Full of youthful vigor that so often compels young men to seek
adventure and excitement, Dr. Ralph Boroughs, Lander College professor
of science education, was inducted into the Army during World War II
along with his whole class at The Citadel. He volunteered for the
paratroopers and 15 months later was in a transport plane preparing to
parachute into Nazi-occupied Holland.
The time was Sept. 17, 1944, roughly three
months after the allied invasion of Europe, known as D-Day, had swept
across France and begun the final thrust into Belgium and Holland. The
mission Boroughs was involved in, with the exception of D-Day, it has
been called one of the most "daring" and "historic" operations under-
taken in World War II. It had been dubbed operation Market-Garden,
and its objective was to punch a hole through Holland, opening the way
for Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery's tanks to move on to the
conquest of Hitler's Germany. Much later, Hollywood would make a movie
based on this operation; it would star Scan Connery and Laurence Olivier
and would be called "A Bridge Too Far."
After nearly four decades, Boroughs has
begun to dust off his memories and reflect again upon experiences like
operation Market-Garden, memories he himself admits to having lain to
"I don't know why I hadn't thought more
about those times," he said. "I guess I had just put that period of my
life behind me and gone on to other things."
Boroughs says the memories were
reactivated last Christmas Eve when he and his family got together to
celebrate the holiday. It all started when he uttered the words: "I
remember a Christmas Eve 39 years ago." Encouraged by his children and
grandchildren to continue the tale, he told them of that grim
Christmas, one he and a fellow soldier spent burying a comrade who had
fallen shortly before, during the Battle of the Belgian Bulge.
But once opened, the floodgate of
memories refused to be closed again. "My children suggested that I write
down the things that I told them," Boroughs said. "But, once I started,
I couldn't stop."
He has recorded 35 stories of memories
from the one and a half years he spent in the Army as a paratrooper
during World War II. He has written of laying mine fields, checking
bodies which had been booby-trapped by the enemy, of seeing death in its
most gruesome and revolting form, of the fear men feel knowing that
life could end at any moment. The book of memories also contains some
lighter moments such as his story which follows:
It was mid-afternoon when we jumped into
Holland. We suffered no casualties from our brief scrimmages during and
after landing. Little Car Austin thought I had taken a hit. As I jumped
ahead of Austin, he saw me float through a patch of ack-ack smoke and
upon assembling, he saw blood on my face and combat jacket. Where did
the blood come from?
Since we were being shot at in the air and
shot at after hitting the ground, I didn't take time to unhook my
parachute. I hurriedly hacked it off with my jump knife. In the process
I cut my finger slightly, but I bled like a stuck hog and generously
smeared my blood around.
The 30-odd prisoners we captured were
used to help pack our demolition equipment to Nijmegen. Our mission was
to find the main highway leading south out of the city and set up a road
block. It was just getting dark when we found the spot. Trees lined the
road with deep ditches on either side. Charges of C-2 were places on
four trees, two on each side of the road. The trees fell perfectly
across the road as planned. We set up positions on the south side of the
road block for the rest of the night. It was a
weird night, pitch black so you couldn't see your hand in front of your
face, but the sounds were ominous — footsteps on the other side of the
fallen trees. We lay silently on our side unseen and undetected.
During the middle of the night we heard
a train steam up. The second demolition section had the
assignment of blowing the main railroad track out of the city. As
the train started moving, we could hear it getting faster and faster.
Finally when it seemed to have reached a full head of steam, we heard
the explosion. The second section must have accomplished its mission.
later learned that the train
was hit by a bazooka.)
The third section was not so lucky. They ran into a group
of sharp shooters who almost wiped them out. One of the survivors told
us that Lt. Joseph Duffy, leader of the section, was killed with a
bullet right between the eyes.
The next morning in the light of day, civilians came out
of their houses to see what caused the explosions during the night.
They were overjoyed when they found out we were Americans. One man spoke
English and asked, "What can I do to help?" We had jumped with only K
rations so we asked for food. The man went back in his house and in
short order came out with eggs, sunny-side up.
As Boroughs began recording incidents such as "Sunny-side
Up," he found that because of the great length of time between the
events of which he writes and the present, there was a problem with
being accurate. "After I started writing last year," he said, "I
realized that many of the names and places were no longer with me, and I
had to seek information from other sources, people I had lost contact
with years ago."
One of those sources was South Carolina Sen. Strom
Thurmond. Recalling that Thurmond had been in a glider unit connected
with the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II, Boroughs wrote him
requesting information. It was through Thurmond's office that he learned
of an organization called the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR)
Association. The 508th was part of the 82nd Airborne Division, and it
was to Headquarters Company of the 508th that Boroughs had been attached
during the war. From the PIR Association, he received a roster listing
some of the men he had fought beside during the War. With the roster,
Boroughs was able to get in touch with people from his old unit who
could provide him with the information he would need.
But the roster has led Boroughs td more than mere
information. He is now an active member of several veteran paratroopers
groups and has attended some reunions.
"It was good to see the men again," Boroughs said of the
reunion last year. "And although we were able to
remember a great many things together, many of our recollections of the
same events did not match."
Still the professor says the reunion was one he felt glad
to attend. The organizations he is now a member of will meet each year
in a different state, and Boroughs says he plans to attend each one, but
he adds, "Finding that many of us have died, it gives us a sense of
urgency to know that if those of us left want to see each other again,
we'd better hurry."
For Boroughs, writing about these memories, which he must
hurry to discuss with the men he shares them with, has had far greater
significance than the mere preservation of past events. He has renewed
friendships which were so important during the war and perhaps gained
a better insight into the past and future by recording them and making
contact with the men he knew so long ago on the cold fields of war.
[Front, l-r Lt. Donald W. "Ripper" Hardwick, Lt Charles A. Yates
Standing, Edwin A, Luczaj, Zig Boroughs, Harold Gerkin]
Lander College professor of science education Dr. Ralph
Boroughs, center rear, with men of the 508th during the Holland
campaign. Active in several veterans' groups, he is now recording his
memories of World War II. (Lander College photo)
Source: The Index-Journal. Greenwood, SC, Tuesday,
December 11, 1984