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Tilton sailor grew up fast at Pearl Harbor 76 years ago today

Union Leader Correspondent

December 06. 2017 10:58PM
Pearl Harbor survivor Walter Borchert displays a photograph of the destroyer USS Worden, on which he was serving at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. (BEA LEWIS/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

The battleship USS Arizona burns, immediately following the explosion of her forward magazines. The still image is from a color motion picture taken on board the hospital ship USS Solace. (U.S. Navy/National Archives)

TILTON — Walter Borchert was a young sailor aboard the destroyer USS Worden when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

He was on the mess deck drinking coffee and eating an egg sandwich when he heard shooting. Assuming that gunnery practice was underway, he headed topside to watch.

As he reached the top step, breakfast still in hand, he watched uncomprehendingly as an 1,800-pound bomb dropped from a plane and went down the smokestack of the battleship USS Arizona. A deafening boom and concussive shockwave followed and Borchert witnessed the giant ship lift out of the water. It later sank with more than 1,177 men aboard.

His ship’s deck guns were broken down for inspection. As gunner’s mates scrambled to put them back together, the deck was being strafed by Japanese fighters. Borchert joined his shipmates in grabbing sidearms and began shooting at the attackers with no effect, Quartermaster Raymond Brubaker trained a .50-caliber Browning machine gun on a low-flying dive bomber and the Worden crew watched the plane erupt in flames and crash.

Within two hours of the start of the attack, the Worden was at sea dropping depth charges near the entrance of the harbor in hopes of disabling the one-man Japanese subs deployed during the attack.

The attack occurred 76 years ago today, but the things Borchert witnessed on Dec. 7, 1941, remain indelibly etched in his memory.

“I dream about it a lot,” said Borchert. He has lived at the New Hampshire Veterans Home for the past three years.

USS Worden, the Farragut Class destroyer on which Walter Borchert served during the attack on Pearl Harbor. (US NAVY)

His son, Richard, and daughter-in-law, Joan, are planning to go to Hawaii and visit the USS Arizona Memorial.

Borchert said they invited him to come, but he can’t bring himself to go back. The horrors of the attack are juxtaposed with pleasant memories of Pearl Harbor, including the quaintness of the little village where he dated a Japanese-American girl and watched fiery sunsets.

Borchert served 593 days aboard the Worden, which earned four battle stars during World War II. 

The destroyer ran aground at Amchitka Island in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands on Jan. 12, 1943, while guarding a troop transport ship.

Following the captain’s order to abandon ship, Borchert jumped into the frigid water and began to swim. When he was taken aboard a rescue ship, the bodies of 14 of his shipmates lined the deck. 

He wondered aloud how the Navy notified surviving family members that their loved one was dead not as a result of action by the enemy, but hypothermia from the wintery seas.

The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association was disbanded in 2012, and fewer than 2,000 survivors of the attack are still living.

“I still to this day marvel at the fact that I survived the whole war,” Borchert said.

Aerial view of the USS Arizona Memorial, showing the wreck and oil seepage from the ship's bunkers. (U.S. Navy)


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