There Are Only 77 Left? We Need To Honor These Vets Before It’s Too Late!

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All who have served in combat know that anything you did was as a team, a fighting unit. You did what you did for the men your were with, not for yourself. You had each other’s backs. Everybody was on the same page. But there is another breed of veteran that often fights alone, sitting in the cockpit of a fighter plane. When the fecal matter hits the oscillating blade, they have to depend solely on their wits, their skills, and their machine to get the job done and be able to go home. Recently, two veteran fighter pilots from Washington State, along with more than three dozen of their fellow “aces,” went to Washington, D.C. to receive one of the nation’s highest civilian awards, the Congressional Gold Medal, in honor of their heroic actions and their service long ago now.

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What is an “Ace”?

In order to be given that title, one has to have shot down at least five enemy planes in aerial combat. There are only a few who know what the realities of an aerial dogfight are. The speeds at which things unfold around you – the gut tightening tension of G-forces as you try to outmaneuver the other pilot the power of the armaments, the fears of being hit and what might happen if you have to parachute into enemy territory, or over the vast emptiness of the sea– are like no other. And all of this, for a fighter pilot, is done up there, in the vast, chill, “wide blue yonder,” alone. As reported by King 5 News Seattle, according to the Museum of Flight…

…there are currently only 77 American Aces still alive.


The two men being honored from the Western Washington area are Air Force Brigadier General Steve Ritchie of Bellevue, Washington, a veteran of the Vietnam War, and Navy Commander, Clarence Borley of Olympia, Washington.   According to the King 5 News report, Ritchie flew 800 hours of combat with 339 missions. He was able to shoot down 5 MIG-21s that had come up to engage him in combat during that time. When asked what his thoughts were about being one of those to receive the Congressional Gold Medal he said, “All of us who survived combat and were victorious are just thankful to have had the opportunity to serve our country.”

Commander Borley’s Amazing Story


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Vietnam War Navy Commander Clarence Borley

Commander Borley, a veteran of WWII, was actually shot down while on a mission in the South Pacific. His story has a unique twist to it. He was able to parachute into the ocean where he endured five days floating alone in the water before being spotted and picked up by a U.S. submarine. While on the sub, he also experienced submarine combat as the sub he was on undertook two attacks on Japanese vessels. He said:

“I had the experience of air combat and submarine combat all in one mission.”

When veterans come home from their wars, after readjusting to civilian life, they go on with their lives. Life takes on its usual demands and joys and they slowly put the realities of war behind them. They marry and build families, they work hard over the fleeting decades and, if they are lucky, they settle into retirement watching their grandchildren grow up. For most veterans whose combat experiences are years, even decades in the past, those often sharp-edged and painful memories –even though they are never forgotten– tend to smooth out and soften over a lifetime.


These two “Ace” fighter pilots from wars now many decades in their past, are finally being recognized for their valor and their unfailing commitment to duty while serving this nation in uniform. These two men were valiant in war and have conducted their lives since with dignity, honor and nobility. The nation has reason to be proud of such men and to give them their proper recognition.

We here at the Veterans Site want to add our congratulations and our thanks to Brigadier General Steve Ritchie and to Commander Clarence Borley on their being recognized and awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, along with three dozen of their fellow Aces. It is never too late to be recognized for the dedication to duty and for the heroic service you gave to the nation. Thank you. Carry on!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.