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Lost but not forgotten

DCN Correspondent

Trudging through snow with a temperature below zero, searching for names and dates on headstones in Park Hill Cemetery. While every name and date has its own story to tell, finding the few engraved details of Helmer A. Peterson urged me to find his story. Or at least try.

What I knew was his birth date, the year that he died and a few abbreviations: Co. 350th Field Hospt. Unsure of what more I would find, I began to search for Helmer’s story by scrolling through lengthy links on the St. Louis County GenWeb site. My pessimistic attitude halted when I found a couple details about Helmer A. Peterson. His middle name was Arnold, and his death date was Jan. 19, 1918.

Turning to the Minnesota Historical Society Web site, I discovered a death certificate for Helmer, which stated he had died in Polk County. Utilizing the information I had, I was convinced that I would be able to find more by searching 350th Field Hospt., as engraved on his headstone. Questions started forming: Was he a victim of World War I? The flu epidemic of 1918?

With no such information turning up on my computer screen, I decided to search somewhere else.

A trip to the library, and over an hour of scrolling through January 1918 microfilm and ancestry Web sites later, I turned to more Google searches and GenWeb links. Feeling like I had no where left to search, another day in class and a brief discussion with a classmate changed my mind. I had been searching the wrong death date.

A new search brought me to rootsweb.com, as well as a paragraph about Helmer A. Peterson. After another trip to the library and a shorter search through April 1918 microfilm, I began to find Helmer’s real story.

Son of John and Hannah Peterson, Helmer Arnold Peterson was born on Jan. 23, 1894 in Duluth, Minn. After completing his schooling in Duluth, Helmer became a pharmacist. Remaining in town, he found employment at Beyers Drug Store.

During World War I, Helmer reported for military duty on Sept. 21, 1917. Sent to Camp Dodge, Iowa, he was assigned to the Medical Corps, 350th F. A., 313th Sanitary Train. Helmer was one of five in a class of 83 to pass examinations as sergeant. He remained at Camp Dodge through the winter.

With 24 years of life behind him, Sgt. H.A. Peterson’s body was laid to rest and transported back to Duluth after succumbing to disease at Camp Dodge, Iowa, on April 10, 1918. Helmer was survived by his parents, two sisters, Adia and Hazel, and three brothers, Lawrence, Cari and John, Jr.

This biographical sketch was written for the Research for Reporters class at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Each student in the class went to a cemetery in Duluth, got a name from a grave marker, and then used a variety of primary and secondary sources to find out as much as possible about the person.