War History online proudly presents this Guest Piece from Jeremy P. Ämick, who is a military historian and writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
During the First World War, Osage County, Mo., saw the registration of more than 2,800 of its residents, necessitated by the passage of the Selective Service Act of 1917. What these numbers fail to represent, however, are the families who would then willingly submit their children in support of the war effort, occasionally surrendering their lives or health as a result.
In Westphalia, Mo., the military service of fraternal twins serves as an enduring testament to one family’s legacy of service during the war and the consequences of camp life that followed them home.
Born April 25, 1897, brothers Albert and Anton Borgmeyer were sons of Henry Borgmeyer, the owner of the orginal Westphalia Hotel. Prior to the start of American involvement in World War I, the twins moved to Washington, Mo., to begin lives independent of their Osage County upbringings.
“The two lived there a little while before they were drafted,” said Roman Borgmeyer, a nephew to the twins. “They had found work there.”
The June 22, 1917 edition of the Franklin County Tribune notes Anton was one of six Washington men who “volunteered to serve in the newly organized hospital unit,” approximately two months after the United States declared war against Germany.
It is uncertain as to why the aspiring soldier was not accepted for service at the time he volunteered, but on June 5, 1918, he and his twin brother were required to register for the draft. Two months later, both Anton’s and Albert’s draft order numbers were drawn, and they prepared to depart for military training.
Though news back home concerning the war was certainly grim and depressing based upon the many newspaper accounts printed, the Franklin County Tribune explained in an article on September 6, 1918, that “the boys now leaving will only get a sight of the big show.”
At the time of their arrival at Camp MacArthur, Texas, in mid-September 1918, the twins’ older brother, William, was fighting in France with the 1st Division, placing three of four brothers from the Borgmeyer family in military uniform at the same time.
The newspaper’s prediction appeared accurate since the twins remained engaged in training at Camp MacArthur, Texas, for the next several weeks. But, as listed on the military service card of Albert (accessed through the Missouri State Archives), he was discharged on November 20, 1918—nine days after the armistice—with a 25-percent disability rating.
“He had tuberculosis,” said Roman Borgmeyer. “I can remember my father talking about it.”
In an article written by Col. George E. Bushnell and accessible through the U.S. Army Medical Department website, Camp MacArthur held the unfortunate distinction of possessing the second “worst record for tuberculosis of all the large Army camps” situated in the United States during the war.
The article further details that a military member “who suffers a disability from disease contracted in line of duty shall be entitled to compensation, provided that the disease has not been caused by his own willful misconduct …,” which helps explain the basis for Albert’s disability award.
The month following his brother’s release, Anton was discharged from the Army and returned to his pre-service home of Washington. In the years following the war, both brothers married, raised children and worked at a local shoe factory, while Albert also became active in politics and served four years on the city council.
Yet the tuberculosis Albert contracted at Camp MacArthur would never fully release its grip, leading to his death from the disease in 1937, thus cutting down the former soldier when only 39 years old.
As reported in his obituary, Albert “bore his illness with resigned spirit and uncomplaining courage,” but, sadly, was followed in death by his wife, Marie, only nine years later. His brother went on to enjoy a lengthy career at International Shoe Company until his passing in 1960 at the VA hospital in St. Louis.
Though the tale of twins from a rural Osage County community is simply a single story among many originating from the war, the impact of their time spent in the Army still resonates through the freedoms we now enjoy, and continues to thrive through the enthusiasm radiating from those who volunteer to take an oath to protect the nation.
With the centennial of America’s involvment in World War I quickly approaching, the struggles faced by our veterans is often only remembered by time-worn granite markers scattered throughout various cemeteries, but, to many, serves as an incentive to uncover the stories buried beneath, resurrecting the history of those whose sacrifice of youth and health comprise the very foundation of our liberties.