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Iowa State University Recognizes Former Student Who Served in WWII

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JOHNSTON, Iowa  --  Iowa State University has presented a certificate of attendance to a former student who attended the school in the 1930s, but never got a degree.

Richard Peterson, 99, served in World War II, where he used the engineering skills he learned at Iowa State. A while back he decided he wanted to see his old school, so he drove to campus and ended up in the Dean of Engineering's office.

“I was sitting working in my office working one day when my assistant told me there was someone in the office who is dropping in to pay a visit, “ said Dean Sarah Rajala. “He attended Iowa State from 1935-1939, I said I have to meet him.”

That visit prompted interest in Peterson, who attended four years, but did not get his degree. On Wednesday, Peterson got a call from the dean’s office telling him she wanted to come to his house to visit some more.

“I was trying to figure out why the Dean of the Engineering coming down to see me,” said Peterson. “Because I don’t know that what I've got to show here is all that different.”

“After you came to visit me and told me about your time at Iowa State and everything you’ve done in your life, I thought, 'we have to find a way to give you some certificate that acknowledges your attendance at Iowa State and recognizes your service to the country,'” said Rajala. “I worked with the university to get you an official Iowa State Certificate of Attendance.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” added Peterson.

He did not finish his degree, as he changed majors within the College of Engineering, so it would mean another year of school. He was out of tuition money, and ended up in the Army in WWII serving in Europe on the staff of General Omar Bradley as part of an engineering brigade. Peterson was sent to survey the waterfront in a town in northern France, and was supposed to have a Jeep and driver to get there. When he arrived for the mission, there was no jeep, so he rode with a convoy picking up supplies to accomplish his mission. He hitchhiked back to base in France.

Peterson was not on Omaha Beach on D-Day, but he visited the site later that year.

“Where would I have gone from the farm in Linn Grove, Iowa, if I had not gone off to college?” said Peterson. “The veterinarian from Iowa State is the one that got me headed towards Iowa State, he came to vaccinate our hogs every year.”

Peterson also has an autographed football given to him from ISU Athletic Director Jamie Pollard and has signatures from the school's women's basketball team. Peterson said he has been a fan of ISU athletics for 80 years.

On his 99th birthday last summer, Peterson threw the first pitch at an I-Cubs game.

"I got it all the way to the plate."