David A. Borgeson


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David A. Borgeson

Mr. Borgeson served in the U.S. Army (Sept. 1953-Aug. 1956).

He also served in the Minnesota National Guard (Feb. 1950-Sept. 1953). His highest rank in the Army was Lieutenant Colonel; in the Minnesota National Guard, Sergeant.

During World War II, Mr. Borgeson was a child. Below are his reminiscences of that time.

Photo captions: 1. The Borgeson home in Duluth's Lakeside neighborhood is shown in the winter of 1941 after the sons of Arthur and Idena Borgeson left for service in World War II. 2. Arthur Borgeson, a World War I veteran, is ready to go to Greenland during World War II to work on construction projects. 3. The three oldest Borgeson brothers, from left: Roger, Arthur and Donald 4. David Borgeson wears his hated knickers and holds the "stop" sign he used as a school crossing guard. 5. The three youngest Borgeson sons, who did not serve in World War II, from left: Bob, Tom and David. ------ World War II

Homefront Reminiscences of David Borgeson Born in August 1933, I was a young lad of eight when America entered the Second World War. I was the fifth oldest of seven boys, the twins being fifteen months younger than I. Then the war came. It seemed like overnight the house was empty. Roger and Donald were in the 125th Field Artillery of the Minnesota National Guard, which was called up and left town. Art and then Glenn went off to join the Navy, and Dad, sometime later, went to Greenland to work construction on airstrips, etc. Things would never be the same again. On the good side, the twins and I each had our own big bed in which to sprawl out. But, I was now the “man” of the house. The impact on Mom, of course, was tremendous, and our lives revolved around her and learning new chores at home, in school, and in the community. Here are some of the things I remember about those days. News, mail, telegrams. Constant news of the war effort seemed of paramount importance to all the grown-ups. Radios played continuously for word of the latest flash reports, with follow-up coverage in the morning and evening papers (Duluth News Tribune and the Duluth Herald, respectively). We afforded the Tribune because it included the Sunday paper and most importantly the comics section. The word “war” was seen and heard everywhere. Our mailman was sure an important guy. Mom was writing letters all the time she could find, when she wasn’t working around the house in the kitchen or in the yard. The phone usually rang when he was nearing our block. It would be Mom’s berry-picking friend from up the street giving her the alert for the mail coming. This would be our “mail call,” comparable to the ones in the war pictures for our armed forces. Mom kept scribbling as they talked “grown-up stuff.” I’d wait around until she’d sealed the letter, and then it was my job to make sure the mailman got it and others written since the last delivery. Little did I know then that soon I, too, would be posting letters and awaiting same. It seemed to me and my younger brothers that the Western Union man, who was too young to be drafted, was a pretty lucky guy. He got to use one of their new bicycles and pedaled around town delivering little telegrams. My brother Glenn did that for a short time before he could go. They even got paid. The only bike we had was old and had two flat tires. The rubber inner tubes were full of patches that kept leaking, and the repair kit was empty. I thought about getting that Western Union job but never did apply. The day of enlightenment about those telegram messages wasn’t far into the future. The recyclables search. One day Mom had us help her clean out the garage. She said, “Your father was a collector, and we’re going to get rid of all this junk for the war effort.” We carried or dragged all kinds of interesting things outside into the vacant lot next door where we grew potatoes. Everything had to be sorted into piles of steel, lead, glass, tin, rubber, etc., for the junkman before he would cart it all away. We watched a load of Dad’s good hoard pull out of the driveway. On top of the pile was the old bicycle—with its rubber tires, tin fenders, and leather seat removed. The garage never looked so roomy and orderly, and Mom even hung some old curtains over the windows on either side. Sometimes we’d play in there when it was cool or raining. The war hits close to home. Mom was so happy, she cried, the day the mail delivery included a letter from Dad. It had been over two months [since] we last heard from him that he’d be on a merchant ship in convoy to Greenland. The German wolfpacks of U-boats were sinking our defenseless ships, according to the media. Everyone kept telling Mom that, “No news is good news.” But the neighbor in the block below us had gotten the notice that her husband’s ship didn’t make it, and Mom worried. Even though the letters were censored now, with strips of information cut out or blackened, you could at least still tell who was writing to us and that “all was well.” I’m not sure how the neighbor got the word of their bad news, but it was one of those Western Union bicyclists who delivered the telegram to my Uncle Dan Borgeson’s house near our school. It had the telltale star on it, informing [them] of their only son’s demise while serving his country in Hawaii. (I remembered my cousin Jack best for the ride he gave the twins and me in the rumble seat of his new car just before he enlisted.) His remains were shipped home and buried in Forest Hill Cemetery, where I place a flag from the VFW each Memorial Day. One of my best friends missed school one day. We already knew his brother had been wounded in Germany and had been moved to a hospital outside London. They were expecting him to be returned to the States anytime soon. Then the telegram arrived instead. The Blitzkrieg had bombed the hospital. His remains were left in England. His folks later arranged a memorial, [adding his name to] of one of the pews in our church. My sister Marjorie (the oldest of us kids) was in the hospital when the bad omen arrived at her apartment. Her landlady and friend called Mom and picked her up to deliver the telegram. As they entered her room, Marge knew. “It’s Don,” she said, “isn’t it?” Her husband had been lost in the Normandy Landing. The victory garden. We always had a garden of sorts in the backyard. It was behind the garage, where for years the ashes from our coal-burning furnace were hauled across the snow and dumped. The rhubarb seemed to survive this. Three rows of raspberry bushes, smothered in thistles, tall quackgrass, and hollow reeds were also there where an alley might have gone through if nature hadn’t run a creek along this northern end of our property. In between that and the currant bushes (which did quite well under the pines on the east side of our yard) was our vegetable garden, also smothered in weeds—except in the spring, when the seeds had just been planted. Now that the gardeners were off to war, the chore was ours, and it didn’t take long to discover the woes of gardening. The soil, when dry, was a hard red clay in most places and, when wet, was slippery and heavy like the kind potters use—and it stuck to the hoe or shovel. But by the second growing season into the war, the difference was remarkable. And when, in subsequent years, Mom had excess string beans and tomatoes to can, she said, “Now this we can call our Victory Garden.” School projects for the war. We weren’t into the war long before some new activities were introduced at Lakeside Grammar School. One day the janitor came into our classroom with about a dozen flat blocks of wood with tiny little nails around the top edges. He had made them for us to use and cautioned us about the sharp nails. The teacher called them looms and taught us how to weave squares of yarn of many colors. Those who wanted to could take one home or work on it in class after the daily assignments were done. The yarn squares were then assembled into afghans by someone else and given to the Red Cross for distribution to our wounded at home and abroad. We wove a lot of squares before we wore out the looms or went on to something else. Another project was making cloth slippers for soldiers in the hospital ward. We’d cut out footprints and a top cross band using paper patterns. Then some mom at home with a sewing machine would finish the job. I took pieces for a few pair home once to see if I could sew them together on Grandma’s old machine. Between trying to work the treadle and feed the footpads I’d cut out under the sewing needle, I made a mess out of one slipper. Mom had to bail me out. I watched how easily she fixed mine and completed the others. Then she wrote a note to teacher saying that I was too young for using her machine and that it was tied up for making our “new” outfits of clothing. Probably the most lasting project was learning how to write a letter. Some of the kids in class had no one in the war to write to. Well, I had five. Teacher showed us how to format our letters and, if asked, would help us with when to start a new paragraph. I’d write about our progress with the Victory Garden, how high each veggie had grown, the wild berry-picking with the neighbor lady when Mom couldn’t make it, and how many quarts of canning or jars of jelly were in the basement. Then I’d copy it four times. I’d sign one. “Your loving son, David” and the other four, “Your brother David.” Sometimes, if Mom had written to some of them also, we’d send mine with hers to save on postage. Otherwise, I’d address an envelope, too. Once I added a paragraph to one of brother Roger’s letters to thank him for money he sent for my piano lessons and by mistake signed it “Your loving son, David.” He was navigator for a B-17 crew flying missions over Germany. His next letter related how much the gang had razzed him about my closing slip. (I learned a few years [later] that Rog still has that letter.) Letter writing became my favorite project and increased my own vigil for the postman significantly. Simulated air raids. The Duluth-Superior harbors and surrounding area ranked high on the Axis’ list of prime U.S. targets. From the rich iron ore range in northern Minnesota, long trainloads of ore came south to Proctor and Two Harbors, and the steel plant in Morgan Park was also kept in motion. Therefore, air raids including our area were a possibility, and our Civil Defense took heed. Whether the threat of an air strike was ever real or not didn’t matter to us kids at Lakeside Grammar School. All we were aware of was that, when the air raid sirens went off, we got out of school a half hour early. As a police boy who directed traffic at school crossings with a yellow metal “stop” sign, I became a junior air raid warden during simulated raids. The teachers had grouped the kids from all grades (K-6) who lived in the same direction to and from school to home. One such group was assigned to me. We practiced finding the safest, most-concealed-from-the-air-route home without using the main streets or sidewalks. As we passed close by each kid’s house, they’d drop off and run inside or to their family’s designated safe place. We made kind of a game out of it, trying a slightly different, perhaps better, route each practice if anyone had any new ideas. This would all be reported to Teacher next day. Of course, the tame strawberries, apple trees, and berry bushes we sampled en route weren’t necessarily included in our report. Collecting coal. Some days we’d bring along small sacks and walk the railroad tracks in Lakeside and at Grandma’s, near Proctor, where the tracks ran up and down hills to the ore docks, and gather lumps of coal that had fallen from the full coal cars. It [coal] was rationed, and many adults were picking up coal in earnest, whereas we lost interest when other things caught our attention, such as counting ore cars, etc. Whatever we did bring in earned us a cookie or doughnut, a bath and some clean clothes, and a happy hug from Mom and or Grandma. For a short time after the war our attic bedroom was almost like the old days, except I shared my double bed with Donald. After four years of infantry fighting in Africa, Italy, and now Germany, he was a very light sleeper. I couldn’t move my big toe without being grumped at to “Lie still!” Within a short time, family members moved out again until only my oldest brother, Art, remained with the twins and me and baby sis and the folks. The most nostalgic memories I have of the war years is listening to the sounds and watching the harbor activity from my attic bedroom window. Day and night the boats “talked” to the Aerial Bridge and each other via whistles and lights, the foghorn sometimes intermingling. Add to that the train whistles, and you realized the safest feeling, lying there in bed, that everything was in good hands and secure. That long low wail of the Mallet whistle is gone from the harbor front forever. But it can still be heard in my mind and from an audio-video display of the Mallet 227 exhibit at the railroad Museum of the St. Louis Heritage and Arts Center at the Depot in Duluth, Minnesota. I visit there often.

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