This North Dakota family had 14 siblings – 9 served in the U.S. military
FARGO – The family of Gustave August Bartholomay was a big brood in the Sheldon, N.D., area in the first half of the 20th century.
Between two wives, Gustave had 14 children who survived to adulthood, with nine of them pitching in to serve in the U.S. military – eight of them during World War II and the Korean War.
John Bartholomay is one of those nine.
The 89-year-old Fargo man, and his twin brother, Leo, were 22 years old when they were drafted and inducted into the Army on March 12, 1951, to serve Korea.
John’s set up communications around Pusan, away from much of the fighting.
Leo, on the other hand, was working in communications for the 9th Infantry Regiment, which at times saw heavy combat.
John is still trying to find out about what his brother – who died at age 76 in 2005 – endured.
“I wanted to see him one time. I got (through) to him and told him I got a couple of days off.
He said, ‘You stay the hell out of here!’” John said.
“I could never get a story out of him on what really happened,” John said. “I’d ask him once in a while when we’d go out for supper. His wife asked me to be quiet, because he’d have nightmares.”
The 9th Infantry Regiment was sent to the Korean Peninsula in 1950 and were among the first units of the 2nd Infantry Division to take on North Korean forces. Some of the battles the regiment took part in are remembered for their ferocity: Bloody Ridge, Heartbreak Ridge, Old Baldy, Pork Chop Hill and T-Bone Hill.
John served in Korea from August 1951 to spring 1953 with the 521st Signal Company, maintaining communications cables.
Both brothers had worked for Northwestern Bell before being drafted and both trained at Camp Gordon, Ga. (now Fort Gordon).
On the wall of John’s apartment is a tinted black and white photo of the boys, 5 years old, on the porch of a ranch house near Leonard, N.D. The twins had been “farmed out” to their Uncle John and his wife Laura Bartholomay because there were too many children in the family for his father to support, John said.
On John’s table, wartime photos of Leo and himself are laid out. John in his dress uniform; their training company; and Leo in Korea, eating chocolate in a foxhole, drinking coffee, training with a machine gun, standing by a snow-covered log bunker.
John said Leo didn’t like to talk about the war.
“A lot of times they were overtaken or they ran out of ammo. They were out of food a lot of times. Most of the time they were out of ammo, or grenades,” John said.
Leo and John were far from alone in giving to their country. Their parents, Gustave and Maude Noon Bartholomay “just figured we had to serve, serve the country,” John said.
Most of the rest served in the Army and Navy during World War II, except for a younger brother who joined the North Dakota Air National Guard.
- LaVerne Bartholomay Sullivan served in the Women’s Army Corps, or WACs. According to a scrapbook clipping of a Fargo Forum story on the family, which appears to have been written in late 1945, LaVerne had joined in September 1943 and was a technician fourth grade at Camp Hood, Texas, where she worked as an assistant dietician at the hospital. Now in her mid-90s, she lives in South Carolina, John said.
- Meirl Bartholmay entered the Army in March 1945 and had been in basic training in Camp Crowder, Missouri. He served as a cook or a baker in the Philippines his daughter, Bonnie Braaten of Thousand Oaks, Calif., said. After the war, he joined the Fargo Fire Department and worked as a firefighter. He died at age 85, Braaten said.
- Virgil Bartholomay, was a private first class in the Army, the Forum article said. He was inducted in 1942 and was part of the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion. He was later stationed in France. He died at age 63 in 1984.
- Kenneth Bartholomay was wounded in Italy on April 19, 1945, the Forum article said. He entered the service in November 1942, with basic training in Camp Wallace, Texas. He was married with two children, but he went overseas in November 1944. Before going overseas, he trained at Camp Hulen, Texas, with an anti-aircraft unit. He’s passed away, but his age or date of death weren’t available.
- Duane Bartholomay, 94, lives in Detroit Lakes, Minn. Duane said he was drafted into the Army at the end of 1944 and was stationed in Fort Benning, Ga. He was still in training to be a combat engineer when the war ended in August 1945. In all, he served 14 months in uniform. He returned to Sheldon, N.D., and worked for the Northern Pacific Railroad as a track foreman and track inspector.
- Norman Bartholomay served in the Navy and was a seaman second class by the time The Forum article appeared. He enlisted in the Navy in January 1945, and after training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois, he shipped out in April 1945, the Forum article said. He died in 1992 at age 66, his grandson Chad Bartholomay said.
- Gordon Bartholomay of Fargo joined the North Dakota Air National Guard in Fargo in 1953 after the Korean War had ended. The 82-year-old said he was 18 when he joined. He worked in finance and accounting for the Guard for 23 years. As a civilian, he worked as a certified public accountant. The military “was good duty. A good purpose,” Gordon said.
Gordon says the children and grandchildren of the Bartholomays have also made it a point to serve the nation in uniform.
“We’re a very patriotic family. Still are,” Gordon said. “USA all the way!”