Friday, August 17, 2012

Richard Raymond Peerboom - Part 1

There are often people in your family tree who tell an important story about your family, although they are not related through blood or marriage. One such person is Richard Raymond Peerboom. He was raised by my grandfather in his youth and, as far as I knew, played a small part in our family.

While searching through old family photos, my dad found a photo of Richard and said "this is my step-brother, Dick. My dad felt sorry for the mother because she didn't have a name to give him and so he gave Richard his last name. He was in Korea driving a truck and the road gave way and he was killed." That small amount of information was all I had to go on. As anyone who has ever researched family history knows, there is much more to any story, this one included,  and I was determined to find it out everything I could.

I performed a basic search in Ancestry for "Richard Peerboom" and located his name in the California Death Index. If he died in Korea, why would he have a California Death Index record? Does the military allow states to issue death certificates if the soldier didn't actually die in that state? What I was able to find out from this record that Richard was born in 1931 and died in 1952. He was only 21 years old when he died. So young and with so much to give to world.

The photo I had of Richard showed him in a military uniform (a pretty handsome guy, don't you think?), but nothing in any military record searches turned up more information for Richard Peerboom.

Richard Raymond Peerboom, ca. 1952.

Fast forward one year. updated their military records holdings and Richard appeared in U.S. Marine Corps Muster Rolls. OK, so now I know where the military part comes in - he was in the Marines, stationed in Camp Pendleton, California. But, if he died in Korea, even though he had been stationed at Camp Pendleton, would a California Death Record be issued for him? Wouldn't it be some sort of general U.S. military record for his death? So, the digging continued.

The records I located were interesting. There were three (3) main muster roll entries for Richard. The first record is for April 1952. He has a rank of E2, which is a Private First Class. He was part of the 6th Recruit Training Battalion from Parris Island, South Carolina, now stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, just outside of San Diego. If you have ever seen photos of Parris Island, South Carolina, you know it is a hot, wet, swampy place to be - not fun now, and certainly not in 1952. Camp Pendleton, on the other hand, is hot, dry and desolate. Having to train with the Marines in those two locations is enough to earn respect from me and added depth to Richard's story.

In July 1952, Richard was sent to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, enlisted in the Marines' supply school. I envisioned him learning how to procure supplies "Klinger-style" (the guy from M*A*S*H*). Hey - it was the same time period, so let's just go with it. It provided an image, in any event.

The next record was by far the most interesting. It was from October 15, 1952. The text was from the Unit Diary. It stated, "Drop died 11 Oct 52 of injuries multiple extreme in truck accident 2220 11 Oct 52 declared officially dead 2300 11 Oct 52." So he died of extreme injuries (must be truly awful if even the military uses the word "extreme") only 40 minutes after an accident at 11:00 p.m. So, he was in an truck accident that happened near midnight? What was going on here?

It appeared that the truck accident part of the story was true, but Richard died at Camp Pendleton, not in Korea, which explains why he was issued a California Death Certificate. I started searching for newspaper articles; maybe there was some mention of the accident in the San Diego newspapers. I couldn't find anything mentioning him or Marines being killed in accidents. I did, however, locate an article that finally told me what really happened. It was from the San Diego Union, Wednesday October 15, 1952.

There had been training maneuvers at Camp Pendleton to prepare the Marines for invasion into Korea. This and other articles indicated that the Marines did not want a repeat of casualties from the D-Day invasion during World War II and wanted to use a mock-battle to help the soldiers learn the best way to invade Korea's beaches while staying alive in the process. Unfortunately for Richard, it didn't work. He died on the first day of these maneuvers and never made it to Korea.

I know it was the 1950's, but I was truly disappointed that there wasn't any mention of Richard dying in these maneuvers. It also saddened me deeply (I actually cried at the dinner table while relating to my family what I had learned) to know that he had endured tough training at Parris Island, learned about the supply chain for the Marines, and was ready to defend the United States in Korea, but never even got the chance to leave American soil. In fact, he died on the very first day of the training maneuver. 

Richard would be 81 years old today, possibly with grandchildren and a family who loved him if it hadn't been for this mock-training exercise. Very sad indeed.

But what was Richard's life like before this all took place? What was his mother's name and where was he born? Stay tuned as I answer these questions and more.


  1. Good update - I'm looking forward to the follow-up post.

  2. Really informative piece and I can't wait to hear more! You're right that he could have been someone and something so much more but got short-changed except for his stepfather, my Dad's (and my Mom's)kindness in raising him.

  3. What a great story. Back in the earlier part of the 20th century many families helped each others extended families and neighbors a lot more than it seems today.

    Regards, Jim
    Hidden Genealogy Nuggets