The question of heroism is a mystery in many ways. What is it that brings courage to the point of heroism out of a person who would otherwise be no different than any other common man or woman? It is rare enough that we are always amazed by it when we see or hear of the actions of an otherwise anonymous person, someone from the perceived ranks of the “ordinary.” And we are so affected by those actions that we feel the proper need to recognize them with special awards, as they give us examples of the potential nobility of all men and women. This is one of those stories.
It involves the actions of a man by the name of Clarence Alvin Borley, who was born on July 17, 1924, in Williston, North Dakota. After the war, he would make his home in Washington State. His moment came, like it did for many of his generation, in the context of the bloodiest conflict in world history, WWII.
Borley joined the U.S. Navy and became an aircraft carrier Hellcat fighter pilot with Fighting Squadron Fifteen (VF-15), attached to the USS Essex (CV-9). He had already seen plenty of action and had become an Ace, that is, a pilot who had shot down five or more enemy aircraft. That is accomplishment enough, of course, but on October 12, 1944, he was engaged against the Japanese enemy in a battle near the island of Formosa. He and his fellow pilots were heavily outnumbered, but, with tremendous focus and determination and skill, Borley pressed the attack against the Japanese fighters and shot down two of them, and he materially aided in the destruction of several others.
During the same fight, Borely’s plane was struck by anti-aircraft fire when he was strafing those same guns located near a Japanese airfield. His plane was seriously damaged, and he was forced to crash land his plane in the water. He exited the plane with his life jacket and his .38 revolver. Two Japanese soldiers in a small boat attempted to capture Borley, but he dispatched both of them with his handgun. He evaded capture for 5 days until he was finally found and picked up by a U.S. submarine, the USS Swordfish. Borley was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions that day.
Borley continued serving after WWII and retired from the U.S. Navy in 1968 as a commander. In an article in the Olympia, Washington, newspaper, The News Tribune, in 2015, he was one of the 75 surviving military pilots who carry the title “ace,” a club that may never have a new member. Vietnam was the last time pilots earned that designation. Borley, 90 years old at that time, understood that that particular moniker will probably fade into history as he was quoted saying, “It’ll all be taken over by missiles and robotics. I just happened to be in the age bracket to catch some of it.” He was interviewed by The News Tribune as he awaited a flight to Washington, D.C. for a ceremony where he and some three dozen others were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
Included here is a video from KOMO News in Seattle about Clarence Borley. He gives some of the details of his actions on that day in 1944 at the age of 20.
The Veterans Site honors and thanks Clarence Borley for his heroic service, both in WWII and throughout his long life.