After attack, communication can be a challengeHolding a conversation can be a challenging experience for Byrl Peterson. He knows what he wants to say, but the words don’t always come to his mind when he wants them. His thoughts can be disorganized. He often speaks slowly, with long pauses while he searches for the right thing to say.
Holding a conversation can be a challenging experience for Byrl Peterson. He knows what he wants to say, but the words don’t always come to his mind when he wants them. His thoughts can be disorganized. He often speaks slowly, with long pauses while he searches for the right thing to say.
During an interview Monday, Peterson had to be reminded three times the name of Alaska’s largest city – Anchorage – despite the fact he lived there for years. He struggled to come up with the word for peanuts while he talked about feeding the squirrels that visit his yard.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” Peterson said. “It’s embarrassing.”
There’s an explanation for those challenges.
Three years ago Peterson was putting away his lawn mower when someone came up behind him and bashed him on the head.
“I hand no idea there was anybody out there, but somebody hit me on the head and smashed a hole in my skull,” Peterson said. “My skull was just ripped up. They didn’t expect I would survive, but I did.”
Peterson recovered, though. He’s still strong enough physically to live alone in the Farmington home he’s owned since 2005. He can still communicate, he said, but it’s not always easy to find someone patient enough to listen.
He still has stories to tell, though, if you’ve got the time.
Peterson was born four miles north of McGrath to a Swedish-immigrant father and a Swiss-immigrant mother. His parents met when she was a school teacher in South Dakota and he came through on a migrant work crew. They moved to Minnesota when the state offered 60 acres of land to people willing to settle it.
“That worked pretty well,” Peterson said. “My father was a good farmer and my mother was a good mother.”
Peterson served in three wars – World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. In World War II he served on a ship that transported supplies from the United States to Europe or Africa. He manned one of two guns on the deck to protect the ship from attacks by German planes.
“We got hit several times, but nobody got killed,” Peterson said. “There were only two of us that were shooting back.”
In the latter two wars, Peterson was responsible for maintenance work on the decks of his ships.
When Peterson left the military in 1974 a friend suggested he look for work in Alaska, so he headed north. He spent the rest of his working years on the Great Alaska Pipeline. He held that job until he was forced to retire at age 65.
These days, Peterson keeps busy tending to his yard. He likes to watch the birds and the squirrels at his feeders. He has two bird feeders and a yellow plastic trough he usually fills with nuts for the squirrels. He said most days there are hundreds of birds.
“We have tons of birds,” he said. “It’s wonderful.”