University of Utah honors veterans for exceptional service

11 photos
Save Story
Leer en espaƱol

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utahns paid tribute to veterans across the state Thursday to thank those who fought for our freedom and endured the horrors of battle.

Veterans' stories of battle are often too painful for them to share with their own families. Sometimes it is outside recognition that finally lets family members understand the impact of their veteran's service.

The University of Utah paid tribute to 11 veterans during Thursday's full-dress military ceremony. They each were awarded a medallion.

Among this group, veterans who flew bombing missions, survived the bloodiest battle of the Pacific Campaign, and witnessed the damage in Nagasaki right after the atom bomb.

"I think the most important thing was being able to do something for our country," said World War II veteran Donald Ward Petersen.

He and the rest of his B-24 crew were shot down over Austria in 1944. He endured 11 months as a POW and a 600-mile march across Poland and Germany in brutal winter conditions. With only a blanket for warmth, Petersen and his fellow POWs slept in fields and drank water from gutters. In May 1945, they were liberated by British troops so they could walk the rest of the way back to the front lines.

Petersen's daughter, Bobbie Killpack, said he never talked a lot about the war until recent years.

"He just took it for what it was," Killpack said. "He went through it, did the best he could do and had an excellent attitude. He has done that his whole life."

"I never think much about it," Petersen said after the ceremony. "They told us there was a job we had to do, and we did it."

Killpack and her family returned to the prison camp in Poland with Petersen in 2002. That was a trip they will all remember with solemn respect.

Petersen says he tries to forget the worst memories and cherishes his family, which grew to nine children, 47 grandchildren, 96 great-grandchildren and 11 great-great-grandchildren.

Fellow honoree Bill "Rock" Rockhill served in Vietnam as a Navy SEAL. A decorated seaman, Rockhill salutes his fallen comrades and said they were the true heroes.

"War heroes come home with a flag on their box," he said. "The others of us are just war survivors."

Today, Rockhill works at the VA helping a new generation of returning war veterans with physical therapy following injuries. Nine previous University of Utah military honorees passed away since the last ceremony.



Related links

Most recent Utah stories

Related topics

Jed Boal


    Get informative articles and interesting stories delivered to your inbox weekly. Subscribe to the Trending 5.
    By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

    KSL Weather Forecast