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Former POW shares story, poems with Selfridge BCC

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
Major Gen. (ret.) John L. Borling can bookend his 37-year Air Force career around two trips to Selfridge Air National Guard Base. In the first trip, he experienced his first ride in the cockpit of a supersonic fighter-interceptor and almost lost his hearing. In the second trip, the former prisoner of war told the story of how he used poetry to help him and his colleagues return home from Vietnam with honor.

Borling spoke at the monthly meeting of the Selfridge Base Community Council, a civic organization that builds on the long-standing positive relationship between the 97-year-old military air base and the local community. During the visit Borling shared a number of his experiences as an Air Force pilot and regaled a crowd of about 200 business leaders and military personnel with a number of the poems he wrote during his 6 ½ years of captivity as a prisoner of war after his F-4 Phantom was shot down by ground fire during the Vietnam War. Borling's poems, all composed during his captivity, are collected in a 2013-book, Taps on the Walls: Poems from the Hanoi Hilton.

All of the poems in the book were composed by Borling during his captivity. He memorized the poems and shared them with his fellow American prisoners using the famed "tap code" developed by the prisoners. The poems run the gamut of happy times and humor to the dark realities of life as a POW.

Borling, who advocated for liberal arts education during his speech at Selfridge, said for him, the poems were a means to help him accomplish his primary goal as a POW: to return home with honor.

"It wasn't survival that mattered," the general said. "It was survival with honor. We wanted you to be proud of us if we got out alive."

Borling first visited what was then known as Selfridge Air Force over the 1962 Christmas break from his studies as a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy. During the visit, he was given a ride in an F-106 Delta Dart. Suffering from a head cold at the time, Borling said he suffered some hearing damage when the aircraft made a sudden descent and intense pressure was placed on his inner ear.

That Christmas visit to the fighter alert facility at Selfridge is included in one of his poems - though the base isn't named - in which he recalls the lonely duty of the Airman on duty on Christmas Eve. The poem is entitled "The Other Christmas."

"This poem happens to be about the Air Force, but I know all my brothers in arms in the other services have similar stories to tell," Borling said.

The Selfridge Base Community Council routinely invites speakers with a national profile to make presentations at the organization's monthly meetings. It also frequently hears updates from local military leaders on the operations of various Michigan-based units. The Selfridge BCC is one of the largest, most active organizations of its kind in the Air Force.

About the 127th Wing
Comprised of approximately 1,700 personnel and flying both the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the KC-135 Stratotanker, the 127th Wing supports Air Mobility Command, Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operation Command by providing highly-skilled Airmen to missions domestically and overseas. The 127th Wing is the host unit at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, which marks its 97th year of continuous military air operations in 2014.