Peter Selmer Hildre


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HILDRE, Peter Selmer

The following information of Peter Hildre contains a brief Veterans' Memorial Hall history form with Mr. Hildre's personal war experience; a story from the "Never Forgotten" Hermantown Star article; a personal interview with Peter Hildre recorded by Gina Temple-Rhodes from Cedar Story Services; and Mr. Hildre's obituary from the Duluth News Tribune.

Peter Selmer Hildre was born in 1932 in Petersburg, North Dakota, the son of Martin Andreas & Margarit Amelia [Asbjornson] Hildre.

He served in the U.S. Marine Corps. Mr. Hildre joined the Marine Corps Reserve in November 1949, one year before he was to graduate from high school. He was assigned to "B" Company Marine Reserve, 4th Infantry Training Battalion in Duluth, Minnesota.

His unit was activated for service in July 1950 and sent to Korea. They fought in the Chosin Reservoir; only thirty-five of the original two hundred twenty-seven men in Howe Company who participated in that battle survived. He was discharged in April 1952. His rank was Sergeant. He was Section Leader for light machine guns.

SGT Hildre was decorated with the following merits:

  • Purple Heart,
  • a Presidential Unit Citation,  -and-
  • the Korean War Service Medal and five Battle Stars.

Mr. Hildre died May 22nd 2016. (See Obit at the bottom)

Source: Veterans’ Memorial Hall veteran history form; veteran’s account (below)

"I joined B Company, 4th Infantry Training Battalion, Duluth, Minnesota, in November 1949. I was activated July 1950. Left Duluth, Minnesota, as a unit August 21, 1950. Fought in the Chosin Reservoir. Thirty-five members of Howe Company (H-3-5) walked out of the reservoir out of two hundred twenty-seven. Fought in many battles in 1951. I was section leader of light machine guns; was wounded on September 18th, 1951. Rose to rank of sergeant and never went to boot camp.”

Mr. Hildre served during the Korean War in the Marines. He served from summer 1950 until April 1952. Mr. Hildre is a survivor of the Chosin Reservoir battle.

Source: "Never Forgotten" Hermantown Star November 6-13, 2008 Never forgotten Hildre served during Korean War, fought infamous battle at Chosin Reservoir By Wade Petrich-Hermantown Star, November 6-13, 2008

Pete S. Hildre has a memory like a steel trap. He can recall dates, places and names from 58 years ago like it was only yesterday. However, what he went through in late 1950 might stick in a lot of people’s minds.

Hildre served in the Korean War with the United States Marines. He graduated from Duluth Central High School in 1950 and the war started in June. By the end of summer he was off serving his country. In the early months of the conflict, it looked like the war would be over soon as American and United States troops pushed into North Korea. Before the end of November everything changed when the Chinese came to the aid of their communist allies in the north (China entered the war on October 25) to push back the invading force.

On those few cold days in late November and early December, many American soldiers lost their lives as the Chinese surprise attack left mass confusion among the American and UN troops. Those who survived the attack were nicknamed the “Chosin Few” on the “Frozen Chosin.” Hildre is part of that group. Hildre landed in South Korea on November 3, 1950, and as part of Howe Company the young Marine slowly made his way north with his fellow soldiers.

Things were going well until Thanksgiving Day. Hildre said the troops were given a turkey dinner in honor of the American Holiday. “They gave us a turkey dinner, but the food was frozen to the plates.” Hildre recalled. “I do not know how cold it was, but it was as cold as I have ever been. You did not dare have any skin exposed because it would freeze instantly.” Just seven miles from the Yellow River, which bordered China, having the war over by Christmas did not seem out of the question.

But at 3 a.m. everything changed. “The Chinese started their attack and after that it was mass confusion,” Hildre said. The first wave of Chinese troops came in with nothing but hand grenades, throwing them or blowing themselves up around American troops. “We could smell the first wave coming,” Hildre said. He remembered they carried all of their food in a sock and many of them went looking for food and clothing if they overran a position.

The second wave came with machine guns and started spraying the; landscape with bullets. For three days Hildre said they prayed for clear skies in hopes of air support. “If we saw stars overnight we thought if we could survive in light we might make it,” Hildre said, “None of us knew what was going on. It was our first time in combat so we did not know what to expect.”

Unfortunately the skies were not always clear and it was hard to bring in air support. Hildre remembered when planes did come they had to fly so low you could see the pilots faces in the cockpits. After three days of fighting off the Chinese, Hildre said they were able to break out of the reservoir and retreat toward the coast. They had to fight off Chinese roadblocks nearly the entire way. Hildre made it to an airstrip at Hagaru-ri. He said it was a long march and no one said a word. He did remember them singing the Marine Hymn as they marched two-by-two. “During the breakout I do not remember eating or sleeping for three days,” Hildre said. They were able to get a warm meal and sleep in warm huts after the first leg of the march. “Once you felt that heat hit you in the huts you were out,” Hildre said.

From there it was another 11-mile march to Katri and they had to fight additional Chinese attacks. The final leg of the march was a 55-mile trek to Hungnam. The tents with straw on the ground felt like a five-star hotel to the battle weary troops. “When we woke up in the morning we took a helmet and razor and were able to shave,” Hildre said. “That felt pretty good.” Hildre crawled up a rope ladder to an awaiting ship at the port city. He felt lucky to be one of the few to make it out alive and in one piece.

Of the 227 men he served with, Hildre said he was one of just 35 to make it out. Hildre remembers a mass grave made to bury the bodies and recalled seeing countless dead, frozen bodies during the retreat. They are memories that he has never forgotten. “They said they recovered all of our dead, but I do not know if they did or not, “Hildre said. “I am not sure anyone will ever know.” The port city was destroyed and many civilians fled with the Americans and battleships bombed the area as the Chinese arrived.

Hildre continued to see combat in Korea until he was wounded in September 1951. He was shot in the left hand and remembered being on the hospital ship with his hand swelling up to the size of a football. From there he went to Japan and eventually flew back home.

In April of 1952 he was discharged from the Marines. Back home Hildre’s father was a carpenter, but with his injured hand it was hard to work in the same trade. So he started working for the railroad in Proctor, and worked for a while in Montana. After coming back to the area, Hildre got into the toy business in 1967 and traveled around the Northland with that job until he retired.

Hildre has been married for 55 years and has six children, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He continues to be active in the community, serving on the Hermantown Federal Credit Union board of directors and is active at his church, Grace Lutheran in Hermantown.

Hildre also is the president of the Korean War Memorial Fund, which has a display along the Lakewalk in Duluth. Over the years he has stayed in contact with fellow Korean veterans and he currently meets annually with members of Howe Company. Hildre said they meet at various locations around the country. “There is a strong bond with all of those guys,” Hildre said. “Everyone was a hero during that battle in the reservoir. “I think I am one of the few that live in the northern part of the country. Most of the guys moved to a warmer climate after the war” Hildre said he has spoken to groups about his tour of duty in Korea, but it still brings up painful memories.

When he came home it was not something he really talked about, even to his wife. “I did have nightmares for a long time,” Hildre said. “Some of the things that happened I will never forget.

Battle of Chosin Reservoir The Battle of Chosin Reservoir was a battle in the Korean War in which 30,000 United Nations troops (nicknamed the “Frozen Chosin” or “The Chosin Few”) under the command of American General Ned Almond faced approximately 120,000 Chinese troops. The name Chosin is the Japanese rendition of the Korean place name Changjin. The name stuck due to the outdated Japanese names on maps used by UN forces.

Shortly after the People’s Republic of China entered the conflict, large numbers of Chinese soldiers swept across the Yalu River, encircling the UN forces in the northeastern part of North Korea at the Chosin Reservoir. A brutal battle in freezing weather followed. Although they inflicted enormous casualties on the Chinese forces, the UN troops were forced to evacuate North Korea after they withdrew from the reservoir to the port of Hungnam. The battles of the Chosin Campaign, which had a decisive impact on the future course of the war, were fought in the 10-day period between November 27 and December 6, 1950.

                "B" Company Marines Oral History Project

                        Narrator: Peter Selmer Hildre (b. 1932)


                           Interviewer: Gina Temple-Rhodes

                                  (Cedar Story Services)

                             Recorded February 08, 2013

                                At the Depot in Duluth, MN

PH: We lived in Petersburg, North Dakota and then when World War II started my brother joined the Marine Corps.  My dad was a carpenter and my mother had a restaurant in a little town of Petersburg, North Dakota.  And then my mom and dad and my two sisters and I packed up ’33 Plymouth and just like a bunch of Beverly Hillbillies headed west.  Ended up in Arden, Utah.  My dad worked as a carpenter at Hill Field, built the air base there.  My mother worked in the railroad cleaning the cars.  And my aunt and uncle came out.  They had a prisoner of war camp there, German prisoners of war, Italian prisoners of war.

GTR: Did you ever see them?  Did they ever come out?

PH: Oh, yeah.  We could ride our bikes down there, just down the road from us.  I had a paper route.  And after the war ended, my dad and I went back to, came to Duluth in the car.  We blew a tire in Green River, Wyoming.  All you had was recap tires and the tire blew and we flipped over.  I just remember looking up and there was somebody grabbing me and pulling me out of the car.  My dad broke his arm. 

GTR: So, you came back.  What year were you born?

PH: 1932. 

GTR: So, you were a teenager during World War II. 

PH: Yes.

GTR: Did you come back to Duluth for high school?  Or where did you end up doing high school?

PH: We came back to Duluth, my dad and my brother had a business together.  Duluth roofing and siding, they did insulation and build houses.  I to do a lot of that also, had to do a lot of roofing. {laughs}  It was in the eighth grade when we got there.  I went to Washington Junior High School.  And then went to Central High School.  In my senior year of high school, in those days you had to register for the draft.  And I said, I don’t want to be drafted, so my friends talked me into joining the reservists.  Which I did and then that’s how I got into the reserves. 

GTR: Were they in the reserves, in the same unit?  Your friends?

PH: Yeah. 

GTR: Did you think you’d end up being activated from that?

PH: No, no way to it.  The night we graduated from high school, we went two weeks summer camp in Little Creek, West Virginia which is Norfolk.  We did amphibious landings, qualified on the rifle range, threw a hand grenade.

GTR: That was just part of the training, the reserve training?

PH: Right.  Then we took the train out and they flew us back in airplanes.  We had to wear parachutes and stuff.  And the day we came home the Korean War broke out.  They activated us in July of 1950.  We had thirty days to get our affairs in order and then we left Duluth as a unit on August 21st.  We marched from the naval base down on Park Point, Superior Street to where we are here in the Depot.

GTR: Right, and that’s our building.

PH: We picked up different units as we went across the country.

GTR: What was the mood like on the march?  I’ve seen that picture as you’re marching down Superior Street.  What was the mood like?  Were people watching and cheering you on?

PH: Oh yeah, people were watching.  And then our relatives were at the Depot when we had to give them a hug and say good-bye.  It was happy and sad, I guess, because we didn’t know what we were getting into. And we got to Camp Pendleton and they put us into three groups, all the privates went to boot camp, some went, got their gear and ready to ship out to Korea.  I was in the first replacement draft, we went to tent camp one for, oh, about a month, I guess.  And then we boarded ships and went to Japan.  The war was sort of ending down then, they had them on the run.

GTR: That was late 1950.

PH: And we entered Korea as a first replacement draft, which was like a battalion of people on November 3rd.  And they had a big schoolhouse there.  They had our names on the wall; told you what units you were going to.  Three of us went to Howe Company, 3rd Battalion 5th Marines.

GTR: Which company?

PH: How. H-O-W.

GTR: You said there were a few of you from Duluth?

PH: No, I was the only one.  Most of the ones from Duluth ended up in the 1st or the 7th Marines.  Some were in the 1st Battalion.

GTR: The How Company…

PH: 3rd Battalion 5th Marine Regiment.  And that company came from Guam.  Captain Fagan was the company commander.They were the first ones into Korea in August of 1950.  So, they stopped the North Koreans from pushing them right out to the sea.  And then they were pulled out from land, boarded ships and made the landing in Inchon. 

GTR: So, you joined them for that?  Were you in that landing?

PH: No.  We didn’t get in there until November.  When they were going on up into North Korea.

GTR: And what had you heard and what were you expecting once you got there?

PH: Well, the Chinese had hit them on November 2nd, the forward units, and then they just disappeared.  A couple three days of firefights and then they were just gone.  We didn’t know what was going on.  And then we went up, I think we went up in trucks.  We got as far north as Koto-ri and there we got cold weather gear.  Parkas and long underwear and everything, insulated boots with, they were rubber shoepacks with liners, they had felt liners in them.  And then we went to Hagaru and Yudami and we were on the east side of the reservoir and we turned that over to the army.  And then we went back around, and this was like Thanksgiving. 


GTR: Did you have the dinner?  I’ve heard of that dinner.

PH: Yup.  Froze on your plate.  You had your mess plate.  Froze right on the dinner.  But we ate what we could.  It’s the last food we were going to see for a while.

GTR: What else did you eat? Were you able to build fires much?

PH: No fires, nope. 

GTR: I can’t imagine.

PH: Cold weather like we had a few days ago, 24/7.  But then we were supposed to, the 1st Battalion was supposed to head north and we were in reserve for the 5th Marines, and then that night the Chinese hit us.  We had, we were down by the riverbed.  We were a hundred yards out in front of the lines and we had one machine gun and probably a couple of fire teams of riflemen.  This kid let out a yell. They were dragging him off in a sleeping bag.  We let a burst go on a machine gun, they dropped him.  And then he told us to come back into our lines.  That was the extent of our first night.  But we could see the firefights up in the mountains all night long and you knew that stuff was going on.

GTR: They were that close, surrounding where you were?

PH: Oh, gosh, yes.  They had quilted uniforms and sneakers on their feet.  They had like a sock around them and that had three days ration in them, millet, cornmeal and a lot of garlic.  You could literally smell them with the garlic.  But how close they could get to you was unreal.  Sneak up to you. 

GTR: Were they white uniforms, that group?

PH: Yeah, they’d change them white to dark.

GTR: But they held off that night?  You didn’t get any…

PH: We didn’t get anything that night.  And it was a day or two later and here they come down the riverbed like they were going to a parade and we just wiped them out.  Just a… turkey shoot.

GTR: Was that that tunnel?  I read somewhere about a tunnel.

PH: Hellfire Valley.  Yeah, that’s on the way up. That was at Sudong.  That was what they ran into, the ones that ran point going north. 

GTR: You had a different, this was a riverbed they were walking on, not that tunnel.

PH: Right.  The army unit that we turned the east side of the reservoir to, they about got wiped out.  Survivors were crawling across the ice.  The reservoir was a big lake, frozen. 

GTR: What happened in the Chosin Reservoir?  Were there many different days?  You say it was the Chosin Reservoir Battle, how many days was that compared to what you were doing on that riverbed?

PH: It was on Thanksgiving Day until December 3rd, that’s when they ordered us to pull out.  We had to fight our way to Hagaru.  In Hagaru they had made an airstrip, flew in DC-3s, took the wounded out.  They took out over 5,000 wounded out of there.


GTR: Did you have any wounds or issues with frostbite yourself?

PH: Frostbite.  Anything that was exposed froze, your face and ears.  We had some kind of gloves, it had a trigger glove on it.  The shoepac were about the worst thing they could have gave us.

GTR: Which one?

PH: The shoepacs.  Your feet would sweat then freeze to an ice cube.

GTR: They were rubber with stuff inside.  I just talked with Duane Booker this morning and he talked about his feet injury, losing the skin.

PH: I didn’t have any of that.  I didn’t lose any fingers. As for my face, I’ve had four surgeries on my face, my arms, my head, my ear. They remodeled my ear from the frostbite.

GTR: Were you ever sent home or away from the line for those injuries?

PH: No, no.  We just hunkered down.  But then it took us three days to go fourteen miles to Hagaru.  I don’t remember eating or sleeping during those three days.  And then we made it in to Hagaru, that was the division headquarters.  We got in.  I seen a Corsair come in and crash-landed in the rice patty. The pilot got out okay and then they came in and destroyed the airplane. 

GTR: What destroyed the airplane?

PH: Another Corsair came in and blew it up with a rocket.  We went into a little hut. They do their cooking and heat their house on the outside.  We walked inside and just the heat just about knocked you out, being so tired.  Then we started out there, forty-five in our company that were left, out of 227. 

And then we headed down from Hagaru to Koto-ri and then we went through a convoy that had been obliterated, just about.  Three hundred. Nine hundred people in this convoy with trucks and tanks and jeeps and three hundred of them made it in to Hagaru. The tail end of it turned around and went back and Koto-ri, but we walked through that and there were dead bodies frozen like statues on trucks and jeeps and on the ground.  They told us not to touch the bodies because they might be booby-trapped. 

And then we went through that and just about into Koto-ri and then we had our last fire fight.  Howe company; we had to crawl up over the bank onto the road and they had dug down into holes in the ground and had a straw mat pulled over it. And then when we did overrun them. They hollered iddy wa that means…”come here”.

GTR: That means what?


PH: Iddy wa, means “come here”.  And then they pull the hand grenade, blew themselves up.  And that was the end of that, that was the last firefight.  We got in to Koto-ri and there were parachutes from air drops that they use for dropping in ammo and Tootsie Rolls, they gave us, they air dropped Tootsie Rolls, to get moisture and energy from. 

GTR: I’ve heard that they were very useful.  Do you remember eating them?

PH: Oh yeah, I always had a pocket full of them.

GTR: Were they really little ones?

PH: Oh, no, these were bigger sized Tootsie Rolls.

GTR: You know I looked for some this morning, I wanted to buy some to bring to interviews, but I couldn’t find them, I don’t know where to look.

PH: Ah.

GTR: I heard that was some kind of misunderstanding, but it was a good one.  Is that what you remember also?

PH: Yeah.  Anyway, we used a tent, or a parachute made of tents.  Three of us crawled in there, crawled into our down filled sleeping bags and shivered until we fell asleep.  It had snowed during the night.  It was really cold.  We got up and there were bullet holes all over the tents and all over the parachutes.  I don’t know if they were there when we started or came during the night, but…

GTR: You didn’t wake up though? 

PH: No.

GTR: That was your last firefight.  What happened after that?

PH: Well, then, from Koto-ri we had blown a bridge just outside of Koto-ri going down to Hamhung. So, they air dropped four tread bridges and then they used two of them so they could go across, the tanks and jeeps. It was narrow enough for a jeep and wide enough for a tank and a truck. Otherwise, we could have walked around by the power plant there, but then we would have had to move our wounded and truckloads of dead. 

And when we got to that point then we were down in the ditch by the road and we had to get up and run to that tread bridge and our battalion commander there just waving us on. Machine gun bullets were kickin’ us in the dirt and stuff.  There was a tank way off to our right and he was firing up in the mountains to wipe out that machine gun blast.  And there, after we crossed that, then it was just a walk.  We walked eighty miles the last day.

We got in to Hamhung.  I don’t know what time of day it was, but it was dark.  It had to be in the middle of the morning or three o’clock or something.  Had tents set up for us with straw in there and we crawled in there and went to sleep.  In the morning they came in and had a helmet and a razor and we all had to shave.  We hadn’t washed or anything for over a month.  Our pants were just cruddy.  And then we got down to the sea and got on landing craft and went out in the harbor and had to crawl up platters to get on board the ship.  You were so pooped out you could hardly move and sailors were helping us up.  Just sat on the deck the whole way, and slept.


GTR: You were going where?

PH: Going back down south to Pusan, to South Korea.  And then when we got in there they had tents set up with heaters in them and cots.  First cot we slept on.  (laughs)

GTR: And how do you think you survived all that?

PH: Youth, I guess.  Just good leadership.

GTR: What was your rank at that point?

PH: I was a private first class.  Never went to boot camp.  (laughs)

GTR: You just had a little bit of training at the summer camp and some at Camp Pendleton, is that where you went?

PH: Yes.  And then when we got back to Pusan, we had an inspection and the colonel came through and checked us all out. We got replacements, hot food.  We were there through Christmas, January, latter part of January.  Then we started to move north again.  And then our mission was to, we got all replacements to pull strength for How company.  It was gorilla fighting.  We had to clean out the area all the way north. We had our first firefight there on Valentine’s Day of ’51. And section leader for machine guns got five burp gun shells in his stomach.  He died; he didn’t die there, he died a couple months later in hospital.  So, then you just kept moving up the ranks to gunner, to assistant gunner, to squad leader, to section leader.

GTR: You did that, you were moving up?

PH: Yeah.  That’s how I got to be sergeant.  A nineteen old kid, buck sergeant in the Marine Corps and never went to boot camp.  (laughs)

GTR: Wow.  You just learned on the job, as you went?  Wow. 

PH: Yeah.

GTR: And where the men under you the same age or some older?

PH: Some were older, some were my age, some were maybe a little younger.  We got all new officers.  They rotated a bunch of the guys out in March, a bunch just left and we got more replacements.  Then we were at all different operations.  Operation Killer and oh, I don’t know what all. 

GTR: There were a lot.

PH: Yeah, there were a lot of clearing the Chinese out.  Real-estate wasn’t the goal anymore; it was to kill as many Chinese as they could.  (laughs)

GTR: And they kept coming?

PH: They kept coming. 

GTR: Were you trying to move at that point a little bit, trying to push them back?

PH: Yep. 

GTR: Where was that?  Where did Operation Killer take place?  I’ve heard of that.

PH: Operation Killer.  Operation, wow, there were like three or four different ones.


GTR: And you were there for all of them?

PH: I was there for all of them.  And then in May.  Oh, in March, March, we were in this, like a little valley type thing and there was a big hill, and we were all just watching them and they were like, four to six abreast and like a block long.  They were South Korean and said they were rounding up to get in the military and they kept walking down the thing and then they stopped and then all the others just kept walking into them, like that.  (laughs) Checker board.  Domino effect.  (laughs) Crazy.

GTR: The South Koreans weren’t prepared as well.  Did the Chinese seem more equipped or prepared?  Were the Chinese more of a force at that point?

PH: No, not really.  We were on the top of a cliff and way down in the distance was a wide open field, trees over here and trees over there and they’d line up, the Chinese would line up and then they’d holler out and they’d run across the fields to the other forest.  And the Battalion Commander Stewart was there and he wanted me to set up a machine gun and so I set up the machine gun and fired and fired, but the distance was so far that the tracers would burn out, we could see where your shells were going.  Every fourth round in a belt was a tracer and you could literally see where it was going.  He tried to get an air strike and every once in a while I heard a “wang!” a bullet go past my head. (laughs)  So, then they started to move out and came down and the grass was about chest high and this Chinaman stood up with his rifle over his head and surrendered and we bopped him (laughs) and he had a connipt fit.

GTR: He was right there.  So, what happened to him then?

PH: We took him prisoner.  He was just a loner and just, with a machine gun, see.  Life expectancy of a machine gunner in combat is two minutes.  ‘Cuz they’re, the sound, if you hear the sound over hear, that’s where you’re going to shoot at, whether you see it or not.  You know, that’s what you want to take out.  And then May, of ’51, we went on a seven day patrol, company patrol, we went out fourteen miles in front of our lines, looking for the enemy, couldn’t find no sign of them.  Then we came back, they called us back to get back into our lines and then we had to go relieve the colored outfit that we overran.  And they gave us a beer ration.  In the summer time we had eight cans of beer. 

GTR: Eight?  Per person?

PH: Yeah.  Eight cans of beer.  You didn’t drink beer you could trade it for something else.  So, we relived them and as we passed through the lines we grabbed, asked them to give us any extra hand grenades and stuff they had.  And then they left and we went up into the hills and dug in.  And then that night about two o’clock in the morning they had overran, we were tight in with Item Company, and they had killed two guys in their sleeping bags and took their machine gun and was just raking our hill and bouncing off my machine gun and… We had a fox hole, assistant gunner, we were both there in the same fox hole and I says, we gotta lob out a couple hand grenades, which we did and then somebody with the BAR came up and got the guy on machine gun.  And just started to get day light and the road come like this, around and we were up in here.  There comes as many Chinese as I’ve ever seen, and they hollered at me, keep down the road and I took a double take and opened up the machine guns and just, it was a turkey shoot.  There were buildings in there and stuff and they fired into the buildings and then they had straw huts, too.  Put some tracers on the top of the huts and burn them down. 

GTR: Tracers would do that?  It sounds like the Chinese were sometimes quite a formidable enemy, sneaking up on you at night, but other times it didn’t seem like they were very strategic?

PH: Mostly night, they were mostly night fighters.  Yeah, they could really get close to you.  It was scary.  And then at night, after we got dug in we had what was called the meal train and South Korean civilians would have these big a-frames on their backs and they’d bring in ammo and food and C-rations and even mail.  We got mail every night.

GTR: Did you get mail?

PH: Yep. 

GTR: Did you have family in Duluth, friends and family?

PH: Yeah and brothers and sisters.

GTR: So, they managed the mail.  That sounds amazing.  Some people said they didn’t get much mail.  So, was it a little bit hit or miss?

PH: It was after, in ’51 is when we got the mail.

GTR: So, how long did you end up staying?  When did you get out?

PH: We took the punch bowl in May, secured that and then we were on line, just dug in the defense.  And then we went into reserves, got off the line for the first time.  Went back and we had hot showers and by the Ingi River.  And then the peace talks were going on.  We even got ice cream.  (laughs)  Hot food.  Powdered milk, but it was (laughs) something that I missed.  So, then all we did was do some more training.  We trained and trained and trained and trained the replacements that came in and then we got all new officers and then the peace talks ended, September. Back on the line and it was totally different.  The Russians had supplied them, more equipment, more weapons.  They were dug in like unreal.  They had big timbers over their bunkers and stuff.  We relieved the company and then were going to take, start attacking the hill and we went around to one side that was around a big knoll.  Humongous boulder, we called it The Rock and I think the reporters called it Heartbreak Ridge.  And we had a Lieutenant Walter Sharp; first combat he was in. We were on this little ledge looking through field glasses to spot out where they were at, and he got one in the leg, let out a holler, I pulled him back down and got a corpsman. An then he sat up and got one in the back of the head.  His face just blew apart and came all over me.  And then we, they pulled us back and we carried him back.  We had like, four killed that day.  That was on September 16th 1951.  And then…


GTR: How would they get casualties out then?  What would happen to them?  How would they get casualties out?  What happened to those people?

PH: Well, they had helicopters that carried the wounded out.  Came in and they had what they called graves registration and we just laid the bodies out in a flat place and covered them and then the graves registration would pick up the bodies.  So, then two days after that and we went around the other side of The Rock.  We had both the platoon and I had left one machine gun back to cover us.  I went with the other machine gun and they got under the bunkers, there were these big bunker and they’d be rolling hand grenades down. The machine gun that I had left back here lobbed mortar in it so I ran back to get that and I got hit.  I got one through the hand, one in my back and one through the butt of my carbine. And my field glasses, big seven by fifty field glasses and one went in there.  I went to the ground and I couldn’t feel any blood on the back and my hand was like a football.  I went, well, I’m not dead.  I put the battle dressing on and wrapped it around my hand and walked back into our lines and here’s this kid on the 30-caliber water cooled machine gun and looking down the barrel of that and I thought, I spook him and I’m dead, he’s gonna pull the trigger.  And I hollered, “Corpsman!” and the kid jumped this high. 

GTR: You were a corpsman, that you were coming back?  You were a corpsman?

PH: No, no I called a corpsman, that I needed a corpsman.

GTR: Oh, okay.

PH: That was the word.  You hollered for the corpsman.  He redid my bandage and tried to give me a shot of morphine. It was in little vials and the needles just kept bending over.  So, they put me in a foxhole and made sure I didn’t go into shock.  It got about dark and then I had to walk down the mountain to the trail we came up and got to battalion aid station.  And they took me to a, like a MASH unit.  They gave me a shot of morphine in my arm at the battalion aid station and then they drove me to a MASH unit.  And they had stretchers on stilts and so I had to crawl up on one of them and the corpsman was digging in my hand and stuff and it just hurt like hell.  He wrapped it up again and gave me some more shots and I went into this other tent and slept ‘til they woke me up.  And then I got up they put me on an airplane, flew me back to Pusan and the hospital ship there.  The Red Cross had a wagon with coffee and doughnuts and got on board ship and doctor said this was my graduation ring.


GTR: Oh, from Duluth.  Central?

PH: And I had this on and I thought, well he’ll cut it off, but he didn’t, he pulled it off and I thought, wow!

GTR: And you got to keep it.

PH: Yeah, I got to keep it.  And then they had to get rid of all my clothes.  You know you don’t eat and shower out in the combat unit; you don’t even brush your teeth.  Water’s for drinking.

GTR: How did you get water when it was so cold?  From snow?

PH: Yeah, every mountain had a crick or something running down and you could dip your canteens in there and get water.  Summer time it’s really hot and wintertime it’s just freezing cold.  So, they did one surgery on the hospital ship.  Took all the bone fragments out and stuff and put a cast on and a big hook out here, like a coat hanger.  And they taped my finger to that and then the ship went to Japan and then they loaded us up on like plan boxed cars, stacked up on stretchers and then they flew us back to, stopped at Wake Island.

GTR: Stopped at which island?

PH: Wake Island.  And the walking wounded could go out while they refueled and I walked and it was, whew, just like an oven, hotter than a pistol.  And then we flew from there to Hawaii.  We were there for like, two days for sure, maybe three.  And then they loaded us up on planes again and we flew to Oakland, California, naval base there.  And they flew me from there to Great Lakes Naval Hospital in Waukegan, Illinois.  And there they did a bone graft.  They took bone out of my hip and graphed it in here.  But I can’t straighten.  My knuckles back here.  I can’t really make a fist. 

GTR: And how did you get back to Duluth then?


PH: Well, I stayed at Great Lakes, must’ve been September, October, November it must have been when they did the surgery, the bone graft.  Then December I got thirty day convalescence leave.  Then I took the train from Waukegan to Minneapolis to Duluth.  Came home for thirty days and then went back and went through more therapy and stuff.  And then I got discharged.  I had to go to a physical evaluation for it and then was discharged in April of ’52.

GTR: You came back to Duluth?

PH: Came back to Duluth.

GTR: And what was it like to get back to Duluth?

PH: It was a good feeling to be home.  I remember coming over Thompson Hill.  We took a bus from Minneapolis to Duluth.  And come over Thompson Hill and tears came to my eyes.  Just…

GTR: To see that view.

PH: Yeah.  Then I bought a car.  On weekends, my sister lived in Indianapolis, so if I got a weekend pass from the hospital I’d go down and spend the weekend with them. 

GTR: And how were you feeling at that point about the war or about your buddies or about your hand?  Were you just glad to be alive or?

PH: Glad to be alive.  Maybe guilty.  That you made it out and the other guys didn’t.  Why?  I don’t know.  Lieutenant Sharp, I mean, we were just like this.  Why they shot him and not me.  It’s mind-boggling. 

GTR: Was there any awareness when you came back from friends or family or what kind of welcome or reception did you get when you came back?

PH: From the family, I got a good reception.  From a lot of friends, said, where you been?  They were going to school and college and a lot of them joined the other guard and stayed home and got paid to live at home and (laughs).  A lot of them joined the National Guard.  As that time you had to register for the draft.  My dad was a carpenter and I helped him for the summer.  He built a motel in Proctor and I’d have a hard time hanging on to a handful of nails you know.  When you’re nailing you have a handful and your starting one and getting the other one… (laughs)  I’d keep dropping them and he’s say, good thing you’re not working in twenty feet of water! (laughs)

GTR: Did you get any sort of compensation at that age?

PH: I got twenty percent disability.  Yeah, I had all my money from in the service, from day one, because there was nothing to spend it on.  You couldn’t buy anything.  So, I had all that money saved and my oldest brother called and he had moved to Montana, Butte, Montana and called and wanted me to come out for the Fourth of July there, out to Flathead Lake to go fishing.  So, I drove out there and we came home and there were all kinds of jobs and I went to work on the railroad as a switchman.  Met my wife on a blind date and we got married and built a house.  Had a baby and moved back here in 1956.  Went in the service station.


GTR: Service station?

PH: Yeah.  Did that for ten years and went from there to toy distributor.  Then we moved out into the country and had forty acres and built a warehouse out there and worked out of my home.  Covered Northern Minnesota, parts of North Dakota and parts of Wisconsin and… ‘til I retired.

GTR: And when did you start meeting with other veterans in part of these reunions?

PH: We had the first reunion with B Company in August of 1975.  And then B Company was a group that left Duluth as a unit.  And then they decided to have them every five years.  And then our company, the company I served with in Korea, they had their first reunion in September at San Antonio, Texas. 

GTR: What role to those meetings play for you, in your life? Why do you keep going to them?

PH: Howe Company, we had them every year we had a different reunion in different parts of the country.  I hosted one in Branson, Missouri.  We set up a memorial fund when someone would pass away, we’d send one hundred dollars to the First Marine Division Scholarship Fund.  That was, I mean, I never talked about Korea to anybody.  They didn’t know, they didn’t understand.  Reunions helped that.  You know, and I found two friends that I went through the whole schmear with.  Three of us went together and I found Allen in 1990 and then I found Russell in ’95.  He lived in the Cities (Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul).

GTR: To reconnect?

PH: But he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio.  (laughs)  And how we’d find them, we’d had the roster of the company and the phone book on a computer thing, and then we’d send a post card, are you the John Doe that was served in How Company, Korea?  They answered back and we’d get a hold of them and we kept finding more and more and more and more and more.  Eventually we found a whole slug of them.

GTR: Is it the camaraderie?

PH: And it’s been good for the wives, too.  They’re very, very good friends with them.  We just lost one of my friends that I went with, that I started with, Allen, a couple weeks ago.  He was in Heber Springs, Arkansas.  And the other one had some really bad health problems, but he’s much better now.  They’re going to have the last reunion for Howe Company in May of this year in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  We’ve had them in Oregon, California, Boston, Indianapolis, Kansas City…


GTR: Sounds like a lot of effort to go back to those.

PH: It was.  It was like taking your vacation for the year to go, you know.

GTR: And then would there be quite a bit of talk about the actual war or just talk about other things?

PH: Talk about other things, but with your buddies there was a lot of war talk.  What happened, and so on and so on and so on and so on.

GTR: So what role do you think, how do your service and career, that time, affect the rest of your professional life or your personal life later?

PH: Well, it’s always there, you know.  The movies never end.  (laughs)  When I came home, when I was discharged, then I had to go back to school for a week or ten days for a shop class that I had missed enough of that I had to go make up time.  So, I went to school and Walter Niemi was the teacher.  And he said, you don’t have to do nothing, he says, just sit around and watch.  (laughs)  But then when I got, ended up getting my diploma, I went into his office, Stollen, I think the guy’s name was.

GTR:  Stone?

PH: Stollen.  He said, are you always this nervous?  And I didn’t think I was nervous, but… (laughs) I must have been. 

GTR: To get that diploma.  So, what advice would you give to Veterans returning from overseas now, today?

PH: There’s tons of help for you out there, do not pass it up.  VA does a super job. 

GTR: Reunions, do you think reunions are good?

PH: Reunions are very helpful.

GTR: I don’t know if they do any.  Your group seems to be somewhat unique in the number.  You have your monthly lunch and that seems somewhat unique.

PH: It is.  And that’s the only reserve unit in the whole country that does that.  The only one!  And there were a lot of them.  First Marine Division was made up of reservists, really.  You know, it’s all on paper.

GTR: So, why has this group met for so long compared to those other groups?

PH: They started out five years, and then three years, and then one year.  Now we have a, we don’t have a full-fledged reunion, we have a memorial service where we raise the money and built that memorial on the Lake Walk, all private funds.  All paid for. 

GTR: It’s a nice memorial.

PH: It is.

GTR: I like to go visit it.  Where there’s a poem by Vern Forsberg, is it?

PH: Forsberg? 

GTR: Who wrote the poem?

PH: Who wrote the poem.  Yeah, he’s in, I think he’s in Louisiana.  His health is not good. 

GTR: Did he ever live up here?

PH: Oh, yeah.

GTR: He did?  Okay.  I saw, Mr. Morrissey had lent me a booklet that he had written up, that Vern had written up.

PH: With all the poems? 

GTR:  Just stories.

PH: Oh, The Marine to Remember.

GTR: That was good, too.  Good information for me to learn.  He seems like he was quite a writer, writing those stories.

PH: Yeah, he was very good.  Bob Olson is one they had to read them.  (laughs) He had a nice wife and they lived in Wisconsin for a while.  Lived down around Eau Claire, I think, and then they ended up… I don’t know what he did for a living. 


PH: And How Company, we used to make just first couple three we just had group photos, you know, with… And we had the one in Las Vegas and all you can see was carpet and then some people on the mall.  And the flashes from their eye glasses.

GTR: Oh no. (laughs)

PH: So now we made the book.  After that we made the book with individual photographs, spouse or friend or whatever.

GTR: That’s nice. 

PH: But, they’re getting… Age is coming up with us and it’s getting too hard for people to travel and it’s putting on a reunion is a lot of work, hotels and food and entertainment, you know, just…

GTR: Sounds hard.  Is there anything else?  Is there anything you would hope would be different for veterans returning today compared to when you returned in the ‘50s?

PH: Well, we didn’t have no parades or anything, but we didn’t come back as a unit, either.  We just, you know, wounded and stuff, we got sent home earlier.  I woulda been at Korea two weeks, I was there two weeks shy of the year.  If I coulda lasted two more weeks without getting hit I woulda been home.  (laughs)

GTR: So, that’s what they did?  Back then, you did your year or whatever and you were done.  Now, people so often go back.

PH: They go back and back and back.  Well, they get a lot of money, too.  They get a lot of bucks for that. 

GTR: I suppose.

PH: Which, I don’t know what we got paid.  It wasn’t much.  We got combat pay, but…  They take four or five tours, I don’t know, it’s just…  You can’t be shot at that many times and not get hit pretty soon.  We didn’t have body armor or flack jackets, all we had were helmets and (laughs) World War II weapons and…

GTR: So, what do you think was the end result of that war?  Did it do good in the end or was it?  You did some good, it sounds like.

PH: It did good.  If they’re gonna have a war, they need to let the generals run the war, not the politicians.  I mean, the generals screw up, too.  MacArther, I thought he was the greatest thing on God’s earth until Chosin Reservoir and then, what he did was divided his forces.  We’re on this coast and the army’s on this coast.  That’s crazy.  And all they didn’t know, how you can move that many Chinese in there is beyond me.  The deer were coming out of the mountains and the natives would say, many Chinese, many Chinese, you know.  When we left, the civilians left with us, like over 100,000 or something that were evacuated out of the North Korean, when we left.  They followed us down.  Sometimes they’d get caught in the crossfire.

GTR: They weren’t doing any aerial.  You’d think you could see troops moving or something. 

PH: No.  I had a friend that was a Corsair pilot, had him at Branson, and he had taken slides from the reservoir, the troops, and they didn’t have heat in those air planes, they were built for the South Pacific and didn’t have heaters.  But he had some beautiful pictures.  He said, I didn’t think you guys were going to make it out of there, but…

GTR: But you did.  And that was the air force, right?  No, those were marine…

PH: Marine fighter pilots.  The Corstair is a nice looking airplane.  They could come in and just, sheeew, right over your head and just, sheew, and you could see the, you could watch the air show.  And over the Chosin Reservoir.  You know, they’d go up like this and go to a stall and just flip around and flip right down back at ‘em.

GTR: Those marines.  What was it about, I heard, I think Dan or someone said, Marines tend to age well, or have done well in their, in your lives since then.  What is it about being a marine that is so different or so good?

PH: The discipline, the camaraderie.  They said we’d never left any behind, but I don’t know how they got some of them out of the reservoir.  That convoy we walked through, I don’t know how they...  They made a mass grave at Koto-ri.  The navy chaplain was in an ambulance giving last rights to a dying marine and a cracker box, we called them a cracker box ambulance, because it looked like a cracker box got sprayed with a machine gun and his aid protected him and he got killed, the driver got killed, chaplain got hit in the arm and the face.  I met him in the hospital at Great Lakes.  And one of our platoon leaders, McQue, he ended up being a navy chaplain, now he’s a Catholic priest and has three parishes in South Carolina. 

GTR: You really keep track of each other.

PH: Yes.  Two of them ended up being major generals.

GTR: When I first started this project, I didn’t understand how everyone was so separated, and then there’s reunions for different, you have this reserve unit, but then you have your own companies you were part of.

PH: Yeah, that’s the difference. 

GTR: Interesting.  And so there’s very few that gets together for lunch who actually, say, in combat together, they weren’t necessarily, they were all there, but they weren’t together.

PH: No. No.  We were there at the same time.  Some of the guys (a friend, unclear on audio), we were in How Company. He went over at the same time I did.

GTR: I should look at my list real quick, because I don’t know for sure if I’m, I need to talk to ten people for sure, that’s my goal, and I know a couple of people are having health issues or aren’t able to right now, but like Jerry Couture?

PH: Jerry Couture, his wife is really bad.

GTR: Yeah, that’s what I heard.

PH: I talked to him yesterday and it’s not good.

GTR: Warren Kregness? 

PH: He lives in Superior.

GTR: I left a message from him, but I didn’t hear back.

PH: He got two purple hearts.

GTR: Do you have a purple heart?

PH: Yes.  I got it in Hawaii from General Shepard.

GTR: Do you have any other medals or?

PH: No, just battle stars and…


GTR: Frostbite, do you still have some frostbite?

PH: Yeah. 

GTR: I’ll have to call Clifford Boe, he had eye surgery a while ago, he wanted me to call him back.

PH: Okay.  He was at the luncheon Wednesday.

GTR: Bob Johnson said he was having some health issues and I should give him a call later.  Do you know him?

PH: Yeah, he lives in Esko.  

GTR: Okay.

PH: He’s one of the, Bob Johnson left with us also.  He was in fifth marines, too, but a different regimen, a different battalion.

GTR: I interviewed Bob Olson.  Thomas Stauber. He was actually in the air force.

PH: He was in the air force, yeah.

GTR: But in Korea.

PH: Yep.

GTR: I should give him a call.  And Walter Iverson?  Is he around here?

PH: Yep.

GTR: His name didn’t show up on this list but I don’t know if this list is…

PH: Yeah, he went through the whole nine yards, too.  He got wounded in the reservoir, too, but, I think he got shrapnel, so…

GTR: His name wasn’t on this original list of willing to be interviewed, but, if there’s anyone else you can think of that might be willing.  I actually wouldn’t mind, I talked to Mr. Booker’s wife, was there while I was interviewing him and she, because they were already married when he went, she had quite a journey and unfortunately that he wasn’t getting paid and things, but she wasn’t really feeling ready to talk about that time, so.  But if there are any other wives or people who might… If you think of anyone, you can let me know later, too.

PH: Yeah, I can’t….Tom Jonell, but I think he’s in Florida.  He just had heart surgery and he had some problems and I think they had a Florida property up for sale.  And his wife is getting  a little dementia. 

GTR: Well, I’ll try to call him again.  Thank you so much!

PH: I hope I helped you.

GTR: Definitely.  Everyone has had different little pieces to share and I know that many of you have been interviewed before but we just wanted to get it more formal and even get little pieces that might not have been…

PH: I’ve talked to half a dozen church groups, and city hall and Hermantown, and then I got this guy in the John Marshall Honor Guard asked me if I would be willing to talk to somebody, I said, yeah, just let me know enough ahead of time.  I said I can’t read anything, but I can tell it from memory, as good as it is.  (laughs)

GTR: Well, do you think it’s important for people to hear about this so that they know why?  So, that we don’t repeat this?  Or what is the main lesson to be learned by hearing these stories?

PH: We had a reunion one year and South Korean kid that was adopted here in the states come up and ask me what right did I have to go in and be part of that civil war.  I said this wasn’t a civil war, it was pushed by the Russians. 

GTR: And the Chinese in there.  And not like you had a lot of choice probably, right?


(picture taking)

GTR: Good, thank you.

PH: This hat and this jacket plus the whole bunch of jackets and shirts and hats were given to us at every reunion for Howe Company from…

GTR: So, the H is the…

PH: Yeah, H35 means How Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division.  This was the theme for the honor flag and this is the miniature purple heart.  Anyway, he’s donated all these to every reunion.  He just cannot do enough for us.  We tried to get him to come to some of the reunions and stuff, but he always found an excuse not to.  He worked for, we called him Groundhog, because he could dig a fox hole faster than anybody.

GTR: Good skill to have.

PH: Bill Gothard is his name.  He lives in Jacksonville, Florida and he saved his job when he worked for the power company…

End of Interview


The following source of information is from the Duluth News Tribune.



Peter S. Hildre, 84, of Duluth, passed away on May 22, 2016, while surrounded by family at Chris Jensen.

He was born on March 13, 1932, to Martin and Margaret Hildre.

In 1950, he graduated from Duluth Central High School. Immediately after graduation, he entered the United States Marine Corps where he served in the Korean War as a Marine Sergeant. He was part of the Chosen Few where he received the Purple Heart and other numerous medals and honors.

He met his loving wife of 62 years at a military ball on a blind date in Butte, Montana. They were married six months later. Peter and Donna eventually made their home in Minnesota where they raised their six children. Peter owned and operated Pete's Mileage (with the slogan "Stop for Pete's Sake"), after moving to Duluth. He worked for, and eventually became the owner of Tiny Tim's Toy House, where he worked until his retirement. He enjoyed fishing, camping, hunting, golfing, Marine reunions, skiing, mowing the lawn, being outdoors, music, dancing, performing magic tricks for his grandchildren, dressing up for Halloween, and spending time with his family.

He was a member of Via de Cristo through Grace Lutheran Church, The Chosen Few, Military Order of the Purple Heart, DAV, First Marine Division Association, American Legion Post No. 71, the B Company Organization, Howe Company Organization, Treasurer for Grace Lutheran Church, and Board of Trustee for Hermantown Federal Credit Union. Peter will always be remembered for being a great teacher and mentor to his children and grandchildren, being hard working, his joking manner, and always smiling.

Peter is preceded in death by his parents; spouse, Donna; brother, Arnold; sisters, Stella, Bertha, Violet and Pearl.

Peter is survived by his children, Margie (Larry) Helstrom, Pam Hildre, Jean (Wayne) Suliin, Peter W. (Karen) Hildre, David (Reine) Hildre, Julie Mead; 10 grandchildren; 15 great-grandchildren; brother, Marvin; and numerous nieces, nephews and friends.

A special thank you to the staff at St. Luke's Hospice, Chris Jensen, and Keystone Bluffs for all their wonderful care.

VISITATION: 1 p.m. until the 2 p.m. celebration of life service on Friday, May 27, 2016, in Grace Lutheran Church with Pastor Phil Berge officiating.

In lieu of flowers, memorials preferred to the Disabled American Veterans. DAV Chapter 6, P.O. Box 16142, Duluth, MN 55816

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