Lt. Joseph Borkowski
“I guess I was as happy as an Army man could be,” said Joe (Borkowski) Bork. “I was a son-of-a-bitch with the men, but they looked at me like a dad. I didn’t drink and didn’t gamble. Made the men toe the mark. I was in ROTC and went right into the service out of college.”
Through February, as they waited on the Saar River front, the unit continued to strengthen its defensive position, while the Americans and the Germans harassed each other with mortar and artillery fire. On the night of February 17, around 9 p.m., a patrol from the 101st Infantry, to which the 101st Cavalry was attached, left for Schaffhausen, reaching the outskirts around 10:50 p.m. They concealed themselves in buildings and observed the activities of the Germans all the next day. They reported that little information was gained, because enemy activity was light, and few military or civilian personnel were seen.
A patrol from Troop B left to relieve the 101st Infantry patrol on the night of February 18. At 7:30 p.m., a message came from the patrol in Schaffhausen, saying that German soldiers were creeping up on them, and they were in danger of being surrounded. The Troop B patrol, commanded by Borkowski, was standing by, ready to move into Schaffhausen.
“I remember it was around midnight,” Borkowski said. “We were under artillery fire (friendly fire just overhead, lighting up the sky). Our mission was to get to the Saar River -- the border between France and Germany at the time. We traveled on our hands and knees, with shells bursting and giving light. The net was a few prisoners, including one man who was Polish. He hugged me when I confused my German and Polish. He was a Polish prisoner used by the Germans.”
As Lt. Borkowski’s patrol began its withdrawal, the Germans laid a heavy barrage of mortar fire, causing confusion in the darkness. With a great deal of difficulty, the patrol was reorganized, and returned to the outpost. There, they discovered that two men were missing and three had been wounded. Lt. Borkowski immediately reorganized a second patrol and returned to the scene of the action, locating one man on the side of the road in a dazed condition. He also discovered that Tec. 5 Thurman Swim, from Turley, Oklahoma, had been killed by mortar fragmentation. For his actions that day, First Lieutenant Joseph Borkowski earned a Bronze Star.
Another time, their commander ordered Borkowski and his men to cross the river to Saabrucken. They moved slowly through “this terrific thing – the Siegfried Line – with all these huge pillboxes,” he said. “I remember Wilson, my radio operator, and Sgt. Swanson were with me. We just kept going, and we say a guy, a German, waving a big white flag. We went up to him – there was an officer with some men – and I said, What’s the problem.”
Borkowski said they had a conference about the state of the war, and the German told him that they had been getting false information. “He said he had been told that the Americans were disorganized, undisciplined, and had no equipment.”
“We’ve been watching you for half an hour,” he told Borkowski, “and we think your men are very disciplined and well supplied: armored cars, mines, supplies.”
The Germans were hurting at this point and giving bad information to the soldiers in the field. The German lieutenant indicated to Borkowski that he didn't want to engage in battle with a unit that seemed in such good shape. Borkowski agreed to a surrender, but the German would not call out the balance of his men.
“I took his piston,” Borkowski said, “and said okay, call your men together and stack your weapons.”
The German lieutenant said there was one problem: “You are only a lieutenant as am I. It would not be honorable for me.”
Borkowski had his radio operator call for a captain to take the surrender, and Captain Burgess came up and took the surrender.
Not a man was lost that day and 38 German soldiers were taken prisoner. Borkowski and his men traveled another mile or so into Germany to complete their mission. “This was a brave surrender,” he said. “Not a shot was fired; not a man was lost on either side.”
Later, he remembers being on a mission in Munich, where they had done a lot of bombing. “We needed to check to see if it was okay for our troops to go in,” he said. “Off the highway a little way was a big building, so I went inside with three or four men. It was filled with men in uniform. Turns out these guys didn’t want to fight – they were conductors – but they all had guns, which they turned over to us. That was strictly luck. I remember the city was filled with dead people and dead horses.”
“On April 1, in the village where Pvt. Gawlak was killed, the women came out and called us ‘killers.’ There was nothing we could have done differently. On another mission – on April 16 – Sgt. Swanson was driving a half-track, and we came under attack by an 88. We dropped into a ravine, but Sgt. Swanson was hit and killed.”
“Near the end of the war a 14-year-old boy came up out of a foxhole with his rifle,” said Borkowski. “I yelled at him in German, ‘Don’t shoot!’ This confused him, and when he paused, I walked up and took his gun. He was scared, but he gave us no information except that German troops were ahead. My men gave the crying youth some candy, and he then ran off -- me holding the gun. I asked my men to hold fire and let the youth go. I'm proud of this to this day. My conscious is clear. I wish I could find that boy. Wish I knew where he was today – if he survived the war.”
I remember that the people were starving in the camp at Landsberg. We offered them something to eat, but they were too hungry too eat. They were afraid it would make them ill. I remember one man said he only wanted guns, so he could kill the Germans.
“I recall the last mission: Truce Day,“ he said. “In Austria I had a patrol trying to get the Germans out of heavy pine woods. We ended up in a firefight with a group of Germans in cottages in the woods. Sadly, lives were lost, but it was the last time. It was intended that any should die. We were just to get the prisoners out of the area.”
After the war, we would buy eggs from the local farmers, and they would almost cry with gratitude. The SS had been pretty rough. In one town we were turning a tank around and knocked down a wall in front of a nice home. The man came out and he was pretty mad. He said it was a shame that his place had survived bombings and war, and then we came and knocked over the wall. He almost cried. We took up a collection to pay for his wall.
When we were in Heidelberg, a girl – Margo – was teaching English. Wilson knew her real well. Her dad was involved in the steel mills. After the war she wrote to me and asked for some notebook paper.
In July 2011, I received the following sad email from Warren Holleman, Joseph Bork's son-in-law:
I am Joe’s son in law and have been married to Joe’s daughter Jerriann for 37 years.
Joe passed away on the 4th of July 2009. Joe was active and in reasonable health to the end. His experiences in WWII were a big part of what defined him and he often talked about the men that served with him. He valued the experience but hated war and found no glory in it.
He was buried with military honors which were well deserved.
Lt. Joseph Borkowski with a special treat
for soldiers on the move: a couple of big trout