By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Long before he was a war hero – and for many years after – Walter Borowski was just a homegrown son of a farmer, one of a dozen children born here to Polish immigrants, a scrappy kid who learned how to win a school yard fight and always looked forward to spring.
That's when he could get his hands dirty in the rich Derry soil, tilling and planting, tending and reaping what he had sown from the earth.
On Saturday, just as the summer sun was beginning to warm the soil to perfection, Borowski died at home at the age of 90, never to realize another harvest.
Although he could have lived his life in obscurity, his valorous story was uncovered by former town historian Rick Holmes, who spent long hours with Borowski chronicling his service to his country during his D-Day adventures as a “cliff climber” at Point du Hoc in France.
Holmes understood the significance of what Borowski had done, of all he'd seen and of all he'd never forget. Holmes calculated the miraculous odds against which Borowski survived as one of the first U.S. Army Special Forces Rangers to scale the cliffs and face German artillery fire.
After two years of planning with several others, Holmes arranged for Borowski to receive a Legion of Honor medal, France's highest military award. It was pinned to his suit jacket by French Consul General Christophe Guilhou on February 4, now also known as “Walter Borowski Day.”
Yesterday Holmes steeled himself as he attended services for Borowski, grateful for the invaluable gift of history that he received from his dear old friend over the past few years.
“I kept thinking yesterday that, in the framework of his 90 years, Walter survived 66 years and 13 days longer than most of his comrades, who were lost in the invasion,” Holmes said. “Almost everyone who was with him died.”
As it turns out, Borowski was to receive another honor. This Saturday he would be one of two people given the Pinkerton Academy Bradford V. Ek Honored Alumnus Award, given biennially to Pinkerton graduates whose lives have contributed honor to the school and its ever-growing alumnus association, now 17,000 strong.
Borowski, already a Pinkerton Hall of Famer, was a 1937 graduate of the high school, said Robin Perrin, Pinkerton's Director of Alumni.
“Walter knew about the award. Rick Holmes had prepared him a few weeks ago for the Saturday luncheon. I decided it would mean more to his family to have the award delivered during calling hours just prior to the service, so I took it to them. It seemed to really mean a lot to them, to be able to have it in their hands,” Perrin said.
Borowski, whose kidneys have been slowly failing, talked at length during an interview in January about how he felt just before the impending Medal of Honor ceremony. He confessed to being more scared of facing the crowd than he was of swimming ashore in the dark, uncertain calm before the eventual storm of brutal combat that followed.
Borowski survived the experience, but carried with him the wounds of war that never heal.
“Maybe I'm the last of the surviving Rangers -- I don't know,” said Borowski, in January. “All I know is I was one of the first ones over the cliffs that day. We spent the next six days in hell. After the war – after I lost my brother and saw all the bad things in this world, the camps where thousands upon thousands of human bodies were bulldozed – I had enough. I just wanted to come home.”
On Feb. 4, after Borowski received the ribbon and absorbed as much applause from his admirers as he could stand, he gathered his thoughts and addressed the group, humbly dedicating his war ribbon to the memory of all of those who did not survive, including his older brother, Jerry, a paratrooper who landed in France on D-Day ahead of Borowski and was killed in combat the next day.
“For my fellow Rangers. We went through hell, but we did it, “Borowski said. “Thank you.”