For twenty-five years, I had written and performed a special production in tribute to our nation – “A SALUTE TO AMERICA!” but 2006 was different – quite a bit different.


justin1On Monday, 09 October – I faced an audience at the Marimont Community Church in Pontiac, Michigan and paid tribute to one particular veteran – my oldest son Justin who, the morning after his 32nd birthday, was killed in Iraq.


I had finished preaching for the day – on Sunday, 01 October 2006 – in Sparta, IL, and was sitting with Pastor and Mrs. Bill Herald in a restaurant, waiting for our late evening meal to arrive at our table. My cell phone rang. My daughter-in-law Patty, asked where I was … if I was alone … and if I was driving.


Patty said, “Dad, this is going to be a memorable night for you – Justin was killed in Iraq this morning!” Within an hour, I had checked out of my room and was driving back to Michigan – heartbroken – mind racing, heart pounding.

justin2I pondered the possibilities of what had happened in Iraq. I wondered if my youngest son Joshua, also a Marine – also in Al-Anbar Province, Iraq – was okay. Did he know yet? How would he respond? How quickly could the United States Marine Corps get him out of harm’s way and headed home to share his tears with our own?


Within a few hours of receiving the worst news of his life, Joshua was transported to Kuwait, to Amsterdam, to Detroit, where his mother, twin brother Jordan, and younger sister Joy met him. Only a few hours later in the afternoon, Justin’s body arrived. Our extended family spent the evening interacting with each other at the Harrington Funeral Home in Clarkston, Michigan, and processing what was happening.


justin3After receiving over 1400 registered guest families at the visitation on Sunday afternoon, and after a "standing-room-only" funeral, Justin’s body was laid to rest in the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly, Michigan – with military honors.


The governors of California and Michigan issued Executive Orders for their respective state’s flags to be flown at half mast in Justin’s honor. Phone calls and emails came from around the world by the hundreds each day.


justin4On behalf of the entire Peterson family, I would like to express our gratitude to our many friends, acquaintances, and fellow citizens for your concern and prayers. Your phone calls and prayers have meant more than you can know. The phone calls, emails, personal contacts, & many acts of kindness & service have been received with humility, as our family has realized in a new way the vast volume of friends that are ours!


These expressions have lead us as an extended family to know beyond description that Justin’s life, military service, and death is not in vain – and to that end, I would like to share a few thoughts.

First - some thoughts about how Justin was raised

justin5Justin was a “man’s man” from the time he was born – and his x-rays and scars will verify that reality. Much of his pre-school years were spent Velcroed to a papoose board in emergency rooms in Michigan and in Virginia. In school – as Dr. Ken Hall the main speaker at Justin’s memorial service testified – Justin was plenty for any teacher to handle – and those teachers should have earned hazardous duty compensation!


I do not remember a day when Justin was not a Marine – at least in his own mind. But there was more to Justin than just becoming a Marine – although his mother and I remember well the colors ceremony in San Diego, the parade deck baking in the California sun, the pride we felt when we finally spotted our recruit, and the thrill of hearing those words “Good morning, Marines!” – knowing the pride that all those “maggots” were feeling inside as they were addressed as “Marines” for the first time!


How could we ever forget that drill instructors dinner in the NCO club, when suddenly a young recruit (Justin) appeared near our table and realized to his surprise, that it really was his mom and dad in front of him! Or would we ever forget how God had brought us into contact with the parents of another recruit named Will Hosman, whom Justin had lead to faith in Jesus Christ during those 13 weeks at MCRD San Diego?


Let me also share a few thoughts about Justin’s life as a Marine

To my recollection, the only time that Justin ever communicated even a hint of discouragement to me was during TBS. Having just been written up for an unlocked footlocker – he was discouraged. Calling from a bowling alley, he recounted how the locker WAS locked, but had not been zeroed out – but was a bit taken aback when Dad sided with the officer and heard me say, “Bud, if the officer said the locker was not locked, it was not locked – even if you couldn’t open it!”


He asked me to write down some of the scriptures that I shared with him that day, and I agreed to do so, but gave him some advice that is good for all of us as well. “Son, I’ll send them to you, but the best way to be encouraged is by desperately digging into God’s Word for yourself.”


Finally, let me say something about his death – if I can

justin6While life has always presented us with challenges, I think we’ve faced the largest one to-date – the death of our oldest son. However, I must tell you – regardless of the indescribable pain that we feel, it is matched by a justifiable pride in our Marine, as well as an eternal hope.


Our son lived and died that others throughout the world might be free – even in Iraq. He volunteered for a commission as an officer, as a leader, and as an example in the United States Marine Corp – how to live, how to work, and yes, even how to die.


But to have known Captain Justin Dale Peterson, United States Marine – would make even the skeptic proud to be an American.


graveside_smIn the myriad of memories that have raced through my mind these last few weeks, there is one memory for which I am eternally grateful. It was a call that I made one morning from Cebu City, Philippines – to Gina and the kids back in Lynchburg, Virginia. I can still hear Justin’s mom saying, “Here, I’m going to put Justin on the phone – he has something that he wants to tell you.”


He shared with me how he – even as a five-year-old – had placed his faith in Jesus Christ that very day during a Five-Day Club meeting at the home of our friends Ed and Donna Jean Hindson.


This leads me to a final thought for this tribute

There is another Father whose son – about the same age as my own son Justin - also died that others might be set free. To know His Son is to know the truth – and to know this truth is to be set free – free indeed. And because of HIS Son’s death, burial, and resurrection – our family is comforted with the assurance that we will see our son again.


leave a well in the valley

All of us face trials in our lives, physical and spiritual. It's not what happens in your life that measures who you are, it's how your respond. This book will encourage you and show you how it is possible to an individual to live through difficult times with great integrity and use the lessons God has taught to refresh others.

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Ministry for Dale began in Washington Township, MI and has taken him to each of the 50-states...

Dale Peterson

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a tribute to justin...
Justin Dale Peterson

Justin Dale Peterson,
US Marine Corps, Iraq

Sept. 30, 1974 ~ Oct. 1, 2006

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