Memorial Day & Mr. Paul

By Mac McPhail Contributing columnist

This is Memorial Day weekend. Usually it’s a time for heading the beach or lake for the unofficial start of summer. But this year is different. The coronavirus has changed many plans for the holiday weekend, although the beaches seem to be about as crowded as ever. But it’s also a good time to remember what the holiday is really about. And to thank a veteran. And Memorial Day reminds me of one my favorite veterans, Mr. Paul Holland.

Paul Holland passed away in 2017 at the age of 99. I had known Mr. Paul since I moved back to Sampson County in 1989. We went to the same church together. Mr. Paul loved to play golf, so you know we got along well. But it was more than that. He was just a pleasant person to be around. I would stop by his house often, just to visit with Mr. Paul and his wife, Mrs. Doris.

During a couple of those visits Mr. Paul shared with me about his time in the Navy during World War II. After hearing those stories, I dug up a little more information about what was going on during his time in the Pacific.

Paul Holland was drafted into the Navy late into the war. He was married to Mrs. Doris and they already had a baby girl. He was assigned as a radarman to the USS Borie, a naval destroyer, and was sent to the Pacific to fight against the Japanese. The USS Borie was part of the U.S. fleet that bombarded Iwo Jima and Okinawa during the U.S. taking of those islands. Mr. Paul told me of how the ship was refueling from the aircraft carrier, USS Essex, during the Battle of Okinawa during a typhoon. A big wave carried the Borie into the underside of the Essex and caused considerable damage. (This happened on April 2, 1945.)

Mr. Paul then told me how the USS Borie, after it was repaired, was about 35 miles off the coast of Japan in August 1945, as the Allies prepared for the invasion of the country. In their desperation, the Japanese had started crashing their planes onto U.S. ships. You’ve probably heard about the Japanese kamikaze pilots and the damage they did to U.S. ships near the end of World War II.

Mr. Paul shared about that during one of those kamikaze attacks, he was on deck when they saw the Japanese plane diving toward his ship. Running for cover, he tried to get under on a deck gun platform. There was already another sailor squeezed underneath. He told Mr. Paul there was not enough room for him.

Laughing, Mr. Paul told me, “I yelled at him, “Oh, yes there is!” And I got under there with him.”

On Aug. 9, 1945, Mr. Paul’s ship was crashed into by another Japanese kamikaze plane. The plane smashed into the mast of the Borie, just above the radar room, where Mr. Paul was stationed, killing 48 sailors and causing extensive damage. Mr. Paul said three other kamikaze pilots also attempted to crash into the Borie and finish the job, but they were shot down by gunners from a nearby U.S. destroyer.

What is unique is that this was the last kamikaze attack on an U.S. ship during the war. Three days earlier, the U.S. had dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, and on August 9, the same day of the kamikaze attack on the USS Borie, another nuclear bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Mr. Paul said that it was only as their ship hobbled back to port the next week that they learned about the bombings and that Japan had surrendered.

This weekend, in the midst of all the Memorial Day activities going on, take time to talk to a veteran. Like Mr. Paul, they probably have an interesting story to tell. And remember to thank them for their service.

Mac McPhail, raised in Sampson County, lives in Clinton and can be reached at [email protected]