After 45 years, the friend of a young Marine, killed in Vietnam, finds closure

Anthon, IA

By Karen Newman of The Record

This story is about a Marine’s dress uniform. And the Marine who the uniform belonged to. And his friend, another Marine, who borrowed the uniform 45 years ago.
For all those years, Floyd “Pete” Peterson has wanted to bring closure to that dress uniform — to say thank you to the soldier and friend who lent it to him all those years ago.
He finally had his chance.
The dress uniform belonged to Gail Sanderson, a young man who grew up in Anthon, Iowa, who came from a family steeped in the duty and honor of military service, and who gave his life as a Marine during his service in Vietnam.
The story that started more than 45 years ago came home to Anthon in August when Peterson, who now lives in Oldsmar, Fla., visited his friend’s family in Anthon, and for the first time saw his friend’s grave. It was there that Peterson left some military medals and flowers to honor his friend, Gail Sanderson.
It was just days before then that Lynn McCormick of Anthon received an e-mail from Peterson, telling her that he had served with Sanderson in Vietnam. Peterson wrote that he was interested in contacting any of Sanderson’s relatives that might still be in the area. McCormick posted the email on the Anthon Community Club Facebook page (with Pete’s permission), and after it was posted, relatives were contacted by some of the page members.
Contact between the Sanderson relatives and Peterson led to arrangements for the Florida man to visit the family while he was in Iowa visiting in August.
Forty-five years ago, Sanderson and Peterson served together in Battery A, 1st Battalion, 13th Marines, near Hill 55 in the Dien Ban District of Quang Nam Province.
Peterson was a radioman, who was located about ten miles from where Sanderson operated one of the big guns used by the soldiers. Peterson would send location information back to the gunners, helping them direct their aim.
The two soldiers became acquainted once they found they were both Iowans—Sanderson from Anthon, Peterson from Mitchellville. Later they became close friends.
Peterson had enlisted in the Marines after one year of college when his college funds were depleted. Sanderson had also enlisted in the Marines. His reason for joining the Marines was because he had three brothers who served in the armed forces—Ron in the Air Force, Jerry in the Navy and Mike in the Army.
Sanderson enlisted in the military on the buddy system on the same day as his friend Brad Siefke. The two young soldiers were in boot camp together, but they did not serve in the same area of Vietnam.
It was after Sanderson had become friends with Peterson that Peterson had an opportunity to travel to Hawaii for R&R. For Peterson, it was an important trip. He would see his wife and meet his seven-month old son, who had been born after Peterson went to Vietnam. But traveling on R&R required soldiers to wear their dress uniform, and Peterson’s had been lost when he flew through Okinawa on his initial trip into Vietnam.
But, no dress uniform, no R&R. So Peterson asked his new friend from Anthon if he could borrow his dress uniform. The men were similar-sized and Sanderson was happy to loan the uniform to Peterson.
Peterson took his trip, saw his family and then returned to the war. When Pete returned, he learned that Sanderson had been killed on May 27, 1969, during his absence.
Over all the years since, he has felt a loss and wished to pay his last respects to his friend who had lent him his dress clothes.
About ten years ago, Peterson contacted Phillip Sanderson by phone and asked him several questions about Sanderson but did not identify himself and nothing further came from that visit. When he contacted the family this time, Phillip wondered if it was the same man who had called him. He was glad to finally solve the mystery as to who had called.
Many family members had photos and stories to share with Pete. One in particular that Ron Sanderson shared was a copy of "Life" magazine from June 27, 1969. In this magazine, the photos of 242 soldiers who were killed during the week of May 28 through June 3 were featured on several pages. Gail Sanderson was included in this issue.
While visiting with the family, Peterson told the Sandersons that “Sandy talked a lot about home and how proud he was of his family. Gail felt he had a lot of support from his family.
“That same love and support has been shown this morning as you speak of your brother,” he told the family.
As the group reminisced on the porch, family members told stories, brought up old memories and made new memories. The Sanderson family had children born from 1937 to 1963 so there were actually almost three individual families. Like many families they find they have a difficult time getting everyone together and as Peterson prepared to leave, the Sanderson’s thanked him for the opportunity to bring them all together and share the memories they all have of their brother, Gail.
They especially enjoyed the story about the dress uniform as none of them had been aware that Gail had lent it to a friend and the friend never had the opportunity to return it to him.

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