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Not forgotten: Snoqualmie Falls' George Borden, airman son Bill honored with flag dedication at Snoqualmie Y

Airman Bill Borden, of the Borden family of Snoqualmie Falls, went missing after the bombing and scuttling of the U.S.S. Langley in the Pacific theatre of World War II. His body was never found. - Courtesy photo
Airman Bill Borden, of the Borden family of Snoqualmie Falls, went missing after the bombing and scuttling of the U.S.S. Langley in the Pacific theatre of World War II. His body was never found.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

For two decades, he made a huge impact on the lives of Valley people of all ages. When tragedy struck his family, a sacrifice in a battle half a world away, George Borden left the Valley and its painful memories behind. But he wasn’t forgotten, not during World War II, and not today.

The late George Borden, Sr., and his son Bill were honored this month with a commemorative plaque at the new flagpole at the Snoqualmie Valley Y.

As manager of the Community Hall, George Borden was at the center of work and play in Snoqualmie Falls during the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s. The lane up to the new Y is named for him.

Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson welcomed two members of the Borden family, George’s granddaughters Dianna Borden and Billie Rowell, at a dedication on Thursday, Nov. 8.

Service, and loss

As told by Larson at the dedication, George Borden was a big part of the recreational life of the now-vanished mill town of Snoqualmie Falls, practically from the very beginning. Assuming directorship of the purpose-built YMCA hall in 1924, Borden insisted that it be top-notch. He quickly started a busy agenda of gymnastics, volleyball, tennis, wrestling, concerts, plays and dances. When the hall burned down in 1930, he oversaw its immediate replacement with an even bigger and better facility.

George’s son Bill joined other local boys in YMCA activities, became a Boy Scout, and when World War II began, answered the call to serve his country. Bill joined the U.S. Army Air Corps, trained as a pilot and was assigned to the Navy’s original aircraft carrier, the U.S.S Langley. In February of 1942, Borden was on the Langley as it headed to the island of Java, delivering warplanes. Attacked by a flight of Japanese “Betty” bombers, the carrier’s crew managed to fight off and evade two runs, but their luck ran out on the third. Hit five times, and dead in the water, the Langley was abandoned and scuttled by an escorting destroyer.

Escorts picked up 474 survivors. But Bill Borden and 15 of his fellow sailors were missing. His body was never found.

Bill’s best friend and neighbor, William Hronek, joined the Marines. Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, he completed 33 combat missions in 40 days. “I saw to it personally that Bill Borden was avenged,” Hronek wrote home in a Nov. 25, 1942, letter. Two months later, the Hronek family received a telegram announcing that their boy had been killed in the South Pacific.

Back in the Valley, the Borden family was deeply shaken by Bill’s loss.

“And yet, the town, the YMCA, its children, his friends, and all that he loved had now become constant and unbearable reminders of a crushing and great sacrifice,” said Larson. “The Bordens moved away from Snoqualmie Falls later in 1942 never to return—for 70 years.”

A local return

Representing the Borden family, Dianna and Billie shared mementos and memories, including a poem from Harley Brumbaugh’s book of mill town memories, “Riverside Reflections.”

“It means everything,” Billie said of the honor for her family. “My grandfather… would have been speechless. He was very humble.”

Her grandparents used to talk “all the time” about their lives in the Valley, she said.

“It was always ‘Snoqualmie Falls,’ never Snoqualmie. I’ve been really having trouble adjusting to leaving the ‘Falls’ off. All the pictures in the scrapbooks are ‘Snoqualmie Falls.’

The sisters brought the hand-made wooden binding of the scrapbook given to their grandfather when he left the Valley. It is going into the Valley Historical Museum’s collection.

They grew up in Blaine, Wash., where their father, George, Jr., had put down roots. Their grandfather also took to the area and became the mayor of Blaine in 1952.

Growing up, they also remembered their fallen uncle, Bill.

“We talked about him all the time,” Billie said.

Valley historian Dave Battey had Bill Borden’s purple heart medal, now in the museum’s collection, to show her.

Billie had previously donated the medal, but wants it back for now. She says it’ll be in her will to come back to the museum.

“It took years for grandma and grandma to get copies of the medals” earned by Bill, she said.

Larson said the flag and plaque are a fitting way to remember both George and Bill Borden.

“In the Bordens, the Valley has a powerful story that exemplifies the values to which so many in our community aspire; values of selfless commitment, service and sacrifice to one another and to our nation,” he said.

 

Playing a big role in the developing recreational life of Snoqualmie Falls mill town, the Borden family, circa 1930, are George, Jr., Bill Borden, Mae and George, Sr. Photo courtesy SVHM

Sisters Dianna Borden and Billie Rowell hold the handmade wooden cover of the scrapbook dedicated to their grandfather, George Borden, Sr.,  when he left the Valley. The senior Borden was the main force behind the original YMCA at the Snoqualmie Falls mill, but left the Valley, heartbroken, after his son, Bill, was killed on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific theater during World War II.

 

Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson dedicates the new flagpole at the Snoqualmie Y to George and Bill Borden.

 

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