SERVING OUR VETERANS: ‘And we remember’ – A family tribute
It was 1942. World War ll was raging in Europe and the Asiatic Pacific. On April 30th of that year, Joseph Noah St. Michel enlisted in the US Army Air Corp. He was born in 1915 in Red Lake, Minnesota, one of thirteen children of Alfred and Harrette St. Michel. Joseph was discharged October 4, 1945 as a corporal, supply clerk. He honorably served and was the recipient of the Asiatic Pacific Theater medal, the Philippine Liberation Ribbon with two bronze stars, six overseas service bars, and three stars for the European Theater of Operations.
About a year following Joseph’s enlistment, his younger brother Leonard (born in 1918) enlisted in the US Army. Joseph vehemently tried to discourage Leonard from doing this, without success. Joseph continually worried about Leonard while both were serving. On March 6, 1945 SGT Leonard St. Michel was killed in action while serving with the 26th Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division (The Big Red One). The division was engaged in the area around Bonn, Germany just prior to crossing the Rhine River. Leonard was a true American hero, winning the Silver Star, Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Purple Heart for his heroic actions. He was buried in Henri-Chappelle American Cemetery in Belgium. Besides his grieving family, he also left behind his fianc whom he had met while training in the Chicago area.
Allyce L. Borgen was born in Georgetown, Minnesota on December 7, 1918, the third of eight children. Ironically, she celebrated her 21st birthday December 7, 1941, the day of the Pearl Harbor bombing. Allyce had two older brothers who tried to enlist but failed their physical exams. With only younger sisters after her, Allyce felt that if her brothers could not enlist, somebody in the family should. So, on May 29, 1944, Allyce enlisted in the US Navy. She served as a bookkeeper/accountant at the Philadelphia Shipyards and was honorably discharged as a Storekeeper, 1st Class on August 16, 1946.
On May 30, 1948, Allyce Borgen married Joseph St. Michel. To this union, eight children were born. Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing one of their sons, Rob St. Michel, here in Rugby. Rob proudly shared with me, and sometimes emotionally, all the above information. He also showed me the three individual flag cases that hang on his wall. Each case displays the US Flag and the medals and ribbons earned by his parents and his Uncle Leonard. Rob also has a brother that served in Viet Nam.
The death of Leonard was very hard on Rob’s dad, Joseph. Rob said he does not recall his father talking about Leonard. It is not that Joseph was angry or bitter. Both Rob’s parents were active in the American Legion for the remainder of their lives. “Although my parents had a happy life”, as Rob put it, “Leonard’s death just left a hole in my Dad’s heart”.
On a European trip this past fall, Rob, traveling alone, made a six hour road trip (one-way), to Henri-Chappelle America Cemetery in Belgium. On September 10, 2017, he stood at the grave site of his Uncle Leonard at Plot E, Row 5, Grave 21. To Rob’s knowledge, this may have been only the second time in 72 years that a family member has visited the grave of Leonard St. Michel. Although Rob had never known his Uncle Leonard, he described this reunion as one of great emotion and was moved to tears. His initial thoughts were of sadness for his uncle being laid to rest so far from home and family. But, as he looked around at the headstones arranged in gentle arcs, sweeping across a broad lawn that slopes gently downhill, he came to a different conclusion. In this beautiful, picturesque landscape of green grass, hedgerows and rolling hills, he was overcome with the beauty, peace and quietness of this sacred site. He realized that Leonard did not lie alone, but he is with the other 7,991 of his comrades that lie with him. He is with his Band of Brothers.
I share this story with you as it reminds us once again of the cost of freedom and what our veterans have done, and continue to do, for this land of ours. It is a story of love of country, duty, sacrifice, and loss by one family. But as Rob reminded me, it is not only the story of his family, but the story of thousands of families who have gone through the same sacrifices and tragedies of war, throughout our history. It is an American story.
Rob is proud of his family’s service to our country. In my mind, Rob exemplifies how we should all show our thanks and appreciation to all those who have served. As he said, “We need to remember, we can’t forget”. Rob certainly has fulfilled this pledge. It is a reminder that no matter how many years have passed, we will not forget. And if we are to do this, then we must first begin with remembering those veterans in our family. Once we do this, then I believe this gratitude will flow over to remembering and appreciating all veterans. This connection and commitment to our veterans, and remembering what they have done for us, can only make us more united and our country stronger.
Thank you, Rob, for sharing this story of your family with me. May God continue to bless the sacrifices and memory of Joseph St. Michel, Allyce Borgen St. Michel, and Leonard St. Michel. Are not they all our sons and daughters?