Community members from Tremonton gathered Monday morning at Riverview Cemetery, bringing with them renewed enthusiasm for a remembrance of military veterans who died in the line of duty after COVID-19 put a halt to the annual public tradition last year.
“Today is about honoring those who have given their lives for our country, our freedoms,” said Harry Gephart, who officiated this year’s ceremonies. “We are also grateful for all of our veterans.”
Gephart recognized all five branches of the United States Armed Forces, and had surviving members of each branch stand and receive applause from attendees.
He then quantified the collective sacrifices of each branch, and the numbers Gephart cited are staggering.
Combined, more than 1 million members of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard have perished in the line of duty over the years, decades and centuries. That number includes 887,331 members of the Army, 53,343 Marines, 82,981 Navy men and women, 10,232 Air Force members, and 2,100 Coast Guard members.
“Memorial Day is the time for Americans, as one body, to remember their great service,” Gephart said.
He also recognized those who went missing in action or were held captive as prisoners of war, including Allen “Ace” Christensen, who spent three and a half years as a prisoner of war in the Phillippines in Japan during World War II and lived to return to his hometown of Tremonton. Christensen died last September at the age of 100.
“We thank all of you for your unselfishness, your willingness to serve our country, and we pray for all of your fallen comrades,” he said.
In addition to the new gold-star bronze memorial unveiled at the cemetery on Monday, Tremonton City continued its tradition of placing crosses and flags in the lawn at Midland Square in the center of town. Each cross and flag represents a local military servicemember who has died in the line of duty, and on each cross is a QR code which visitors can scan using their phones to learn more information about each individual servicemember.
Keynote speaker and Tremonton City Councilmember Lyle Holmgren talked about some of those individuals, including:
• Rocky Payne: After serving as a Marine during the initial assault of Baghdad, Sgt. Payne returned for another tour as an Army gunner and was killed March 16, 2005 when the Humvee he was in struck a roadside bomb. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star medals.
• James Paul Jensen: A member of the Army in the 3rd Battalion, 11th Infantry, Jensen had been serving less than six months in Vietnam when he was killed in action on April 19, 1969. While his unit was on patrol, he was bringing up the rear, “as he often volunteered to do, which I understand is the most dangerous place to be,” Holmgren said. Local veteran Sid Fuhriman, who was also serving in Vietnam at the time, accompanied Jensen’s body home.
• Luis Cervantes: Also serving in Vietnam, in the 1st Battalion, 196th Infantry, Cervantes was mortally wounded on July 12, 1969 after he spotted enemy movement and shouted a warning to the rest of his unit. “His alerting saved many lives,” Holmgren said.
• John Nolan Bourne: Bourne, an Army Private First Class whose specialty was as a heavy vehicle driver, was also serving in Vietnam after being drafted. He was killed in action on June 1, 1968, less than six weeks into his tour of duty.
• Scott Cannon Bowcutt: Another Army Private First Class and local who served in Vietnam, was killed exactly five months into his tour on March 21, 1967. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.
• The Borgstrom brothers (Clyde, Elmer, Roland and Rulon): These four brothers from Thatcher all died within six months of each other while serving during World War II. “World War II took the lives of many Utahns, but no family in the state sacrificed more for the Allied cause than Alben and Gunda Borgstrom,” Holmgren said.
Holmgren concluded: “As we leave today, let us resolve to never forget their sacrifice, and maybe even more importantly, to remember those families for their sorrow and grief — it never goes away.”