Gold Star Men of West Duluth: An Inventory of Memorial Park Veterans Markers

chipped-off weathered-away

As noted in the Perfect Duluth Day story “Planners take another look at West Duluth’s Memorial Park,” a majority of the bronze plates memorializing West Duluth servicemen who died in World War I are either missing or damaged. Above are images of some of the more deteriorated and/or vandalized markers. Of the original 22, just seven remain in place and in good condition.

The markers were planted under trees in 1928 and read: “This tree planted in memory of (name) killed (date) for God and country.”

Dwight Nelson, a retired Duluth city parks maintenance official, Vietnam veteran, commander of the American Legion David Wisted Zenith City Post 28 and member of the St. Louis County Historical Society’s board of governors, said he submitted a report about the markers in the late 1990s to Duluth’s building and grounds supervisor, but nothing came of it.

“The city made no effort whatsoever to protect or save those markers,” he said.

Lisa Luokkala, project coordinator for Duluth Parks and Recreation, has been with Duluth’s Parks and Recreation Division for about two years. She said that although the West Duluth American Legion Post 71 collaborated with the city to develop Memorial Park nearly a century ago, it’s her understanding the city is indeed responsible for maintaining everything in the park. When the Memorial Park mini-master planning process restarts in 2017 it will include brainstorming the best way to honor veterans going forward.

“The style that exists right now, with the cement block in front of a tree is not ideal from a maintenance standpoint,” she said. “The longevity of it, as well as sort of design and safety for park users … we have a lot of different design standards for tripping, things like that that can happen.”

Does that mean the scattered veterans markers might be replaced with a single monument?

“I don’t want to say that, because it’s not community vetted, but that was the ideas that were coming out in 2015 from the community groups,” Luokkala said. “We wanted to make sure more were not vandalized and that we were cataloging the ones that have been lost over the years through a single memorial or monument of some sort.”

Below is a rundown of the present state of monuments in the park.


The plaque at the base of the flagpole is still in excellent condition. It reads: “In loving memory of Lt. Harold C. High, who died in the service of his country in 1959. Presented by U.M.D. Arnold Air Society and Angel Flight, May 31, 1971.”

The seven original tree markers in the park that are identifiable are shown below.


Robert H. Gustafson | Nov. 27, 1918


Carl Arthur Johnson | April 2, 1919


Frank F. Johnson | Nov. 5, 1918


Harry Emil Johnson | April 12, 1919


Leonard R. Johnson | Oct. 23, 1918


John Klench | Nov. 4, 1918


Harold Peterson | March 2, 1919

Four markers purportedly in place when Nelson put together his report in the late 1990s, but not visible this past summer, bore the names and dates listed below.

Peter Bruno | Oct. 21, 1918
Anton Maleski | July 18, 1918
Carl W. Peterson | Nov. 3, 1918
Rudolf A. Peterson | June 2, 1918

Duluth’s Parks and Recreation Division has held two bronze plates in storage for roughly 20 years bearing these names and dates:


Carl Ole Albertson | Nov. 1, 1918

Frank Leo Fox | Sept. 17, 1918

Eight names originally on bronze plates in the park that have been missing for many years have been culled together below from old newspaper clippings.

Francis Joseph Allie | July 16, 1918
Lorents Bakke | Oct. 6, 1918
Raulin Henry Clark | Jan. 21, 1919
Frank Mike Cullen | Oct. 4, 1918
Marshall L. Knapp | Sept. 28, 1918
Fred LaPage | Oct. 8, 1918
Daniel Luther McKay | Nov. 4, 1918
Edward Leon Snyder | Oct. 11, 1918

A marker for “The Unknown Dead – World War Veteran” is also not accounted for.

The 1928 newspaper article below confirms the number of memorials installed. The cannon referenced in the story was removed from the park long ago.


Another 1928 clipping indicates the bronze tablets were made by Duluth Brass, which was then located at 5002 Ramsey St. The company is still in business, operating in Gary-New Duluth at 2301 Commonwealth Ave.


The Duluth News Tribune clippings below reference the 21 West Duluthians “who fell in foreign battle zones.”




Memorial Park 2016

The Northeast Minnesota Historical Center and Duluth Public Library contributed research materials for this article.


Paul Lundgren

about 5 years ago

Three-and-a-half-years later update from the city of Duluth:

Construction on WWI Memorial at Memorial Park to begin Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Construction of the new WWI Memorial at Memorial Park will begin on Tuesday, May 28, 2019. A WWI Memorial has existed at Memorial Park for over 90 years. Over time, many of the plaques have been damaged, destroyed or are now missing. Multiple master plans have been conducted on the park over the past 7 years, and each has called for a new WWI memorial.

The scope of memorial construction includes:
•    Site landscaping
•    Concrete slab and circulation sidewalk
•    Flag pole installation

Residents can expect to see workers on site at Memorial Park from May 28 to early July. Please be aware that you may notice staging of construction materials and an increase in noise produced by the equipment during work hours from 7:30 a.m.  to 6: 30 p.m. The park will remain open during construction, with the exception of fenced construction areas.

After completion of site preparation, a second contractor will install the memorial itself. For more information about this project please visit

Paul Lundgren

about 4 years ago

Credit for naming Memorial Park goes to C. M. Brooks, according to the Duluth Herald of May 22, 1920.


about 4 years ago

A Tribute to Harold Petersen on Memorial Day 2020 

My great uncle Harold Petersen was born in Staubo, Norway on February 23, 1892 and immigrated to the United States sometime in the early 1900s. I was unable to determine the date he immigrated to the US because there are 100s of Harold Petersens listed in the Ellis Island records for the early 1900s period. I will work on the Ellis Island records, as now I do know Harold’s birthdate. 

Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against the German Empire on April 2, 1917. On April 6, the declaration of war resolution passed the Senate on a vote of 82 to 6. In the House, the declaration passed 373 to 50. Wilson at first wished to use only volunteer troops and asked the Army to increase its force to one million men, however, by May only 73,000 had volunteered. The Selective Service Act of 1917 was enacted on May 18, 1917. The first of three draft registrations took place on June 5, 1917 for all men between the ages of 21 and 30. 9.5 million men across the United States were registered that day. 

Harold Petersen registered on June 5, 1917 in Precinct 42 in Duluth, Minnesota. He was 25 years old. It was not difficult to locate Harold’s registration card via the National Archives. With this card, I learned Harold was an electrician for the Duluth, Missabe and Northern Railway; his mother and father were partly dependent on him for support; he was neither tall nor short, neither slender nor stout, but rather was listed as “medium” for both questions. Harold’s eyes were blue, his hair color light, he was not bald. His draft lottery number is written in the upper right-hand corner, number 209.

There were 10,500 different draft lottery numbers. On July 20, 1917, a blindfolded Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker, drew the first number “258” from the thousands of tiny grayish-black capsules sitting in a large glass bowl. Messenger boys bearing slips of paper ran to the telegraph wires set up in the corridor.  The news, flashed in a moment from Maine to California and from Oregon to Florida, was that all men with cards numbered 258 would be first called to serve. Baker and others drew numbers over the course of sixteen and one-half hours. The conscription was for 687,000 men. Estimating half would qualify for exemption by their local boards, a total of 1,374,000 names were drawn that day.

Harold’s draft lottery number, 209, was drawn sometime in those sixteen and one-half hours. Since Harold’s only possible exemption was partial support of his parents, he was not considered as exempt by the local Duluth draft board. Harold was one of 79,000 Minnesotans eventually called to service. 

In 1973, a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Mo. destroyed approximately 80% of Army personnel service records from 1912 through 1960. The St. Louis record center is now closed due to COVID-19, but I will mail the form requesting Harold’s service record in case his service record survived the fire. 

November 11, 1918, Armistice Day, ended the war and Harold Petersen had made it through the battles, the use of poison gases, the power of artillery more deadly than anything ever known before, and the brutality of trench warfare. Now he would wait in France for a transport ship to take him home. For Harold, the third wave of the influenza pandemic was to hit the bases in France where soldiers waited for those ships to arrive. The United States lost more soldiers to disease (63,114) than to combat (53,402), largely due to the influenza epidemic of 1918-19. It is estimated that 12,000 deaths from disease happened after Armistice Day. 

Harold Petersen was one of those post Armistice Day casualties. He died on March 2, 1919 from influenza. He had turned 27 the previous week. My father, Bill, was only five years old at the time but he never forgot his mother, Harold’s sister, Bertha, wandering around their house in West Duluth calling out, “Oh, Harold, Oh my Harold” for weeks and weeks and weeks. Until yesterday, that was all I knew of Harold’s story. 

My great uncle Harold now rests at the World War I St. Mihiel American Cemetery and Memorial, located at the west edge of Thiaucourt, France. The 40.5-acre cemetery contains the graves of 4,153 American military dead from World War I. Harold’s record at St. Mihiel reads as follows: PETERSEN, Harold, Corporal, 394th Field Signal Battalion, 79th Division, U.S. Army, State of Entry: Minnesota. Death: 2-March-1919, Plot B, Row 9, Grave 22, World War I.

Memorial Park in West Duluth was dedicated on May 30, 1928. The park had 22 markers under 22 Linden trees honoring the 21 West Duluth men and 1 Unknown Soldier who lost their lives in WWI. Over the years, the park was neglected, trees were cut down, most markers were vandalized, deteriorated, or went missing. Finally, after some renovations, on August 3, 2019 a new granite marker was dedicated commemorating the West Duluth men who lost their lives as well as their Gold Star family members. Harold’s marker at Memorial Park in his adopted home of Duluth, Minnesota is one of seven that have remained intact throughout the years. 

Now, 101 years later, in the midst of another global pandemic, I spent many hours learning about Harold. 

Great uncle, Harold Peterson, thank you for your service. 

With my love, Kristi 
May 24, 2020

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