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Tilton man, Pearl Harbor survivor reflects on attacks 75 years later

  • U.S. Navy veteran Walter Borchert sits in front of his room at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton. Borchert served on the USS Worden, pictured to the left, during the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 12/6/2016 10:55:59 PM

Walter Borchert remembers fighting quite a bit when he was younger.

Not just during World War II, and not just during the attacks on Pearl Harbor – where he was stationed on the USS Worden when the Japanese bombed the naval base – but during peace time as well. He would fight “at the drop of a hat,” he said, and often found himself doing other activities he normally would not do, such as waking up in the middle of the night to urinate in his closet.

His actions, he thinks, were the result of post traumatic stress disorder, and caused him to have to live at a psychiatric home for a year after the war, along with other veterans who behaved similarly.

Borchert, 95, doesn’t fight or go to the bathroom in the closet anymore, but he still holds on to bad memories from the attacks on Pearl Harbor 75 years later. If people remember anything about the day, he hopes they remember that “war is useless.”

“There’s no benefit to it,” he said, “for us or for them. It just leaves horrible memories.”

Memories, like walking up to the deck of the USS Worden and seeing the USS Arizona lifted out of the water by the force of a bomb. Over 1,000 men died on that ship alone, and Borchert remembers seeing bits of bodies float past in the water as the fight continued. Later, his ship would participate in the Battle of Midway; seven months after that fight, the ship ran aground near Amchitka Island, off of Alaska, and had to be abandoned.

Memories, like hearing the news that Japanese women were jumping off cliffs with their babies on the island of Saipan, a Japanese stronghold, as Americans approached. He could understand why: Americans were not always kind to the Japanese, he said, but neither were the Japanese kind to captured American soldiers.

He still holds animosity toward Japan, but he has a fond memory of Sonoka Takara, a Japanese-American girlfriend he had while he was stationed in Oahu, Hawaii. Her father owned a grain shop on the island, and Borchert chuckled when he remembers calling her “snake eyes,” something her father hated.

But he became somber when he said he never saw her again after Dec. 7, 1941. He believes she was rounded up with other Japanese-Americans and sent to an internment camp. 

“I understand that there was a fear that they could have been spies,” Borchert said, “and I guess it was like flipping a coin: either they were or they weren’t. I hope she wasn’t, because she was very kind . . . I hope she made it.” Her father’s shop, he said, was ransacked after the attack.

Looking back on those days is difficult, Borchert said, especially because there are so few left who were alive from the attack. He used to correspond regularly with Raymond Brubaker, who served on the USS Worden with him and who he recalled as a “great guy,” until he died a few years ago. Borchert also used to be part of an organization of veterans who served at Pearl Harbor, which he said disbanded a year and a half ago due to lack of membership.

Of the 16 million who served in WWII, 620,000 are alive today, according to the National WWII Museum’s website. New Hampshire is home to 3,694 veterans, and of the 200 veterans who live at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton, where Borchert lives, around 75 are WWII veterans. He is the only one who was at Pearl Harbor, according to program manager Leonard Stuart. 

Nowadays, Borchert said he usually talks about the war only with reporters. It’s not easy for him; at one point, he became choked up at the memory of taking part in burying a soldier. But he takes solace in Gloria, his wife of 71 years, who lives in Meredith, and who he speaks to every day, and his son, who served in the Air Force. And although he hates war, he said he would pick up a gun and “go back at the drop of a hat” if he had to.

“This is my country,” he said. “And I’m going to protect it as much as I can.”

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