This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The first brother was killed in March 1944 at Guadalcanal. The second in June, somewhere in Italy. Then the twins were both lost two weeks apart in August in bombing missions over Northern Europe. When the grieving parents asked that a fifth son, stationed at Camp Lejeune, be granted an emergency furlough, the Marine Corps base command refused Pfc. Boyd C. Borgstrom had already used up all the furlough he had.
The Borgstrom family of Tremonton was not the only Utah family that sent its sons off to World War II, but few sent so many and none with such tragic consequences that were echoed decades later in the 1998 movie "Saving Private Ryan."
LeRoy Elmer Borgstrom, the oldest, was drafted into the Army in November 1942 at the age of 28. His younger brother by two years, Clyde Eugene, had enlisted in the Marines in October 1940, more than a year before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Twin brothers Rolon Day and Rulon Jay were drafted on July 1943, just months after turning 18. The two, separated for training, both ended up as gunners on heavy bombers.
The son who would survive the war, Boyd, enlisted in the Marines in 1940 with his brother Clyde. He was 19 at the time.
Four other Borgstrom children didn't serve during the war: three married daughters and a son who was too young. Their parents, Alben and Gunda Borgstrom, would carry on raising sugar beets, alfalfa, grain and cattle on the 25-acre family farm as best they could.
In March of 1944, the Borgstroms received a War Department telegram informing them that their second son, Clyde, was dead. He had received basic training in San Diego and been shipped overseas attached to an aviation engineering unit. A veteran of several Pacific island battles, he was killed in action on March 17 at Guadalcanal.
June brought more bad news. The oldest son, LeRoy, attached to a medical unit, had followed the Allied southern advance through North Africa, Sicily and Italy, where he was killed on June 22.
The twins, Rolon and Rulon, were part of the bombing campaign in Northern Europe. Losses among those flying the big B-17 and B-24 bombers were horrific. A tour of duty was 25 missions; it was estimated that the average crewman had only a one in four chance of actually completing his tour. Neither of the 19-year-old boys would beat the odds. Rolon died on Aug. 8. On Aug. 22, Rulon was killed, though his death wouldn't be confirmed for two months.
Mrs. Borgstrom told the Salt Lake Telegram, "I feel in giving four sons we have given enough," and the Borgstroms asked Marine officials for a furlough and permanent discharge for their remaining son, Boyd, who had been transferred from the Pacific Theater to Camp Lejeune, N.C. Authorities at Camp Lejeune replied that Boyd had already used up his 71 days of furlough and wouldn't be getting any more.
Even during wartime, with extreme sacrifice expected of Americans, this struck many as heartless. Tremonton neighbor Adam Brenkman brought the Marine Corps' callous refusal to the attention of Utah's congressional delegation. In turn, the congressmen put the arm on the military.
The next day, Marine Commandant Lt. Gen. A. Vandegrift ordered that the young private be given an honorable discharge.
The lucky Boyd wrote to the Salt Lake Telegram and said that while he thought the Marines Corps was the best outfit in the world, his first love was farming. His chatty letter detailed his plans for the farm, his hopes to one day become a large-scale turkey farmer, and a spare description of time spent on some lonely spit of sand in the South Pacific where the favorite diversion was fishing for baby sharks.
Then he wrote, "There's not much I can say about my three brothers being killed, and the other one who is reported missing in action, because nothing I can say will bring them back. I know my home certainly will not be the same without their noise and fun. You can imagine how my folks feel ..."
Because of the Borgstroms' experience, the Army and Navy adopted a policy that "the sole surviving son of any family which has lost two or more sons in action will be exempted from combat duty."
Pat Bagley is the editorial cartoonist at The Salt Lake Tribune. Columnist Robert Kirby contributed research.