Peter B. Petersen, a highly decorated Vietnam Army officer who later became a Johns Hopkins University professor, died Oct. 18 from pancreatic cancer at his Vero Beach, Fla., home.
The former Glen Arm and Guilford resident was 84.
“Pete was a leader, self-assured, calming and reassuring, and had a gentle sense of humor,” said Andrew S. Blumberg, a longtime colleague who is manager of advertising and strategic marketing for the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.
“He was the kind of person you wanted in an academic environment. He was a leader and a steady influence,” Mr. Blumberg said. “He was a friend to all, and beloved by all.”
Peter Baron Petersen was the son of Marius Petersen, an office manager, and Agnes Petersen, a homemaker. He was born in Chicago, and moved with his family to Garden City, N.Y.
He was a graduate of Far Rockaway High School and attended Farmingdale State College in Farmingdale, N.Y., for two years before being drafted in 1953 into the Army. During a 26-year career he rose from private to colonel.
Early in the Cold War, he graduated from the elite Army Ranger School and served with the 82nd Airborne Division.
As a captain with the 5th Special Forces Group, he was deployed to Vietnam and, from 1962 to 1963, helped establish Green Beret operational bases. He worked with local tribes to interdict supply lines and stop Communist soldiers from using the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a strategic supply route that ran from North Vietnam to South Vietnam.
As a colonel, he retuned to Vietnam for a second tour of duty in 1968 just months after the Tet Offensive, serving as commander of the 3rd Battalion of the 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Division. In this role, he led 814 men under his command in the Mekong Delta offensive. Their efforts were chronicled in “210 Days,” a book that was written by a son, James Petersen, of Conschohocken, Pa.
Dr. Petersen, who earned the nickname of “Pistol Pete” from the men he commanded, received two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star with “V” Device, a Distinguished Flying Cross, an Air Medal with “V” Device with 16 Oak Leaf Clusters and the Legion of Merit award.
One Silver Star citation noted that after a helicopter had been struck by enemy fire and forced to land, Dr. Petersen was directing the removal of casualties “with complete disregard for his own safety.” The citation said he “elected to remain on the ground with two casualties while the other wounded were evacuated … Petersen continually exposed himself to enemy fire as he marked enemy positions with tracer fire to direct gunship strikes.”
The citation concluded that his actions “saved the lives of his men and denied the Viet Cong the possibility of capturing the helicopter.”
Taking some rest and recuperation from Vietnam in Hong Kong in 1969, Dr. Petersen was joined by his wife, the former Jan McKenney, who worked in human resources with the Central Intelligence Agency.
This week she recalled how she suggested that he needed a nice watch — such as a Rolex — but he declined.
“His eyes fell on this Donald Duck watch by Seiko,” Mrs. Petersen recalled. “It was exactly what he wanted. He wore it... in combat. When others took a second look, laughed and commented about it, he would say, ‘Well, it’s a Donald Duck watch because we have a Mickey Mouse outfit.’ ”
“He knew how to bring the bright side to a difficult situation and lower the temperature a bit,” she said. “He had a very subtle sense of humor and you had to listen for it. He never took himself too seriously.”
After serving in Vietnam, he was assigned to the Pentagon where he worked in planning, programming and budgeting. He was discharged in 1979
During his Army days he had earned a bachelor’s degree in military studies in 1962 from the University of Nebraska. Five years later, he received a master’s in business from George Washington University. He obtained a doctorate in business, also from George Washington.
He began his academic career at Hopkins in 1979 when he joined the faculty of the Johns Hopkins Evening College, an early predecessor of the Carey Business School. There, he was director of business programs and taught management and organization.
He later was interim dean when the Evening College transformed to the Johns Hopkins School of Professional Studies in Business and Education. The Carey Business School was established at Hopkins in 2007.
A resident of Vero Beach since 2006, Dr. Petersen and his wife visited all seven continents. They climbed through the mountain jungle to see Rawandan gorillas, sailed on an ice cutter in Antarctica and traveled to China shortly after the Tinanmen Square protest.
When he was 65, Dr. Petersen reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Dr. Petersen’s wife noted that a former soldier who served with her husband wrote to her, saying: “I want you to know that it was an honor to have served under him in Vietnam. He was a great commander, and I never heard anyone say anything bad about him.”
Another wrote, “Please take solace in the thought that Col. Pistol Pete will now be surrounded by warriors who love him.”
Plans for burial with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery are incomplete.