When I saw the name in a recent online edition of the Del Norte Triplicate, I had a sudden flash of memory of Dad and Pearl Harbor veteran Tom Gooch, talking about ‘Rocky’ Peterson. This is the sort of history I wish my high school teacher had taught us.
Born Roscoe Earl Peterson in Ashland, Oregon sometime during 1919, ‘Rocky,’ his parents, Arthur and Gladys and four siblings, Dorothy, James, Richard and Lyle moved to 742 2nd Street in Crescent City in 1929. Rocky graduated from Del Norte High in 1938 after being a standout athlete in both baseball and basketball.
While Peterson is best remembered for his skill on the baseball diamond, he was also a good basketball player, starting as a forward on the school’s varsity team. Peterson was so good that he drew the ire of Arcata High’s basketball coach William McKittrick.
In February 1936, McKittrick complained that Peterson was ‘too good,’ which caused him to be declared ineligible for the rest of the season. Not to be phased, Rocky picked up a job coaching the Crescent Elk Middle School’s basketball team.
Three years prior, when Rocky was 14, he joined the local semi-pro baseball team, the Crescent City Merchants. Though still in his junior year of high school, Peterson was playing professionally using his middle name with the Yakima, Washington Pippins, and after two-years, with the Lewiston, Idaho Indians.
He had plans to move to Portland, Oregon and play for the Portland Beavers, but instead joined the U.S. Navy on October 21, 1940, enlisting at San Francisco. Peterson officially reported for duty aboard the U.S.S. Arizona on December 30, 1940 and served aboard the ship for less than a year.
On December 7, 1941, he died along side 1,176 of his fellow shipmates during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. His remains rest among the 900-plus souls still aboard the U.S.S. Arizona.
The 22-year-old Seaman Second Class was posthumously awarded several medals including the Purple Heart, the American Defense Service Medal w/Fleet Clasp, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal w/Star and the WWII Victory Medal. On Independence Day in July 1943, Crescent City, California to change the name of Plaza Park at D and Sixth Streets to Peterson Park.
In September 2016, Rocky Peterson was named to Del Norte High School’s Hall of Fame.