A brother, hero, forever in their hearts
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on September 22, 2012 11:41 PM
Murray Lyman Borden III, a Goldsboro native, climbs into an Air Force fighter jet. He was declared missing in action after his plane went down during a combat mission over North Vietnam.
Darkness brought them back to her doorstep night after night -- the uniformed men who notified a Goldsboro family that Murray Lyman Borden's F-4 Phantom had gone down during a combat mission over North Vietnam.
Sorrow traveled alongside them -- a kind of pain that still, more than four decades after her brother's death, makes it difficult for Sally Worrell to talk about what happened at great length.
"You would dream it every night. You would see the same two men coming up to the house and, after a while, you would wake up thinking it was all a dream -- that it didn't happen," she said. "But it always stayed with you."
She is still wounded by the fact that he missed her wedding and when she faces the reality that her children and grandchildren will never know a man immortalized far too soon.
But when the memories forged long before he joined the Air Force start playing, she manages a smile for her big brother -- for the smart, handsome, likable boy whose pictures still grace her home.
She remembers playing host to the young women he brought over to the house.
"He would have a date over ... so I thought I would have to sit in the den with them, or I would fix their supper or their lunch -- things like that," Sally said. "I was just trying to be with him, you know?"
And she relives the practical jokes he and their younger brother would play on an unsuspecting sister.
"One time they chained me to the outdoor swingset overnight," she said, laughing. "Yeah, they picked on me -- in a good way, a fun way."
But even now, nearly 46 years after his death, she can't escape from images that provoke far different emotions.
Like the day her family learned that Murray had been declared missing in action.
"They came to the front door up the steps. That's something you never forget," Sally said. "After that, we would just hang on to hope. That was all we had."
Or watching her mother, months later, try to move on after Murray's wingman visited the family and told them he believed his comrade had died in the crash.
"It changed her," Sally said. "I know now, having children and having grandchildren, what she must have been going through."
Oct. 13, 1966, was a "pitch black" night.
A heavy layer of clouds concealed the moon and the stars.
Joe Latham remembers it well.
He, like Murray, was the flight lead on a mission designed to inflict damage on enemy forces just north of the Demilitarized Zone.
"We were just up there harassing them and trying to wipe something out," Latham said.
But the darkness -- combined with combat manuevering -- made for hazardous flying conditions.
"Murray was a hell of a good pilot, but it was just dangerous as the dickens to be delivering bombs in a 20-degree dive angle at night when you're going pretty low. It was just so easy to get disoriented," Latham said. "That was the first model of the F-4. It didn't have a fancy gun site like the late models had ... so when you looked through the gun site, all you saw was this red circle. You didn't know whether you were in a level dive or upside down or where you were. So basically, when you rolled in, you would have to keep glancing down at the altitude indicator to see where you were. ... Well, as fast as we were going, if you were just a hair, a split-second too late on your pull out, you could hit the ground."
So when Murray rolled in to illuminate, with flares, the target for the second aircraft in his package -- when his wingman saw a secondary explosion -- there were only two possibilities.
The flash, Latham said, was either evidence that the young pilot had delivered his ordnance on target or proof that his F-4 had hit the ground.
"From the wingman's point of view, Murray rolls in and then the wingman sees what we call a secondary explosion. When the ordnance goes off there's a flash and if you hit a target and that blows up, you would see what we would call a secondary flash, which means, 'Hey, I hit something that blew up,'" he said. "Well the wingman, he thought that he saw a secondary explosion and said, 'Oh, Murray got something that time.' Then he rolls in and he pulls off and there are no radio calls. Suddenly, you get that pit in the bottom of your stomach and realize, 'Hey, that secondary might have been my flight leader hitting the ground.'"
Latham gets emotional when he tries to unwrap what was going through his mind when the news reached him.
At the time, he was taking the same walk Murray had less than two hours before -- preparing to fly the same mission over the same target.
"What I was thinking was, he might have been shot down, he might have hit the ground. I just got this feeling in my stomach. He was my best friend," Latham said, his voice cracking.
Tears started falling.
"Excuse me," he said. "After all the years, it still gets me at times."
But he still clung to the hope that once he got into the skies, he would hear Murray calling for help over the radio.
"I was listening the whole mission to see if I could hear any chatter, but I heard nothing," Latham said. "When I got back, I debriefed and, by that time, I had talked to Murray's wingman, so I was pretty well convinced. I'm pretty sure that they hit the ground."
So he wrote to his friend's wife as soon as he could.
"I told her what I thought had happened," he said. "I just didn't think that she should carry any false hope. If the role was reversed, I would have wanted someone to tell my family."
And in the years since, he has kept Murray close -- remembering him as the "wonderful guy" he shared so many good times with.
"That was, let's see, 46 years ago. I still think about him a lot," Latham said, again choking up. "He was just such a wonderful guy. He had a great personality. He laughed easily. He was a good sport.
"Murray was just an all-around great guy."
Sally shies away from ceremonies designed to honor those POWs and MIAs who have yet to come home.
She doesn't speak publically about what happened to her brother.
"I just don't bring it up," she said. "It was a hard time."
So as the nation -- and the local Air Force base -- marked National POW/MIA Recognition Day Friday, she carried on with the routine of life.
The truth is, she sees Murray's face every day -- in pictures displayed within her home; in the childhood memories a loving sister will always cherish.
The darkness might be easier to face than it was decades ago, but time hasn't taken the hurt away.
"It doesn't seem like it's been 40-something years," she said. "It really doesn't."