WWII hero Staff Sgt. Walter Borowski, at home in Derry
DERRY – When Walter Borowski receives the French Medal of Honor next week, he will dedicate it to the memory of all of those who did not survive the horrors of World War II. He will accept it humbly, on behalf of his older brother, Jerry, a paratrooper who flew in on D-Day ahead of Borowski and was killed in combat the next day.
Borowski will receive the ribbon of honor as one of the last surviving Army Rangers who landed by sea on June 6, 1944, wading to shore and scaling the impossible cliffs at Pointe du Hoc in drenching rain under a relentless hail of German machine gun and canon fire.
Their motto, “Rangers lead the way,” was more like a sworn duty. Only the strongest and bravest of soldiers made it through the rigorous training to become a Ranger; Borowski emerged from the elite pack as a true leader – mind, body and spirit.
Today, his body is frail. But his mind is sharp and his spirit is stronger than ever.
“Maybe I'm the last of the surviving Rangers -- I don't know,” said Borowski, who celebrated his 90th birthday on January 5. “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.”
For his service to his country, Borowski earned Bronze and Silver stars, a Good Conduct Medal, European/African/Middle Eastern Service Medal, a Presidential Citation and three Purple Hearts. Next Thursday, the French Consul General will belatedly award him the Medal of Honor, France's most coveted honor.
He says the medals are nice to look at, but he didn't do what he did for the recognition. He did it because it was part of his journey, something he was meant to do, simply because he could.
Borowski was born in Derry to Polish immigrants, one of a dozen kids and the first in his family to graduate high school. He was the son of a factory worker who farmed for survival; Borowski quickly learned the meaning of hard work and family pride. A kid who came straight from the heart of New Hampshire, stubborn as he was strong, who grew up playing hard, even in the coldest of winters, and never backed down from a challenge – or a fight.
He enlisted in the service, expecting to join his brother as an Army paratrooper, but instead found his way to the Rangers, where he excelled.
“I remember saying back then, that if I ever did make it back to Derry, I would get a few acres, build a house, find a wife, have some kids and live the rest of my life here. All my dreams came true,” said Borowski, looking out across his property on a recent sunny winter afternoon, outside to enjoy the warm sun as it filtering down through the trees on his Madden Road lot.
His kidneys have recently failed him, but he's not one to give up so easily. He shares a home with his son, who takes him to his regular doctor appointments and dialysis three days a week. Although wheelchair bound, Borowski said he continues to farm every year.
“I crawl out there on my belly, are you kidding? Nothing can stop me,” he said, flexing both his arms in a strong man pose.
Like most veterans of WWII, Borowski lived out his post-war life without much recognition of his service to his country. Only through documented research by town historian Rick Holmes did Borowski's tour with the Army Rangers come to light.
He dedicated a chapter to Borowski in his 2007 historic tome, “Nutfield Rambles,” detailing Borowski's life and, in particular, his heroics. And then he put the word out, contacting Adele Baker, Honorary Consul to France for New Hampshire.
“Rick told me if anyone deserves the Legion of Honor, it's Walter. He asked me to talk to the consulate in Boston, and so we did. Normally, this is done in Paris, but due to Walter's medical condition, they are bringing the ceremony to him,” Baker said.
Boston's French Consul General, Christophe Guilhou, will do the honors Feb. 4 at 3 p.m. at the Derry Municipal Complex.
“Talk about being scared back in Normandy, I'm more nervous about this whole award ceremony, but I will be there, come hell or high water,” Borowski said. “It's been a bad year. I've been in excruciating pain with my kidney problem. You know, they gave me last rites. They thought I was all done in October, but I'm still here.”
As much as he likes to recall his glory days, Borowski likes to share the greatest lesson life has taught him, with whoever will listen.
“No matter where you go on this planet, people are people and they are just as human as we are. Don't try to change anyone's nationality just because of the way they pray or the way they walk. People are good, all in all, and I feel I could get along with anybody. I don't have an enemy in the world, and why should I? I don't hate anyone because of color or race,” Borowski said.
“Most of all, just stand up and be proud of who you are in this life. Do the best you can. That's all you can do. God knows what's in your heart.”