Vietnam vet returns medal 40 years later

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Louis Macellari barely knew city resident Raymond Borowski, but the bond they share is uncommonly deep.

Speaking at a special ceremony on Thursday at the City Hall Veterans Memorial, their fellow veteran Bill Dobbie recounted their story.

Anonymous brothers-in-arms in a faraway place, Macellari and Borowski served in the U.S. Army’s 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment during the Vietnam War. Although the two men lived and fought in the same place, Dobbie said it took tragedy to bring them together.

It was May 20, 1967 at an isolated outpost in the dense Vietnamese jungle. The 8th Infantry was taking heavy Vietcong fire. First it was mortars, about 175 of them, said Dobbie, who was there that night. Then came 40 rockets, followed by intense volleys of small-arms fire.

At the end of the night 16 soldiers lay dead, with another 63 injured. One of the latter was Staff Sgt. Ray Borowski, a medic with B Company.

Joining him by his side throughout the night as he waited for medical helicopters was Macellari, a specialist 4. When the chopper arrived the next day it was unable to land because of the ongoing battle. While Borowski was being loaded into the life basket, hanging tenuously from a cable, he made a gesture that has stayed with Macellari for the last 40 years.

“At that time, Sgt. Borowski said, ‘Well, I’m out of here’ and he gave Lou his St. Christopher’s (the patron saint of safe passages) medal and said it would bring him good luck,” Dobbie said.

But as the crew tried to bring Borowski into the chopper, there was a problem: the lift malfunctioned. As they frantically tried to reel the basket it in, the helicopter had to retreat under fire. Minutes later it returned to enlist the help of the ground troops in trying to get Borowski to safety.

“They tried to lower that basket down, and at that point the cable snapped, and falling to the ground, Sgt. Borowski died,” Dobbie said. “We’re here today to honor the kind of thought that allowed Sgt. Borowski to share that St. Christopher’s medal with a man who was staying while he was leaving.”

After Dobbie told their tale, a graying Macellari said the medal “worked for me” in some brief remarks before he presenting it to Borowski’s widow and children 42 years after he first received it.

Philip S. Smith, commander of American Legion Post 364, said the gesture was indicative of the brotherhood shared by veterans.

“It’s important to remember acts of kindness that happen during wartime,” Smith said in a statement. “Honoring soldiers for their actions, such as those that occurred on May 21, 1967, lets all veterans know that they are appreciated and will not be forgotten.”