Trees planted at MSU in memory of World War I vets

People plant elm trees at MSU on Friday in honor of Fred Otis Cooper and Henry Finn, Minot Normal School students who served and died during World War I. Andrea Johnson/MDN

The importance of memory was celebrated Friday at Minot State University along with two students, Henry Finn and Fred Otis Cooper, who gave their lives 100 years ago during World War I.

“It’s so important to remember and if you don’t institutionalize the memory, it often gets lost,” remarked Rep. Kevin Cramer, one of several dignitaries who spoke during a rededication and tree planting ceremony in honor of Finn and Cooper.

Sen. John Hoeven and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp were unable to attend the ceremony, but sent representatives to read letters during the ceremony. Other guest speakers at the event included Mayor Chuck Barney, Brig Gen. Bob Fode, commander-land component of the North Dakota Joint Force Headquarters, and Jastrzembski, along with Andy Heitkamp of Minot State University Veterans Services.

MSU sent about 39 students to fight in the war, history professor Joseph Jastrzembski told the Minot Daily News for a past story.

According to research, Finn was from Portal and was a farmer who studied at the Minot Normal School during the winter of 1914-15 and 1915-1916. He served as a corpsman for the front in 1918, assigned to the Medical Detachment, 4th Infantry, 3rd Division, American Expeditionary Forces. He died at age 23 on July 24, 1918, when he, under intense machine gun fire, went to administer first aid to wounded officers and enlisted men in “no man’s land” near Les Franquettes Farm, according to an excerpt from “history of Minot State University.” Finn received a posthumous Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism.

Andrea Johnson/MDN Members of the Minot American Legion Post 26 Color/Honor guard presented the colors during the rededication of the memorial to Fred Otis Cooper and Henry Finn, students a the Normal School who died in World War I.

Cooper, a private from Benedict, was wounded during the Battle of San Mihiel in northeastern France in September 2018. He was returned to the U.S. for treatment, but later died of his wounds.

On Friday, two elm trees were planted in honor of Finn and Cooper on the lawn between Swain Hall and the Gordon B. Olson Library. Eventually a memorial bench will be added in honor of all the students, faculty, and staff who fought in World War I.

Jastrzembski had told the Minot Daily in the past that the history department researched the history of an original memorial to the fallen students. An elm tree was planted in 1922 in honor of Finn, but there was little information available about a tree planted in honor of Cooper. A garden and two crosses were also part of the original memorial, but they disappeared with time. The tree planted in honor of Finn had to be removed in 2010 for safety reasons, leaving only an unmarked ash tree planted in honor of Cooper.

During the ceremony on Friday, Jastrzembski said the elm tree symbolizes both strength and freedom.

“For us, let them also symbolize memory,” said Jastrzembski.

Andrea Johnson/MDN Minot Mayor Chuck Barney, left, and Rep. Kevin Cramer pose with a World War I helmet worn by a soldier during World War I. Barney also had dog tags worn by one of his ancestors when he spoke during a rededication of a memorial to MSU students who served overseas and died in the first World War.

The trees are a variety developed by North Dakota State University called American Expedition, which are resistant to Dutch elm disease.