Branch: U. S. Marines
Rank: 1st Lieutenant
Status: Killed in action
Date of Service: WWII
Home Town: McIntosh/ Berner
Joseph Widseth’s headstone in Fort Snelling
Joseph Helmer Widseth was born June 28, 1918 in Berner, Clearwater County, Minnesota to Erick and (Gina) Caroline Baanrud Widseth. Erick had emigrated from Norway in 1892 and proved up his homestead of 160 acres in the SW quarter of section 12 of Winsor Township in January of 1904. Caroline’s parents, Gustaf and Ragnhild Baanrud also farmed in Winsor Township. The two were married June 26, 1900 in Clearwater County. They had eleven children: Albert, George, Carl, Elizabeth, Arthur, Edwin, Ragna, John, Nora, Joseph and Raymond. Elizabeth died in 1922 at age 15 and Raymond died in 1929 at age 6. The family moved to King Township in Polk County around 1930 shortly before Erick died.
Young Joseph was baptized on August 25th, 1918 and confirmed June 26, 1932 at Our Savior’s Lutheran, McIntosh. After high school Joseph entered the University of Minnesota, Crookston as a student. He was a student there when he registered for the draft on October 16, 1940 in Crookston. He was age 22, address McIntosh, and was 5’9” tall, 190 pounds with blue eyes and blond hair.
Joseph’s younger brother Edwin became a professional athlete. He played college football for the Minnesota Golden Gophers and was a consensus All-American in 1935 and 1936. He then went pro and was drafted as a tackle for the New York Giants in the first round of the 1937 NFL draft. He was chosen for the Pro Bowl in 1930 and was later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Joseph enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in July of 1942. By October he was in Quantico, Virginia in officer training. When he graduated in 1943, 2nd Lieutenant Widseth was sent to Camp Elliott Training Center in San Diego, and from there to the First Battalion, Fifth Marines, First Marine Division which was fighting in the Pacific theater.
From September to October, 1944 the 1st Battalion joined the rest of the 1st Marine Division in assaulting the island of Peleliu, a small coral island in the island nation of Palau, where they fought to capture an airstrip. Japan had developed new defense tactics and smart fortifications that extended the battle more than two months. The casualty rate was high, causing the National Museum of the Marine Corps to call it “the bitterest battle of the war for the Marines.”
The Marines landed on Peleliu on September 15th and pushed toward the airfield, suffering 200 dead and 900 wounded by the end of that day. The Marines also suffered high casualties from heat exhaustion and contaminated water. On September 26th, Marine F4U Corsairs landed on the airstrip and began dive-bombing missions across Peleliu, firing rockets into open cave entrances and dropping napalm. The Japanese held a fortress at the end of the southern landing beaches, however, and continued to cause heavy Marine casualties due to enfilading fire from Japanese heavy machine guns and anti-tank artillery. 1st Lieutenant Joseph Widseth didn’t survive the hellish day of September 26th – he was killed in action.
Joseph’s family was notified and his life was both mourned and celebrated at a funeral in McIntosh. When his body was shipped home on November 10, 1948, it was interred with military honors at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis. Joseph Helmer Widseth was 26 years old.