June 1, 2019
TO THE EDITOR:
Seventy-five years ago on June 6, 1944, the western allies launched the largest amphibious assault in history across five beaches in Normandy, France, known to history as Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword. Among the participants in that assault was a late resident of Carteret County, Richard W. “Dick” Borden, M.D. Born and raised in Goldsboro, he gradated from medical school after the war and eventually moved his medical practice to Carteret County, where he spent the remainder of his life. He passed on a couple of years ago.
Dick, as we all knew him, was my distant cousin and was a pharmacist mate in the Navy and part of a Navy medical unit attached to one of the Army infantry divisions engaged in the initial assault on Omaha Beach (known to history as “Bloody Omaha.”) He came ashore with the second assault wave of infantry June 6, accompanied by fellow pharmacist mate and close friend, carrying a stretcher and some medical supplies. Dick’s companion was killed shortly after coming ashore and Dick told me that the loss of his friend was the only time in his life that he swore.
According to Dick (and the histories of the fighting on Omaha Beach), the beach at that time was a shambles. The assault had stalled and casualties were mounting. From my conversations with Dick and after reviewing his Bronze Star citation, he reacted to the shock of the loss of his friend and the then existing conditions on the beach, by moving up and down the beach under enemy fire, caring for wounded soldiers and organizing aid stations and casualty evacuations. History also tell us that were it not for the stubborn courage of the troops in the assault waves (such as Dick Borden) and a group of Army Rangers who scaled an adjoining cliff, the assault on Omaha Beach might have failed and possibly the assault on Hitler’s Festung Europa along with it.
Dick remained in Normandy until his unit was returned to Navy control and he eventually was reassigned to the Pacific Theater of Operations in anticipation of the invasion of Japan.
As an active duty Marine, I was privileged to participate in the preparation of some citations for other Marines, and I will always believe that had Dick been part of a Navy unit instead of being attached to an Army unit his citation would have been for a Silver Star or something even more prestigious. France (the ancestral home of the Borden family) eventually recognized his service by inducting him into one of its highest honors, the Legion of Honor.
After the war, Dick attended and graduated from Duke Medical School, which is how I first met him as a frequent visitor to my parents’ home in Chapel Hill, where my father (also a Word War II veteran) was a faculty member of the UNC Medical School.
The Dick Borden I knew had his foibles (ask anyone who knew him), but he also possessed a deep compassion for his fellow man, manifesting itself in his medical practice, his faith, his involvement with Scouting, his deep involvement in the Outward Bound program, and a continuing participation in the affairs of his extended Borden family. I’d like to believe that when he arrived at the Pearly Gates, Saint Peter gave him a “wave through.
War marks and changes all of us who have participated in it, and Dick possibly more so than some. So when we pause, as we should sometime this week, to acknowledge the 75th anniversary of D-Day, each of us should lift a toast to those remarkable men who helped change the course of history on that day, and to Dick Borden, if you knew him, who was one of them.