JOHN C BOROWSKI
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HONORED ON PANEL 23E, LINE 40 OF THE WALL

JOHN C BOROWSKI

WALL NAME

JOHN C BOROWSKI

PANEL / LINE

23E/40

DATE OF BIRTH

11/14/1946

CASUALTY PROVINCE

KONTUM

DATE OF CASUALTY

07/10/1967

HOME OF RECORD

CHICAGO

COUNTY OF RECORD

Cook County

STATE

IL

BRANCH OF SERVICE

ARMY

RANK

PFC

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Contact Details

REMEMBRANCES

LEFT FOR JOHN C BOROWSKI
POSTED ON 6.27.2021
POSTED BY: john fabris

honoring you...

Thank you for your service to our country so long ago sir. Your Distinguished Service Cross citation attests to your bravery and devotion to your fellow soldiers. As long as you are remembered you will always be with us....
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POSTED ON 6.1.2021
POSTED BY: Fabio

remembrance of the army

I was born in 75, since I was a child I have memories of the war, that of Vietnam .... I love the uniform. I did my military service in my country with pride and although I am not an American I thank your young dead. That face struck me ... it's like going back in time ... young people never die.
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POSTED ON 11.1.2018
POSTED BY: jerry sandwisch wood cty.ohio vietnam vet 1969-70 army 173rd abn bde

You are not forgotten

The war may be forgotten but the warrior will always be remembered. All gave Some-Some gave All. Rest in peace Sky Soldier.
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POSTED ON 9.5.2018
POSTED BY: Gary B. Blackburn

JOHN BOROWSKI – SKY WARRIOR

FOREVER YOUNG
JOHN BOROWSKI – SKY WARRIOR

It was the mid-60s in Evergreen Park, Illinois, a predominantly white bedroom community southwest of the Chicago Loop. With a population of 25,000, thirteen churches, one of the earliest shopping malls in the country and little industry, Evergreen Park appeared to be Middle America’s idea of the ideal place to live and raise a family. However, for one young man, life was not easy.

John Sak spent as much time as possible away from the home where he had grown up. He had friends at Evergreen Park Community High School, but only a few of his closest friends knew he was adopted. The Sak family was prominent and well-liked in the community. It is difficult to know exactly when the problems began, or how physical they were, but John Sak was a troubled teenager. One of his best friends said, “John had a very bad foster home life. In fact, he spent more time staying at my parents’ home than [with] …his foster parents.”

In November 1964, John turned eighteen and legally took charge of his life. He had already spoken with Army recruiters and knew exactly what he wanted to do. Dropping out of school midway through his senior year, he enlisted in the Army, with the promise of “jump school” after basic. In one final act of rebellion, Sak signed up using his birth name. From that day on, the world would know him as “John C. Borowski.”

He loved everything about the Army from his first day at Ft. Benning. He had a clean slate, and for the first time he could remember, he felt he was being treated with respect. As long as he performed to the best of his considerable ability, everything went well, and Borowski was a happy young man. Each skill he learned opened new doors for him, and the future seemed limitless.

Army Airborne School was even better. The training was three weeks long with ground training the first week, followed by tower training, and finally “jump week” when he got to jump out of real airplanes. Borowski had to successfully complete five jumps, including a night jump, to graduate from the program. Guests and family members were invited to attend the graduation ceremony and participate in awarding the parachutist wings to the soldiers, but there was no one there to pin on John Borowski’s wings. He departed Fort Benning the next day for his first duty station. He had been assigned to the 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky.

“The Army was John's home,” a friend said. “He loved it. I can remember vividly how proud he was when he graduated jump school and was a member of the 101st Airborne. He wrote to me sometime after that to tell me he was going into an elite unit, the 173rd Airborne.”

The 1st and 2nd Battalions, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade had deployed to South Vietnam in May 1965. Then, the 4/503rd left Fort Campbell in August 1966 to join them. In the spring of 1967, John “Ski” Borowski went home for thirty days leave, and in April, flew out of O’Hare Field for his next duty assignment: machine-gunner with Alpha Company, 4/503rd Airborne Infantry in Vietnam.

During the summer of 1967, heavy contact with NVA forces in the Central Highlands near Dak To prompted the launching of Operation Greeley. It was a combined “search and destroy” effort by elements of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division, the 173rd AB, and the ARVN 42nd Infantry and Airborne.

Dak To was located on a valley floor surrounded by ridges that rose into peaks. The mountains then stretched to the west and southwest towards the tri-border region where Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia came together. A few miles southwest of Dak To was a 2,700 ft. mountain referred to as “Hill 830” and it sat astride a major access point to the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

At 0710 hours on the morning of 10 July 1967, Bravo Company, 4/503rd Infantry was ordered to move out and began ascending Hill 830. Bravo was leading the regiment, followed by Delta Company, then the TAC Command Post. Alpha Company was the rear guard. About 1545 hours that afternoon, as the four companies neared the crest of the mountain, they were struck by a wall of small arms and machine gun fire, and blasted by rockets, RPGs, and mortars, making advance or retreat nearly impossible. Alpha Company had been investigating a fresh trail up the mountain when its lead platoon began taking heavy small arms and automatic weapons fire from two bunkered light machine guns. The enemy force, initially thought to be an NVA rifle company, was entrenched in well-fortified positions approximately 115 feet in front and northwest of Alpha.

The First Platoon leader, Lt. Dan Jordan, was ordered to maneuver his men in a flanking attack on the enemy position in an attempt to ease the pressure on the lead platoon. Because of poor radio reception, Jordan was forced to run through heavy enemy fire, back and forth between his men and his commander to report progress and receive instructions. He then moved among his men, calming and encouraging them as they advanced to assault the NVA machine gun position. Ski Borowski and his assistant gunner, Doug Rutledge, were the M60 machine gun team for Jordan’s platoon.

Another Alpha Company officer, Lt. Mercer Vandenburg said, “Despite the terrain, terrible weather, and additional weight he carried with his M60, [Ski] never complained and always kept a great sense of humor. After humping up some of the worst mountains, he would comment how it was still better than being with his family in Chicago.”

Borowski’s squad was on the left flank when the machine guns opened up. There was heavy brush on all sides and the rounds were slicing through the leaves like swarms of angry hornets. “It sounded like a thousand firing lines,” Doug Rutledge said. “Horrible!” Ski had his right shoulder shoved into the soft red dirt of the mountain and could feel the dampness soaking through his uniform. It rained every day in these damned mountains. It was not as hot up here, but it was sticky as hell. He had all 24 pounds of his M60 “pig” cradled in his right arm, along with a rucksack and extra belts of ammo slung over his left shoulder, so for the moment, he was content to hug the mountain. As the enemy machine guns continued to chew the tops off the brush over his head, Ski kept low and waited for the order to move out.

A few minutes later, there was a call from back down the line of troops. One of the lieutenants had been hit and needed help. Rutledge, who’d had medical training ditched his rucksack, grabbed his first aid kit and crawled back down the trail. The young officer had a clean through-and-through wound to his right shoulder, which Rutledge quickly cleaned and bandaged.

As he was tending to the officer, Rutledge noticed he had a better, if somewhat less safe, view of the machine gun positions. Calling out to Borowski, he began yelling fire directions. Ski got his pig set up just above a rocky outcropping and began firing in the direction he was told. To eliminate the need for his assistant gunner, whose primary job in combat was to keep the belts of ammunition coming, Ski had wired a c-rat can to the left side of the gun just below the feedway so the belts didn’t bind up and jam the works. He didn’t want to be dependent on someone else in a fight. He was no longer John Sak; he was Ski Borowski and he had learned to be self-reliant.

As Borowski turned his head, reaching down for a band of ammunition, machine gun rounds began to strike all around, zeroing in on his position, and he felt a searing slap across the back of his head. He dropped to his knees and his chin sagged to his chest. Closing his eyes, he fought to stay conscious, and felt a cold wave of nausea. Taking hold of a small tree growing out of the bank, he steadied himself and grabbed the back of his head under his helmet. His hair was wet with blood and it was running in thin rivulets down both sides of his neck, soaking into his shirt. Calling for a medic, Ski released his grip on the sapling and settled down onto his haunches, holding his head.

Hearing his partner call for a medic, Doug Rutledge came quickly, crawling on all fours. He laid Borowski back against the embankment, and carefully removed his helmet; there was a lot of blood. Head wounds usually looked worse than they actually were, but the young soldier was barely conscious. Ski was his best friend in the squad, so he hoped it was not serious. Opening the bloody flak jacket and shirt, Rutledge made sure he wasn’t injured anywhere else, and then cleaned and dressed the deep graze on the back of his head. Rutledge assured Ski he would survive, telling him he’d had worse head-wounds, himself. Lt. Vandenburg came crawling down the line checking on the men, and seeing Borowski’s blood-soaked hair and uniform, inquired how he was. Looking a bit like the bandaged fife-player in “The Spirit of 76,” Borowski opened his eyes, gave the officer a weak smile, and replied, “You can't kill a Pole by shooting him in the head.”

Rutledge moved back down the trail to assist other wounded, and Ski remained slumped against the muddy outcropping where he had been hit. He lit a cigarette and rubbed the side of his throbbing head. Taking a long drag on the cigarette, he appeared to be in deep thought. Slowly rising, he stepped on the cigarette, and carefully placed the helmet on his bandaged head. Then, picking up his machine gun and a supply of ammo, he began to make his way up the mountain. Obviously playing it safe had not worked for him, or for the rest of his company. Disregarding his own safety, Borowski moved from cover to cover, firing eight to ten-round bursts as he ran. Regaining his strength, he soon found himself within 65 feet of the enemy guns and their camouflaged bunker.

Ski had been taking rounds the entire time he was moving up the hill, and as he prepared to make another run, an enemy round hit the side of his M60, smashing the barrel and jerking it out of his hands. Hunkering down behind a clump of trees, he stared at his pig lying in the dirt, and strains of the old barracks ditty ran through his mind: “This is my rifle; this is my gun; this is for fighting…” Shaking his head, he tried to refocus on his mission. Obviously his hard Polish head was feeling some effects from the grazing.

Pulling his .45 out of its holster, he checked the clip, crouched low, and ran on to the nearest point of cover, firing several shots as he ran. He wasn’t sure how many clips he had, but maybe the pistol could get him close enough to toss in a grenade. Zig-zagging back and forth, Borowski managed to advance another thirty feet toward the enemy position before a grenade came rolling down the hill.

Ski saw it coming and dived for cover but the explosion was staggering. He had managed to escape the full force of it, but had numerous shrapnel wounds and was dazed by the blast. He was covered in red dirt and shredded leaves which clung to his sweaty face and blood-soaked uniform, and caked in the blood oozing out of his many wounds. Realizing that he was going to require more than a .45 to destroy the machine guns, Borowski began to crawl back down the mountain. He had spotted a small squad of Alpha Company troopers who were pinned down behind some logs to one side, and he needed to rearm.

Reaching the soldiers, Borowski jumped down in their midst and asked for any weapons they could spare. The men just stared at him. Then, a medic crawled forward offering to help him and dress his wounds. Covered in blood, mud, and bandages, Borowski looked ghastly, but most of it was on the surface. He pushed the “doc” away, saying he didn’t have time; he’d “take care of it later.” The soldiers immediately provided him with an M16, an M79 grenade launcher, and ammo for both; then Ski began to crawl back up the hill. The Alpha troopers looked at each other and followed him. As the squad reached the crest of the hill, they fanned out and concentrated their fire on the enemy bunker. Obviously well supplied, there were a number of additional NVA troops within the fortification, along with the machine gun teams, and they had not stopped firing for over two hours. Two of the Alpha soldiers, including Sgt. Smith, had already been hit.

There were other NCOs in the squad, and Borowski was only a PFC, but at this point in the battle, he was leading the attack. None of them wore any rank on their uniforms, and Borowski was a natural leader. He forged ahead, and other men wanted to follow him. Waving the squad members around to the left as a diversion, Borowski swung right in a flanking movement and crawled behind a log, moving ever closer to his objective. Rising up, Borowski fired the grenade launcher, and saw the bunker housing the machine guns explode in a huge fireball. As he settled back, a single bullet hit him in the throat, just above his larynx. An expression of surprise flashed across Ski’s face, but he made no sound as the blood filled his throat and he fell back behind the log. Rising again, he clutched at his throat and fell onto his back, silently clawing the air.

Doc scrambled to Ski, screaming for him to “stay alive,” but felt helpless as he tried to save the drowning man. Using every skill he knew, the medic attempted several times to resuscitate Borowski before collapsing across the still body of his young patient. The other members of the squad had risen and were watching, silhouetted against the smoldering hulk of the NVA bunker. Finally Doc rose to a sitting positing and sat looking at Borowski. He was only 25, but suddenly he felt very old. Looking back at the others with tears in his eyes, he shook his head and said, “It ain’t no F***ing good.” Then turning away, the medic looked up at the ominous clouds and rain began to fall.

As darkness settled over the mountain, all was quiet. The battle had ended as suddenly as it began. Doug Rutledge said, “…Around dusk someone hollered ‘Pull back!’ and as the few left on our flank crawled downhill, Ski and Sgt. Smith … were going to be left behind. I tried to get others to get them but none would, so they covered me, [and I went alone]. When I reached Ski he was on his back with a large hole in his throat and dead. I left him and crawled to Sgt. Smith, about 25 feet past Ski. [Smith was still alive.] I left my weapon behind because I knew I couldn't drag him and shoot at the same time. I dragged Smith about 50 feet and put him on the back of a guy …who crawled down the hill with him. Ski was recovered the next day.” Sgt. Smith survived.

It was determined later that the 4/503rd Airborne Infantry had been ambushed by the North Vietnamese K-101D Battalion of the Doc Lap Regiment. The four 503rd companies spent the night on Hill 830, as the rain continued to fall and dense fog moved in. Their medics were caring for 62 wounded, some seriously, and they had 25 dead. The next morning, the mountain remained weathered in, making it impossible for choppers to medevac the wounded or transport the dead. The battalion commander sent out patrols and the North Vietnamese had gone. The bodies of nine NVA soldiers were found on the mountain, along with one wounded NVA, who was taken prisoner.

The weather cleared after two days and Doug Rutledge helped load Ski’s body aboard one of the Huey slicks. He didn’t know the circumstances surrounding his friend’s death, and it didn’t matter. He just knew he had lost his buddy. He put in for a transfer a few days later, and volunteered as a door gunner with the 173rd Assault Helicopter Company. With Ski gone, he needed a change.

A total of ten Alpha Company soldiers died during those two hours on Hill 830. Lt. Jordan, the First Platoon leader had also died trying to save his men. Pvt. 1st Class John “Ski” Borowski and Lt. Daniel Jordan both received the Distinguished Service Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor, for “extreme gallantry” and “extraordinary heroism.” John Borowski was twenty years old.

Back home in Evergreen Park, Illinois, there was a funeral mass with burial at Saint Mary Catholic Cemetery. John’s best friend from high school attended the service, but had no contact with the Sak family and was never told John had died a hero. Most of John’s other high school classmates did not even know he had died in Vietnam. They had finished school two years before and moved on: college, marriage, Vietnam. None of them had ever heard the name “John Borowski.” It was 35 years before his closest friends discovered “Ski” Borowski had earned a DSC on Hill 830. One of them said, “My surprise was not [John’s] heroic actions – that was John Borowski; rather it was my total surprise and shock that none of his close friends were ever told about it.”

In a final bit of irony – one NCO said, “You did good John. If only I’d had a son, like you.”

___________________Copyright © 2014 Gary B. Blackburn

[Sources: “Dak To” by Edward F. Murphy, Ballantine, 2007; classreport.org/evergreen_park/1965; Jim Tammaro – 173d.com; theirfinesthour.blogspot.com/2…/three-sky-soldiers-at-dak-to – Allan Bourdius; guns.com; “Afternoon 10 July” – Mercer Vandenburg – 173d.com; 173rdairborne.net; thewall-usa.com; Historywarsweapons.com; land-warfare.com; “The Long Journey Home From Dak To” by Warren Denny, iUniverse, 2003]
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POSTED ON 8.26.2018
POSTED BY: Evergreen Park Community High School class of 1965

From his friends

A wreath of Forget-Me-Nots was placed at The Wall in John's honor from the Evergreen Park (IL) High School class of 1965. Many friends hadn't been able to find his name because we never knew that John was adopted by the Saks family, but served in the Army under his birth name. It meant a lot to all of us to finally be able to honor him for his extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty of this great Country. Thank you John - A True America Hero!

HEADQUARTERS
UNITED STATES ARMY VIETNAM
APO San Francisco 96375

14 September 1967

GENERAL ORDERS
NUMBER 4665

AWARD OF THE DISTINGUISHED SERVICE CROSS

1. TC 320. The following AWARD is announced posthumously:

BOROWSKI, JOHN C RA16838078 PRIVATE FIRST CLASS E3 United States Army
Company A, 4th Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade
Awarded: Distinguished Service Cross
Date Action: 10 July 1967
Theater: Republic of Vietnam
Reason: For extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam:

Private First Class Borowski distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 10 July 1967 while serving as platoon machine gunner during a large scale search and destroy mission near Dak To. As Private Borowski's platoon investigated a recently traveled trail, it received intense fire from a well entrenched Viet Cong battalion. Firing rifles, automatic weapons and mortars from concealed bunkers, the insurgents were able to inflict numerous casualties on the friendly force. Private Borowski disregarded his own safety in this storm of fire and maneuvered to within 20 meters of the enemy's right flank machine gun position. When his own machine gun was damaged by an insurgent's fire, he continued to engage the hostile gunners using only his pistol. He received a shrapnel wound but never eased his force of attack. Later, despite enemy fire sweeping the area, Private Borowski crawled to a nearby friendly position. He refused medical treatment, grabbed a rifle and grenade launcher, and once again advanced on the Viet Cong. He was mortally wounded while firing with devastating effect into the enemy's bunkers. Private First Class Borowski's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty, at the cost of his life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

Authority: By direction of the President under the provisions of the Act of Congress, approved 25 July 1963.
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