Loss of an uncommon man

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 4, 2011 - 12:51 AM

Peter Bergstrom shared his love of the outdoors with many; his commitment to country and family stood out.

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Peter Bergstrom loved winter fishing, as much as for the camaraderie as the catch. His father, Bob, and other relatives often were his fishing companions.

No interest is more common to more of us in this part of the world than fishing, and Peter Bergstrom liked to fish. Not so much summer fishing but winter fishing, with a few shanties pushed near one another, sharing good times on the ice with his dad, uncles, other relatives.

Not so long ago, in mid-January, such a scene unfolded, with Peter and a big bunch of 10 gathered on Lake of the Woods. Laughter rang from their fish shacks during the day, and from their dinner tables in the evenings.

In the end, Peter caught the biggest fish, a 28-inch walleye.

"Just take a quick photo, I want to put her back,'' he said of the trophy, which legally could have been kept. "If she lived this long, I want her to live longer. I can always catch her again next year.''

"Peter enjoyed ice fishing more than summer fishing,'' his dad, Bob Bergstrom, said. "It was just more social. I also think ice fishing is more of an extreme sport, with the cold and everything. And Peter was an 'extreme' guy.''

A Marine Corps veteran of two tours in Iraq, where he was an infantry squad leader, Peter Matthew Bergstrom of Burnsville was 32 last week when his parents found him dead in his home.

His funeral, followed by a 21-gun salute at Fort Snelling National Cemetery, was Wednesday.

His obituary read, "A hunter, ice fisherman and patriot.''

"We talked every day, and then one day his mother and I didn't hear from him,'' his dad said. "He always said goodbye with, 'I love you.' Even with his Dress Blues on, he would kiss me and say, 'I love you.' "

Ten years ago, just after the Twin Towers went down in New York, Peter quit his job to join the Marines. He was 22, fit at 6-2 and 180 pounds, and carried with him a decade and more of hunting and fishing memories.

His entire life lay ahead.

"But he always was a 'call of duty' kind of guy, laser focused,'' his dad said. "I had been a Marine, and I think he was destined to be a Marine. After Sept. 11 happened, he just said, 'I can't stay here anymore.' He signed up.''

When he was 12, Peter completed his hunter safety course. Soon thereafter, he began hunting ducks with his dad; also geese, pheasants, even prairie dogs in South Dakota.

But deer hunting was his favorite. Friends owned land near Princeton, in the shotgun zone, and in November he, his dad and two friends drove an RV to the property and parked it. From it, clad in blaze orange, they emerged each chilled morning of the season, guns in hand, and headed for their stands.

"We were generally successful,'' his dad said.

While Peter was deployed, the hunting and fishing was put on hold. He had wanted to be an infantryman, and he became one. His unit was among the first to enter Iraq. "The tip of the spear,'' his dad said.

Wounded once, Peter injured his back when a bomb detonated and he was blown from a building in Ramadi. But he was fit enough after he was discharged to join the Army National Guard. This was in late 2005.

"I remember because I flew out to California to bring him home,'' his dad said. "It was the day after Thanksgiving.''

To Peter's sister, Anna, his coming home was a relief. "He was such a fighter,'' she said. "He had no concern for his own personal safety. What got our family through it was that it made him so proud to serve.''

In the years since, most days had passed with visits or phone calls between Peter and his dad and mother, Monica.

Then one day, the phone didn't ring.

"We went to his home, and the snow wasn't disturbed in his driveway,'' his dad said. "I knew something was wrong.''

No cause of death has been determined.

"The Marine Corps motto is Semper Fidelis, 'always faithful,' " Anna said. "He was that to his friends --always faithful.''

In previous years, Anna had been invited by her dad and other relatives to join them on their annual ice fishing trip to Lake of the Woods. She never has.

"Next year I think I will,'' she said.

Dennis Anderson danderson@startribune.com

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