For the six Hovdestad boys of Moorhead, ‘it was a matter of pride’ to wear Army greenSix brothers. One shared sense of duty. The Hovdestad boys of Moorhead were there each time their country called: World War II, the Korean War, and the uneasy peace of the Cold War. All six served in the U.S. Army.
By: Helmut Schmidt, INFORUM
One shared sense of duty.
The Hovdestad boys of Moorhead were there each time their country called: World War II, the Korean War, and the uneasy peace of the Cold War.
All six served in the U.S. Army.
One gave his life and was honored for heroism. Another carried a sniper’s bullet in a leg for the rest of his days.
The rest did their part as asked, from chauffeuring generals to jumping out of airplanes.
“We were very proud of what we did and what we were able to do,” said Stanley Hovdestad, of Tucson, Ariz.
He and Harold Hovdestad, of Desert Edge, Calif., are the only two surviving brothers.
“There was nobody forcing any of us to go in. We just did it on our own,” Stanley said. “It’s a matter of pride that we were able to be in the service and help our country out.”
The Hovdestad boys had four sisters, but none of them served in the military, Stanley said.
Four of the brothers graduated from Moorhead High School. The youngest two graduated from Park Rapids (Minn.) High School.
‘Stub has been killed’
The oldest Hovdestads, Andrew and Selmer, were among more than
16 million Americans who served in World War II.
Casualties in many of the battles were horrific, and it was no different for the monthslong slog to take the Hürtgen Forest.
The eldest Hovdestad was part of the Army’s 5th Armored Division.
In mid-December 1944, Staff Sgt. Andrew Hovdestad was in Company A of the 46th Armored Infantry Battalion, fighting in and around the German town of Kufferath.
The Germans fought desperately to hold the Americans, in part to hide preparations for their armored offensive in the Ardennes that would turn into the Battle of the Bulge.
Artillery fire was heavy. A command post for the 34th Tank Battalion reported 825 shells rained down on their area in one night.
On Dec. 15, 1944, Hovdestad joined the assault on Kufferath, leading what are described in accounts of the battle as aggressive patrols to clear it.
The next morning, as Hovdestad led a patrol in house-to-house fighting, he was mortally wounded by shrapnel when an artillery shell burst nearby.
Despite his wounds, Hovdestad urged his squad to continue the attack, and then crawled to an area covered from enemy fire where he helped other wounded men to safety.
The 25-year-old died later at the battalion aid station, and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.
Stanley was 6 years old when Andrew died.
“When the telegram arrived stating that Andrew had been killed, I watched my mother run up the stairs and sit by (his brother) Selmer’s bed crying. She said, ‘Stub has been killed,’ ” Stanley said.
Fighting the Japanese
Selmer Hovdestad was 21 when he joined the Army in October 1942.
He became a combat engineer and helped dislodge Japanese invaders on the Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska.
The “Forgotten Battle,” as it’s called by some, is the only land battle to have been fought on U.S. territory in World War II.
Stanley said Selmer was walking by a dam “and felt a sting” on his leg.
“He thought it was a bee that stung him,” Stanley said. “Later, he found out it was a bullet. He said a sniper had probably hit him. It was all he could figure out.”
The bullet ended up being a lifelong war souvenir for Selmer, who rose to the rank of sergeant. Doctors told him it was lodged under an artery, and if it didn’t bother him, it was best left alone.
Selmer said little about the war until his death in 1986, his brothers said.
Angered by loss
A third brother wanted to get into World War II, but he was too young.
“Robert had become so angry (by Andrew’s death) that he wanted to kill Germans,” Stanley said.
Robert Hovdestad joined the Army in 1945 and served with the U.S. Army Military Government in Korea, earning the rank of tech corporal before his two-year hitch ended, his obituary said.
Robert was living in Felton, Minn., when he died in 2007 at the age of 79.
Keeping the lines open
Harold Hovdestad served in the Korean War.
“I didn’t decide to join it (the Army),” the 82-year-old said. “They called me in whether I liked it or not.”
He was with the 226th Signal Service Company stationed in Taegu, South Korea, serving from 1952 to 1954.
He helped run telephone switchboards, eventually earning corporal’s stripes.
“I remember when Pusan was burning one night,” Harold said. “Our switchboard lit up with all the calls from generals and colonels.”
It was the end of November 1953, four months after the armistice had been signed. A charcoal stove fire caused a blaze that gutted two square miles of Pusan’s center, leaving 28,000 homeless.
“We were trying to run 36 switchboards, and there were only six of us,” he said. “Pusan was burning, and they were trying to get all of these other people.”
After Harold got out, he earned a teaching degree at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He taught in Moorhead from 1963 to 1967, and then taught in California until retiring in 1993.
Probably the brother with the best duty was Russell Hovdestad.
After graduating from Park Rapids (Minn.) High School, he worked for a railroad and Northern Drug in Fargo.
He then joined the Army, serving from 1953 to 1955.
While in the service, he spent 18 months in Augsburg, Germany.
“He was a jeep driver for these generals,” Harold said. “He enjoyed it. Sure, why not!”
Russell then went to college and got a teaching degree. After a year in Gonvik, Minn., he taught in Moorhead for 30 years.
He died in 2003 at age 69.
A ‘Screaming Eagle’
Stanley joined because it was the route to getting a decent job.
“One of the requirements from a lot of people at the time was, ‘If you didn’t have your service out of the way, they didn’t want to train you,’ ” he said.
Stanley, now 74, served from 1957 to 1960.
Stanley wanted to do something different from his brothers, so he became a paratrooper, jumping out of perfectly good airplanes with the “Screaming Eagles” of the 101st Airborne.
In April 1958, he was part of a training exercise for the 502nd Battle Group. It was a mass parachute jump of nearly 1,400 men at Fort Campbell, Ky.
High winds resulted in five men dead and 137 treated at hospitals.
“I was almost killed. I had a lot of problems from that jump,” Stanley said.
For his last year in the Army, he was sent to Korea, serving at Camp Casey north of Seoul.
While Stanley was in Korea, the shadow of America’s next war was growing.
His unit trained South Vietnamese officers.
“At that time, none of us knew what Vietnam was,” Stanley said.
After he was discharged, he worked as a butcher at local grocery stories.
In 1970, he and his family moved to Tucson, Ariz., where he became a dental technician and opened a lab.
“The good memories for me were being able to jump out of an airplane. I did enjoy that. But I did get hurt, too,” Stanley said.
“I think it gives us a good feeling that we were able to be in the service and be of help to help guard our country. The way it’s going now, if I was younger, I’d be in right away.”
All four of the brothers who died are buried in Moorhead.
“I’m just glad that I’m a vet and that I was able to be in there for my country,” Harold said. “We are still a wonderful nation, no matter what anyone else says. We are a wonderful country.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583