It became known as The Day the Music Died. February 3rd, 1959. Three young rock and roll stars killed in a plane crash after a concert in Clear Lake, Iowa. But a fourth person also died in the crash, and around Alta, Iowa there are those who still remember him.
Much has been said about that awful day. The three young rock and roll stars killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa---Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson---have been immortalized in song and on film.
The three had just performed what turned out to be their last concert at Clear Lake's Surf Ballroom. Two hours later, their lives ended in an instant. But often overshadowed by the fallen stars is the fourth person killed in the crash. The pilot. A young man who grew up on a farm outside Alta, Iowa. His name was Roger Peterson.
"He got the call to see if he wanted to take these rock and roll stars up to Fargo and obviously, he was quite excited about that and so he jumped out of bed and kissed his wife goodnight and said I'll see you in the morning," said Wayne Christgau of the Surf Ballroom.
Dick Anderson of rural Alta says Peterson was top of the line. He still gets emotional when he talks about his old friend. Like everyone who knew Roger, Dick says he was just a great guy.
He describes Peterson as someone you would be proud to have as a son or son-in-law.
"Just a good, clean-cut All-American boy," said Anderson.
Dick was a few years older than Roger, but they were both pilots in their teens and both attended the former Fairview School north of Alta. Dick and his father hired Peterson to work on their farm, and though Peterson just lived around the corner five miles away, he would fly his plane over, landing in the field across Highway 3.
"Any excuse to fly," smiled Peterson.
Peterson was only 21 when he died. He had been a certified pilot since age 17 and got his commercial licence at age 20. After the crash, a funeral for Peterson was held here, at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Alta. He was buried at Buena Vista Memorial Park Cemetery outside Storm Lake.
Investigators blamed the crash on pilot error; said Peterson didn't have enough experience in the model of plane involved. Peterson's boss, Jerry Dwyer, owner of Dwyer Flying Service disputes that to this day. He says Peterson had flown the plane to both coasts. Dwyer still lives in Clear Lake. Still parks his cargo plane at Mason City Airport; the same airport the ill-fated flight took off from that winter night 53 years ago. Dwyer declined an interview for this story, but says he's writing a book detailing what he thinks happened.
Over the years, history has become kinder to Roger Peterson. When a memorial was dedicated at the Surf Ballroom in 1988 bearing the names of the three young stars, it also bore the name of their pilot.
Wayne Christgau of the Surf Ballroom said, "I can honestly say over the years, those feelings have kind of melted away, now. And so there's no hard feelings any more."
In a farm field five miles north of Clear Lake is the site of the plane crash. For 50 years, the spot has been a sacred shrine for rock and roll fans. In 2009, a plaque of wings bearing Roger Peterson's name was added, and he became part of the shrine. Because The Day the Music Died was also the day that a young farm boy from Alta, Iowa died.