Herman T. Borza, a North Side boy who left for war right after high school in 1943 and flew 86 missions as a decorated P-47 fighter pilot in Europe during World War II, died Saturday at UPMC Passavant.
He was 87 and had been living at the Kane Regional Center in Ross since moving out of his Avalon apartment following a stroke in 2006.
Mr. Borza was another of that generation of men who grew up tough during the Depression, shipped off to war, did their duty and came home to quietly work and raise a family.
He spent 28 years at the former Allis-Chalmers Co. on the North Side, working his way up to plant foreman before the company moved to Milwaukee in the 1980s. Rather than leave Pittsburgh, he took a new job at Slovak Savings & Loan as a mortgage processor.
He and his late wife, Ruth, raised four children on Fleming Avenue on the North Side and lived there for more than 50 years before selling the house in 1999 and moving to Avalon.
Like so many World War II veterans, Mr. Borza rarely mentioned his days of combat.
"He didn't talk much," said his son, Robert Borza, 62, of Ross. "Later in life we did ask him some questions and he told a few stories, but he didn't really say much about what he did."
Throughout 1944 and 1945, he flew over France and Germany in a P-47 Thunderbolt he dubbed "Ruthless" in honor of his new bride. He and Ruth, who grew up together in Pittsburgh, had married in 1944 while he was training in Delaware. Their first son, Edward, was born while Mr. Borza was overseas.
"It was a clever name," said Robert Borza of the plane's moniker. "He missed his wife."
He and "Ruthless" had some close calls in the skies.
He once returned from a mission and noticed his friends pointing to his plane. He wasn't sure what they were looking at until he saw a large hole in the canopy just behind his seat, inches from his head -- a souvenir from anti-aircraft flak.
He was shot down once, too, over Nancy, France, but the details of that incident are murky.
The episode that led to his Distinguished Flying Cross is more established.
He earned the medal, given for heroism or extraordinary achievement in the air, after a mission on March 31, 1945, during which he led his squadron on a dive-bombing attack on an air base near Nuremberg. The assault destroyed many enemy planes on the ground and damaged others in the waning days of the war.
Born on the North Side in 1924, Mr. Borza attended a Catholic grade school and then Oliver High School, where he was a good student and an easy-going sort nicknamed "Likable Herm." After graduating in 1943, he enlisted in the Army Air Forces and shipped off to England in the summer of 1944 as part of the 50th Fighter Group, Ninth Air Force, which flew P-47s in support of ground forces as the Allies advanced on Hitler's empire.
Mr. Borza, a first lieutenant, arrived too late for D-Day in June 1944, but he flew 86 missions from August until the end of the war. In addition to the Distinguished Flying Cross, he earned 13 Air Medals and two Presidential Unit Citations.
In 2006, he was inducted into the Hall of Valor at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland. The moment was especially poignant for him because he was escorted by his granddaughter, Army Capt. Jamie Danna of Reserve, a veteran of two tours in Iraq.
"I'm honored to be inducted," Mr. Borza said.
The citation that accompanied his induction described the March 31 mission over Nuremberg and praised him for exceptional airmanship and outstanding courage "in keeping with the highest traditions of the Army Air Forces."
Mr. Borza also is survived by another son, Tom, of Bellevue, and a daughter, Peg, of Crafton.
A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. today at Risen Lord Church on the North Side.
Torsten Ove: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1510.