Archbishop William D. Borders is not a man given to celebrating his own courage. He doesn't talk much about the year he spent as a chaplain with an infantry regiment in Italy during World War II. He recounts with terse modesty the story of how he earned the Bronze Star for Valor.
During an attack on a German position, he recalls, an American was hit and lay wounded on the battlefield."I was in pretty good physical condition and I managed to run and pick him up and put him on my shoulder and pull him out," the archbishop says, during a conversation in his office at the Catholic Center as the 60th anniversary of V-E Day approaches tomorrow.
Not everyday priestly duties, it seems.
"Oh, the priestly duties were there. But the circumstances were different," he says.
He never learned the wounded man's name.
"After I anointed him, they sent him to the rear, and I never saw him again."
Do you think he lived?
"Well, he had a chance," he says.
Borders has never considered himself particularly brave.
"You didn't even think of it," he says. "It didn't enter your mind one way or another. You're too busy. You're involved all the time. When you're involved, you're thinking about what you're doing, not am I brave, or am I not brave. It just doesn't enter your mind."
You're decorated, he says, because someone else calls what you do valorous.
"Another person says you're courageous. You don't think of it," he says. "The motivation is somebody needs help, pure and simple."
He was somewhere near Florence when he rescued the fallen soldier. He was a battalion chaplain with the 362nd Infantry Regiment, of the 91st Infantry Division. His outfit had crossed the Arno River, going north, in September 1944. He was not quite 30 years old.
Borders is 91 now, and he's been retired a bit longer than he served as leader of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He succeeded Cardinal Lawrence J. Sheehan in April 1974 and retired in 1988. He moves a little laboriously around his office on Cathedral Street these days - he's recently had a pacemaker implanted - but he's delightful to talk with, vivid in his recollections, amusing, thoughtful and reflective, and more than occasionally ironic. He's got a fine, square face. He smiles often and he speaks plainly.
"Hell of a man," says Fred Booth, an 87-year-old Minneapolis adman who was L Company commander in the 362nd, in an e-mail to The Sun. "I remember him because he was a memorable man. ... And he was like no other chaplain I ever knew.
"Sometimes, he was up with our company at daybreak when we were about to jump off in an attack," Booth says. "He would talk with our men, and often we came under fire almost immediately, so he was in some danger. No other chaplain ever did that.
"I remember when we broke through the Gothic Line at Futa Pass, a terrible day, a bloody day. When our company finally cleared the enemy out of the pass, German bodies were all over the place, plus many of our men.
"Suddenly, there was Chaplain Borders with the little case he carried. He opened it up and took out a white, lacy kind of garment, put it on and went around, I guess, blessing all the dead. Then the Germans counterattacked, and he was in the middle of all that."
As V-E Day anniversary nears, Archbishop Borders recalls time on battlefield
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