

“I had three queens,” Frank says. “A guy bet and I called him, but didn’t raise. I drew a couple cards that didn’t help and he took a couple. So he bet and I put the rest of my stack in and called.”

Another laugh.

“And he had three kings,” Frank says. “So I took my hunger with me and I went down to the depot, which in those days stayed open 24 hours a day. It was probably November but it was nice and warm in there.

“I learned a lesson. I played cards again, but I was more careful.”

OF COURSE, FINANCES required folks to live day-to-day back then.

“You bet,” Frank says. “I should say so. The depression was on. You could buy a new Chevrolet car for $400, but not many people had $400.”

Eventually, Frank landed a good job running a crane. A few weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, the job in Indiana ended and he was sent to Washington D.C. to work. It was a project to build the Pentagon building.

Frank lived with about four dozen other young workers in a big rooming house. The work was long and hard, often from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. He was making good money.

The draft board from Glasgow, though, was looking for Frank. It didn't take long to find him. The young native North Dakotan with family back in the middle of Montana was soon bound for Europe.

FRANK SERVED IN the Army Air Corps. He was as a top turret gunner in a B-25 Mitchell bomber and flew on 61 missions.

Sixty-One.

He was assigned to the 489th Bomb Squadron, 340th Bomb Group, 12th Air Force. Staff Sgt. Pehrson flew aboard missions in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Corsica. Frank understood he was supposed to fly 50 missions.

But he was at 60 before raising a ruckus with his commanding officer. A deal was struck, so long as Frank agreed to one more trip.

So in August of 1944, in conjunction with the Allied invasion of France, Frank completed his 61st and final mission. Two days later, the bomber went up again, with a new replacement sitting at what formerly had been Frank’s turret.

But this time, the B-25 named “Jersey Bounce” that had carried Frank so safely for so long did not come back. It had been shot down.

One man was killed, but the rest bailed out successfully and were hidden by the free French. It was more than a month before the unit returned to base. Frank worried all the while.

He was wracked with guilt.

“I tell ya,” Frank says. “There was a tree beside our tent. And I sat in that tree and drank booze and was drunk for a week. I was so mad at myself and the world and everything else.”

He pauses.

“But by the same token, I’d carried my share,” Frank says. “It was just one of the things that happened. We were losing planes almost every day. I didn’t feel bad about getting relieved, but I felt bad for them.”

FRANK GOT HOME from the war unscathed. And on Thanksgiving Day, 1945, he married his girlfriend Jane in her Oklahoma home.

Jane and Frank had met when both were working in Washington D.C. In fact, they stayed at the same rooming house. But they were not close. At least not at first.

One night, when Frank came to pick up a different girl, his movie date, Jane was there and told him she’d already left.

So Frank thought for a second and then asked Jane if she’d like to go instead.

“It turned into a marriage,” Frank says with a laugh. “We went to a movie and went dancing and that was that.”

Jane died in 2017.

“We were married for 71 years,” Frank says softly. “I guess I shouldn’t complain.”

FRANK AND JANE traveled to California as a young married couple and might have stayed there. But Frank’s father, who by 1947 had a small business renting cabins and selling gas in Chinook, became deathly ill.

Frank returned home as quickly as he could, but not before his father died. There were bills left behind. So Frank and Jane came to Chinook and eventually opened a gas station and tire store.

“I’ve been here ever since,” Frank says. “And it’s been quite a ride, I’ll tell you that.”

Only in recent years has Frank, 98, been willing to talk much about his military service.

“I’m not ashamed of it, I’ll tell you that,” Frank says.

The Pehrson gas and tire business, meanwhile, is still thriving on the east end of Chinook, with Frank’s son, Frank, Jr., running the place.

“Dad is very proud of his country,” Frank, Jr., says. “And I’m very proud of him.”

WILLIE PYETTE of Great Falls grew up in Chinook.

“My dad and his family were good friends with the Pehrsons, who were a legendary family up there,” Willie says. “I spent some time in that gas station. He’s certainly been a pillar of the community for a long time.”

Willie was surprised to learn that Frank flew so many missions on a B-25 bomber in WWII.

“I knew he was a vet, but I sure didn’t know about his history in the war,” Willie says.

Frank, you understand, didn’t brag about his service.

“Oh no,” Willie says. “He isn’t that type of guy at all. He’s just a hard-working, salt-of-the-earth type man. He’s really quite a guy.”

FRANK PEHRSON has been involved in many civic-minded activities in Chinook. He served on the city council. He’s been a member of the Central Montana Shriners, and the American Legion.

His good friend, Bob Brandon of Chinook, took it upon himself a few months ago to write to President Trump.

Bob, 78, says Frank is one of his heroes.

“I sent the president a letter with a story about Frank’s military time,” Bob says. “I thought he’d be too busy to respond. But the president sent a plaque and a picture and a letter. All to honor Frank’s service.”

And that meant a lot to them both.

“I get tears …” Bob says in a halting voice. “It’s great, just great. Frank is pretty dear to me.”

There’s another pause when a newspaper man tells Bob he’s going to write a little bit to honor his buddy Frank.

“Boy,” says Bob, “do I appreciate that.”

Just as so many Americans appreciate men like Franklin Pehrson, who to this day is a valiant, vibrant member of what is called The Greatest Generation.


Edited by TasunkaWitko - 03 December 2018 at 11:25
TasunkaWitko - Chinook, Montana

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Wing master Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 6 hours 10 minutes ago at 22:07
That's an awesome story Ron. It's an honor to know a guy like that. 

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I have always considered myself to be quite the bullshitter, But ocasionally it is nice to sit back and listen to a true professional......So, Carry on.
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