Como student on history hunt for info on Murray grad and WWII Navy vet

By Sarah CR Clark

A Como High School student’s journey to learn about a local World War II serviceman is bringing him closer to home even as he prepares for a trip to Hawaii this June as part of a History Day program.

The student, Sam Skinner, is seeking information about past St. Paul resident and 1941 Murray High School graduate Signalman Third Class Arthur Barnard Engebretson Jr., who died in the Pacific Theater of Operations.

Skinner is asking anyone who knew Signalman Third Class Engebretson Jr., or his family, to contact Skinner’s mentor Courtney Major at

Skinner, with his past teacher Major from Murray Middle School, are one of 16 teams participating in National History Day’s 2020 Sacrifice for Freedom: World War II in the Pacific Student & Teacher Institute. The institute is a cooperative learning program sponsored by Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum, the USS Missouri Memorial Association and Pacific Historic Parks.

Skinner and Major plan to travel this June to Hawaii as participants of the Institute and deliver a graveside eulogy honoring Engebretson Jr. at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. They have spent months researching Engebretson Jr.’s story through primary resources including war records, maps, letters and family interviews.

That effort has been challenging as Skinner noted, “With a focus of just one person, we couldn’t rely on secondary sources that spoke in large strokes. We had to construct a narrative from primary source documents that had never been analyzed or widely publicized.”

Challenging or not, the team reported finding many primary sources and are working to reconstruct Engebretson Jr.’s time in St. Paul and service in the Navy.

Currently, Skinner’s research has been published and can be viewed by visitng the following link:

Skinner met Major in 2015 when she was his sixth-grade history teacher. Since then, Skinner has had a number of award-­winning History Day projects that have taken he and Major numerous times to Washington D.C. where he “takes in knowledge from historic sites like the rest of us breathe air,” Major said.

While Skinner’s current project promises a trip to Hawaii, it also is helping him feel closer to home.

“As a member of a family whose members all hail from out of state, I had never before developed a close bond to St. Anthony Park,” Skinner said. “Spending time learning about Engebretson Jr. undoubtedly brought me closer to the neighborhood.”

Sarah CR Clark is a St. Anthony Park resident and a regular freelance writer for the Bugle.

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