Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Unsung war hero's medal now preserved at Church History Library

Published: Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011

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He was posthumously given the Medal of Honor for valor in World War II and is one of only nine Latter-day Saints in U.S. History to have received that distinction, the first returned LDS missionary so honored. A U.S. Navy cargo ship was named for him.

Yet today, history records very little about Leonard C. Brostrom, U.S. Army private first class, who served in Company F of the 17th Infantry, 7th Infantry Division.

So unsung is this native of Preston, Idaho, that there is on the Internet a Wikipedia article about the ship that was named after him (USNS Private Leonard C. Brostrom, T-AK-255) but not about Brother Brostrom himself.

His Medal of Honor, displayed for many years at the Franklin County Courthouse in Idaho, had in recent times languished in the office desk drawer of Jay McKenzie, an attorney in Preston and a longtime friend of the Brostrom family.

It was Brother McKenzie who presented the medal to the Church History Library on Nov. 10 in a meeting presided over by Elder Marcus Nash of the Seventy and assistant executive director of the Church History Department. Brother McKenzie represented the donor, Teddi Brostrom Olsen, Brother Brostrom's niece and only living heir, who was not present.

Before an audience of invited guests at the library, Brother McKenzie told how the medal came into his possession.

He said that county commissioners wanted to do away with the display cases in the courthouse, so they asked Vern Rogers, a local American Legion commander, to display the medal in the American Legion building.

As the legion chapter in Preston dwindled, the building was converted into county offices, and the commander took the medal home. He later asked Brother McKenzie's brother Gary to take the medal and see that it got into safe hands. Worried about the safety of the medal, Gary asked Jay if he could store the medal at his law office.

Jay took the medal and contacted Brother Brostrom's niece to see if she wanted to have it, but she, worried also about not being able to preserve it, declined to take it.

Photo by Patrick Dunshee
Medal of Honor awarded to Leonard Brostrom, an LDS soldier in World War II, is displayed with his framed portrait during presentation at Church History Library.

So Brother McKenzie put the medal in his desk drawer, where it was when he received a telephone call from Sherman Fleek.

Brother Fleek, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and a Church member, is the command historian for the United States Military Academy at West Point. He was researching Medal of Honor recipients who were LDS and was trying to find out more about Brother Brostrom.

"I said yes, I knew Leonard Brostrom and I have his Medal of Honor," Brother McKenzie said. "He asked 'Where?' and I said, 'Right here in my desk drawer.'"

Brother Fleek, who was present for the presentation in the library, said he almost fell on the floor in astonishment.

That was almost two years ago. After Brother McKenzie served a mission with his wife in San Diego, Calif., he returned home and with the help of Brother Fleek, completed arrangements to have the medal donated to the Church History Department.

"Brothers and Sisters, I feel the inspiration of the Lord and the moving of the Lord has made it possible for this to be here, to preserve it, to have it go into the hands of Vern Rogers so it wouldn't be lost, then into the hands of my Brother Gary to protect it, and now in a permanent place where it will be protected and be available for all to see," Brother McKenzie said.

In a Church history enrichment lecture at the library immediately following the presentation, Brother Fleek shared details about Brother Brostrom.

He said five members of the Church received the Medal of Honor during World War II; two of them were from Preston, the other one being Nathan K. Van Noy. Another medal recipient was Mervyn S. Bennion, commander of the USS Virginia, who was killed when his ship was bombed in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor.

Brother Bennion's heroism is well-chronicled; Brother Brostrom's is less so.

In fact, Brother Fleek, who told about both men at length in his lecture, lamented that so little can be known about Brother Brostrom, and urged his listeners to see that they record and preserve their own life histories.

He said Brother Brostrom somehow raised the money in hard economic times to fund his mission and served honorably in California before being drafted into the Army. He never married.

Photo by Patrick Dunshee
Elder Marcus Nash, center, with Jay McKenzie, left, and military historian Sherman Fleek.

Brother Fleek shared this from Brother Brostrom's medal citation:

"He was a rifleman with an assault platoon which ran into powerful resistance near Dagami, Leyte, Philippine Islands on 28 October 1944. From pillboxes, trenches and spider holes, so well camouflaged that they could be detected at no more than 20 yards, the enemy poured machine gun and rifle fire, causing severe casualties in the platoon. Realizing that a key pillbox in the center of the strong point would have to be knocked out if the company were to advance, Private First Class Brostrom, without orders and completely ignoring his own safety, ran forward to attack the pillbox with grenades. He immediately became the prime target for all the riflemen in the area, as he rushed to the rear of the pillbox and tossed grenades through the entrance. Six enemy soldiers left a trench in a bayonet charge against the heroic American, but he killed one and drove the others off with rifle fire. As he threw more grenades from his completely exposed position he was wounded several times in the abdomen and knocked to the ground. Although suffering intense pain and rapidly weakening from the loss of blood, he slowly rose to his feet and once more hurled his deadly missiles at the pillbox. As he collapsed the enemy began fleeing from the fortification and were killed by riflemen of his platoon."

Photo by Patrick Dunshee
Medal of Honor given posthumously to Leonard Brostrom, an LDS soldier in World War II, is donated the the Church History Museum. Tuesday, Nov.15, 2011.

Brother Brostrom died while being carried from the battlefield, but his valor enabled his company to reorganize against the attack and to prevail.

rscott@desnews.com