50 states, 50 heroes: Running on adrenaline

Published 7:01 am Saturday, March 21, 2020

Born Nov. 23, 1919, in Preston, Idaho, Leonard C. Brostrom was on a mission in California for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. After completing his mission, he returned to Idaho and was drafted into the Army in March 1942.

After completing basic training at Fort Ord, California, Brostrom was assigned to Company F, Second Battalion of the 17th Infantry Regiment, Seventh Motorized Division (later renamed the Seventh Infantry Division (light)). The division initially trained in the Mojave Desert to participate in the North African Campaign, but in early 1943, orders changed and the Seventh prepared for combat in the Pacific Theater.

On May 11, 1943, Pfc. Brostrom saw his first combat on the Aleutian Island of Attu, one of two Aleutian Islands conquered by the Japanese during World War II. Unprepared and poorly equipped for winter warfare, the Seventh found itself facing fierce Japanese resistance. By May 29, the Seventh destroyed Japanese resistance on the island after defeating the enemy at Chichagof Harbor. The division then participated in the invasion of Kiska, the other Aleutian Island held by the Japanese, on Aug. 15. Unbeknownst to Allied leaders, the Japanese abandoned Kiska two weeks before the American invasion.

Email newsletter signup

The Seventh fought in the Battle of Kwajalein in February of 1944. Later that year, it was attached to the XXIV Corps of the U.S. Sixth Army for the invasion of the Philippines. On Oct. 20, 1944, the Seventh invaded the Philippine island of Leyte, with the 17th Regiment attacking along the Dulag-Burauen Road. By Oct. 27, the Regiment was outside the town of Dagami.

On the morning of Oct. 28, Brostrom was acting as lead scout for his company as they worked their way around the left flank of Dagami. As they moved, they unwittingly entered an area flanked by camouflaged Japanese pillboxes and trenches. The Japanese opened criss-crossing machine gun fire about 20 yards from the Americans, pinning down Company F and causing terrible casualties.

Realizing that a key bunker in the center would have to be destroyed in order for the company to advance, Brostrom rose up and started fighting his way through a bamboo thicket on the enemy line and was wounded in the process. Despite the pain and being visible to both the Americans and the Japanese, he charged the rear of an enemy machine gun bunker. Upon reaching it, Brostrom lobbed grenades inside. Six Japanese soldiers then charged Brostrom with bayonets, but Brostrom managed to kill one and drive off the others with his rifle fire.

Brostrom was then shot several times in the abdomen, causing him to fall to the ground. Losing blood and in severe pain, Brostrom rose to his feet and began throwing more grenades at the Japanese. By this point, several riflemen from Company F caught up with Brostrom and helped him drive away the remaining enemy forces.

After the fight, Brostrom collapsed and was carried from the battlefield. He died later that day.

Brostrom was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, which was presented to his family. The family donated the medal to be displayed at the Franklin County Courthouse in Preston in the 1950s. After changing hands several times, Brostrom’s medal is now on display at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Church History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Brostrom is buried in the Preston Cemetery in Preston. In 1948, the United States Army transport ship USAT Private Leonard C. Brostrom was named in his honor. The ship was transferred to the Navy during the Korean War and renamed the USNS Pvt. Leonard C. Brostrom. The ship was later sold for scrap in 1982.