EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of a series of Saturday profiles of area residents and their stories. To suggest a profile, contact features editor Burton Cole at [email protected] or metro editor Marly Reichert at [email protected]
BEAVER TOWNSHIP — It all started with G.I. Joe.
Gary and Becky Borman said their twin sons, Jay and Chris, now 46, were huge fans of the popular action figure when they were young. As they grew older, that toy sparked an interest in military history that has led to their parents amassing an extensive collection of World War II memorabilia housed in the basement of their Beaver Township home.
“Right after college, Chris said he wanted to buy an Army Jeep. We found an authentic one in Texas and fixed it up,” Gary said. “Jay thought it was pretty cool, so he wanted one too.”
The Borman men now have six Army Jeeps among them — three from the World War II era and three from the Vietnam era.
The Bormans’ collection of World War II items could rival any military museum. Among the collection are guns, ammunition, training manuals, dog tags, old photos and letters. It also features 16 complete World War II uniforms that are displayed on mannequins throughout the basement.
“If someone gives me a uniform, I go online and buy a mannequin to wear it because having it on a hanger is not a good way to display it,” Gary said. “I have had people tell me ‘I found my grandfather’s Army uniform in the attic, and I was going to burn it.’ I was like ‘No, you most certainly will not.’”
Becky said most of their military items have some personal connection. For example, one of the uniforms is what Gary’s father, Bernard, would have worn as a forward observer. His father spent three years in the European Theatre campaign.
“He always wanted to go back to Europe to visit some of the sites where he fought,” Gary said. “I told him I would take him someday.”
However, that trip never happened. On Ash Wednesday in 1999, Bernard and Thelma, Gary’s mother, were killed by a driver as they were walking across the street after church services.
“So whenever someone says to me they want to go over there, I tell them to pack their bags because we’re leaving tomorrow,” Gary said.
One veteran who the Bormans took to Europe was Howard “Howdy” Friend, now 98, of Poland. Friend was wounded in his knee by shrapnel in the area of Bastogne in Luxembourg. He served in the 90th Division of the Third Army after graduating from Woodrow Wilson High School in Youngstown on D-Day.
Chris Borman, who works as a professional videographer, videotaped the family’s trip with Friend to Europe in 2017. They managed to find the spot where Friend was wounded and discovered a memorial at the site thanking his unit for liberating France during the war.
“That was really emotional,” Becky said, noting Friend was treated like a rock star everywhere they went.
“He wore his Army uniform and people visiting the beach where the Normandy invasion took place applauded and saluted him, and many people wanted to shake his hand.”
Because Friend was wounded in Bastogne, one of the mannequins in the Bormans’ basement is Jake McNiece of Oklahoma, who was one of the “Filthy Thirteen,” which was the name given to the 1st Demolition Section of the Regimental Headquarters Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, of the United States Army, which fought in the European campaign in World War II. This unit was the inspiration for the 1965 book and 1967 film “The Dirty Dozen.”
Also on display is a letter written by the U.S. Secretary of Defense to Becky’s grandmother, who had five of her seven sons serving in World War II — three in the Navy and two in the Army. Becky’s other two uncles were deferred because of their jobs. One of the Army veterans, Richard “Dick” Donovan, will turn 100 in September, and a family party is planned.
Another mannequin wears a uniform similar to one worn by Gary’s aunt, Audrey Borman, who was one of just 1,400 women serving in the Coast Guard during World War II. Audrey, his father’s sister, died in 2005 and Gary told her all he wanted from her was her uniform and her dog tags to add to his collection.
Although not a veteran himself, Gary knows a lot about military history. However, it’s hard to tell who is the bigger history buff — Gary or Becky. And their sons, who both live in Columbus, also are big on military history and participate in the D-Day re-enactment on the beach at Conneaut Township Park in Conneaut every August.
Jay Borman, who owns a marketing company, wrote a book titled “LRRP,” which stands for Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol. Thebook features 1,000 photos taken by Vietnam veterans, and all 500 copies of it sold. He is working on a second volume.
Gary, 74, grew up in Baden, Pa., which is a small town outside of Pittsburgh. He graduated from Freedom High School and then attended West Virginia University in Morgantown, W.Va. Eventually, he transferred to Kent State University’s main campus and one of his last days there before graduation was May 4, 1970 — the day four KSU students were shot and killed by the National Guard during a Vietnam War protest on campus.
He graduated with a degree in industrial management and spent 30 years working for Cold Metal Products in Campbell, retiring in 2000. He also spent 45 years as a volunteer firefighter with the Beaver Township Fire Department, where he spent eight years as the full-time fire chief. He retired from there in 2008.
Becky, 72, grew up on a dairy farm in Charles Town, W.Va. She also attended West Virginia University, but graduated from Shepherd College (now known as Shepherd University) in Shepherdstown, W.Va., with a degree in special education. She worked 31 years for the Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities and retired in 2012.
The couple met in the cafeteria at WVU.
“He would come in every day like five to 15 minutes before it closed, but all the cafeteria workers loved him. We started talking one day, and we got married in June 1970, about a month after he graduated from KSU,” Becky said.
They came to this area for Gary’s job at the steel plant and have lived in their Beaver Township home for almost 46 years. Their son Chris is married to Meg, and Jay is married to Jen and they have a 2-year-old son, Fett. Becky and Gary have two dogs, a golden retriever named Jake, who was named after WWII hero Jake McNiece, and an English sheepdog named Barkley.
Although Gary said he was never really interested in history until he started his World War II collection, Becky said she always has enjoyed history. She said the house she grew up in was built in 1802, and it had been in her family for more than 100 years.
“There were Civil War battle sites within an hour’s drive, so I got into history from a young age,” Becky said. “But nothing like this,” she said as she gave a tour of their basement museum.
“Our sons’ wives are not into it all,” Becky said with a laugh. “But it is something the boys can share with their dad and hopefully, our grandson will enjoy it as well.”
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