Donald Herod Peterson
West Point, 1955
Be Thou At Peace
Posted by West Point 1955 on July 5, 2019:
Donald H. Peterson 1955
Cullum No. 20259-1955 - May 27, 2018
Died in El Lago, TX
Cremated. Ashes scattered
Born in Winona, MS to Henry W. and Mabel Strickland Peterson, Donald Herod Peterson Sr. and his younger brother Gil grew up in a small town where everyone knew each other, worked hard for a living, and was willing to give their neighbor a helping hand when needed. It was a simpler time, no AC, TV, computers or jet airplanes. Growing up Don loved to read (mostly science fiction) and played outdoors using his vivid imagination (with friends he stayed in touch with his entire life). He would later tell his own children that as a young boy he had recurring dreams of flying, without the aid of wings or a plane, just soaring above the Earth. This dream set him on a quest for knowledge to discover the universe and its secrets.
Don excelled in math and science at Winona High School. He credits his math teacher, Ruth Smith, with recognizing his gift and providing individual math instruction beyond the curriculum the small high school offered, enabling him to achieve the education needed for college admittance and scholarships.
Don's hard work paid off, and after high school graduation he received an appointment to West Point. At the age of 17, Don boarded a train and headed out of his small Mississippi community to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1955, receiving his diploma from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and began his Air Force career. He would later earn his master's degree in nuclear engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1962.
While serving in the Air Force at a base in Greenville, MS, Don met Bonnie Love. They married in 1957. They were together nearly 60 years and raised three children: Don Jr., Jean, and Shari. Later, their spouses, four grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren would join in the family gatherings.
Don's Air Force career would last 24 years until he retired with the rank of colonel. During this journey, Don would achieve many accomplishments. He went to test pilot school at Edwards Air Force Base and, in 1967, was one of the third group of astronauts selected for the Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory Program (MOL). When this program was canceled, Don became a NASA astronaut in 1969.
Don moved his family to El Lago, TX to begin his NASA training. He would remain there until the day he died. While with NASA he served on the Apollo 16 Support Crew and, in 1983, flew on the Space Shuttle Challenger (STS-6) with crew members Paul Weitz (commander), Colonel Karol Bobko (pilot), and Dr. Story Musgrave (mission specialist). As a mission specialist himself, Don performed the shuttle program's first EVA (spacewalk), along with Musgrave. He resigned from NASA in 1984 and began his own consulting firm for work involving manned aerospace operations.
He had a remarkable career, but Don would tell you his greatest joy was caring for and spending time with his wife and family. His favorite title was "Dad" or "Daggy." He was an active supporter in all three of his children's academic endeavors, sports teams, and other extracurricular activities. He encouraged them to set goals, put in the work to reach them, then set higher goals and keep at it. The sky was not the limit. He was proud of each of their accomplishments and never hesitated to tell them. Saying "I love you" came easy and often from him. This love continued through the next generation. He told his grandchildren that "holding them in his rocking chair was better than floating in space." His unconditional love for all of them will be treasured always.
In his last years he liked spending time in his backyard on his swing sipping coffee or sweet tea and admiring his azaleas. He will be remembered as an honest, giving, caring, gentle man. Don died peacefully at home surrounded by his children. His family is comforted knowing his childhood dream of flying has been fulfilled in this life and hereafter.
Don is preceded in death by his parents, Henry W. and Mabel Peterson, and his loving wife, Bonnie Love Peterson.
He is survived by his brother, Gil Peterson; his children: Don Jr. (JoAnn) Peterson, Jean (Bob) Stone, and Shari Peterson; his grandchildren: Shannon (Joe) Hathaway, Katie (Jordan) Senor, Max Stone and Jeff Stone; and his great-grandchildren: Molly Kate and Macy Senor, and Laney and Ella Hathaway.