SELMER MARTIN OKSTAD
Branch: U. S. Army
Status: Died of disease
Date of Service: WWI
Home Town: Gonvick
Selmer Martin Okstad was born May 6, 1893 in Sletten Township (south of Fosston) in Polk County, Minnesota. His father, Paul P. Okstad, had been born in Trondheim commune, Sør-Trøndelag fylke, Norway in 1864 and had come to the U.S. in 1882 where he settled in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota. He met and married Bertha Christianson, also a native Norwegian, and married her in December of that same year. They moved to Sletten Township in 1885 where Selmer was born, then on to Eden Township west of Gonvick in 1898 where they resided for most of the rest of their lives. Selmer’s siblings were Magnus, Peder, Clara, Sigurd, Alfred and Betsy Okstad.
Paul was a dairy farmer and Selmer was helping his dad out on his farm when he registered for the WWI draft on June 12, 1917. He was a tall man with blue eyes and light hair. He declared himself single on his draft registration, but within the year he had married Marie Snobeck, daughter of Martin and Martha Snobeck of Gonvick.
Selmer was drafted and sent to Fort Bliss, Texas. Fort Bliss had become a major military installation thanks to the Mexican Revolution. In World War I Fort Bliss served as an enlistment post where troops were mobilized for the European War. It contained several military training schools and many units passed through Fort Bliss on their way to the Western Front.
Selmer never made it out of Fort Bliss. He was admitted to the Army Base Hospital in Fort Bliss on October 25, 1918, where his health continued to deteriorate. He died the morning of November 2 from bilateral broncho-pneumonia, a complication of the Spanish Influenza that was devastating all Army posts. He was 25 years old.
Meanwhile, his wife Marie was very pregnant with the couple’s first child. The day that Selmer was buried in Bethlehem Lutheran Church Cemetery, Marie gave birth to a son whom she named Selmer Martin Okstad after his father.
Young Selmer followed his father’s footsteps into the military. He became a Pharmacy Mate in the U.S. Navy in WWII and was killed in action on September 11, 1943 at the age of 24. He was among 100 crew members killed when the Savannah was hit by a torpedo. His body was buried at sea.