CHESTERTON | When Hollywood actor Ernest Borgnine died recently of renal failure at age 95, it brought back memories for Chesterton Town Manager Bernie Doyle — memories of a friendship between the two men who connected over a respect for military duty, and a bad habit.
In 2004, Doyle, who was then chief of operations at the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, helped to plan an annual Dec. 7 commemoration, which brought him into contact with Borgnine.
“Each year we did a different theme in relation to the commemoration, and that year we did Hollywood’s interpretation of WWII. And who better to do that than Ernest Borgnine?” said Doyle.
He said Borgnine was selected to speak at the event because he not only portrayed characters on film who had served in the war, namely as Lt. Commander Quinton McHale in "McHale’s Navy," but he also was a Navy veteran.
“We asked him to come out and speak, and he didn’t even hesitate. We offered to pay him a stipend and he refused. He came out for three days, and I had him over for dinner and got to know him and his family pretty well,” Doyle said.
It was during this time, Doyle said, that the two bonded over a shared bad habit, one that Borgnine had recently kicked.
“He helped me quit smoking,” said Doyle. “Borgnine had been a heavy smoker up until 1962 but had quit. When he was over for dinner, I occasionally had to step outside to smoke and he read me the riot act. After that, we let it go, and the next thing I know, I got a letter from him asking how it was going. He stayed on me to see how quitting was going and stayed in touch with me over the years to follow up.”
It was this kind of generosity that Doyle said distinguished Borgnine from others and caused Doyle to reflect with fond memories on the special bond they shared.
“You don’t see that genuine care in people often, and he was unique. He should be remembered for that. I saw a unique individual, the exact opposite of what you’d expect of the Hollywood elite. He had genuine humility and dedication to his country and service,” Doyle said.