Out of the ashes, a gift from the past
By Bonnie Adams, Government Editor
Westborough – As Carol Burtt Borglund watched her family’s Milk Street barn go up in flames in the early morning hours of Nov. 15, there was one thought dominating her mind.
“I kept screaming ‘Save the sword! Please save the sword!’” she recalled.
The sword in question was one of the many personal family heirlooms stored on the barn’s second floor. It had belonged to her grandfather, Lt. Robert Franklin Nutting when he served in the U.S. Navy in 1917. But Carol had another reason for wanting to save the sword other than just sentimental reasons – she had planned to send it as a gift to her niece Gretchen Eades’ son Zachary, who is a boatswain mate in the U.S. Navy. Zachary, 20, was due to leave his Illinois home Nov. 26 on a deployment to Youkusa, Japan.
But as the nearly 50 firefighters from five towns battled the two-alarm blaze, flames eventually engulfed the front of the barn and shot through the large picture window close to where the heirlooms were stored.
“My heart just fell,” Carol said. “I knew then everything was gone. All my family memorabilia, personal papers and also, the sword.”
The next day she, her husband, Clay, and brother-in-law, Brett Borglund (who as a Westborough firefighter had also responded to the fire) picked through the charred, ankle-deep rubble. The building, which the couple had used on many occasions to host parties, was a total loss. Valued pieces, such as a piano, an antique bench and an old sign from Carol’s childhood family New Hampshire farm were just a few of what was destroyed.
Brett, at Carol’s behest, ventured onto the remains of the second floor to see if anything could be recovered.
“And then, to everyone’s astonishment, holding it high, and with a huge smile on his face, he called out, ‘Here’s the sword!” Carol recalled. “We couldn’t believe it!”
Other than the leather sheath, which was destroyed, the sword was charred, but intact.
Moments later, Brett and Clay were also able to deliver other treasures – two wastebaskets that contained soaking wet valuable family papers and photos, including all of her grandfather’s naval documents.
After taking them home, Carol carefully peeled off the documents one by one and laid them in her kitchen to dry. Other than a bit of charring and curling, every piece is now fine.
Looking through the saved items, Carol was thrilled to find other documents that hold special memories for her, including correspondence to her family from her late brother, Paul Robert Burtt, when he served as a pilot in Vietnam. She also found letters written to her mother from a close family friend when he served in World War II.
“It’s just amazing that of all the things saved, these ones were,” she mused. “It makes me wonder – why these? I really think it has something to do with Zach.”
Although she has only met Zach once, Carol said she is close to his family. As such, when she found out he had plans to become a “lifer” in the Navy, she felt great pride.
“Zach’s father’s family has a naval background, but he never really knew about this side of the family,” she said. “I called him up to ask him if he wanted me to send him the sword and his great grandfather’s papers. He immediately said, ‘Yes ma’am.’”
Since he was leaving Nov. 26, Carol sent the sword and paperwork to him immediately.
Zachary’s mother, Gretchen, said her son was “overwhelmed” by the gift.
“It was so amazing, this whole story of the sword surviving the fire,” she said. “Zach didn’t know a lot about this side of the family’s naval heritage – this kind of solidifies his decision; it’s in his blood. I think it was meant to be.”
“It means a lot to us to know the support he has within his extended family,” she added.
Carol, of course, is very thankful for quick actions of so many who saved her home. That includes Robert Partridge, the Knights Limo driver who first alerted the Borglunds to the fire and called 911. She is also grateful, she said, to all of the firefighters, including Westborough Capt. Phil Kittredge.
“Phil is a history buff like myself,” she said. “He knew how important the sword and the papers were to me.”
Soon the barn, site of so many family parties, will have to be taken down. As sad as she is about that, she is thrilled, Carol said, the story has a happy ending. A family treasure is now no longer in her possession but rather in the hands of a young man who will be proudly serving his country just as prior generations of his family did long ago.
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