Westsider Boswell to lead vets Nov. 7


Henry Boswell poses with medals he earned from serving in the United States Army.
Westside Pioneer photo
Henry Boswell, a veteran of D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge - not to mention 15 years teaching at Whittier Elementary - will be the grand marshall of this year's Veterans Day Parade.
       The annual non-profit event will be Saturday, Nov. 7, starting at 10 a.m. in downtown Colorado Springs. “I'm proud of the fact I'll get to represent all the military - the Army for sure,” said Boswell, who reached the rank of major before retiring in 1963 after 22 years of service.
       Now 86, the 41-year resident of the Pioneer Park area bears the scars of military service. After surviving World War II intact, he was hit by a mortar round just two weeks into the Korean War in 1950. He can still show a visitor the missing index finger on his left hand and the misplaced knuckles and the places where the shrapnel remains inside him. The blast, which tossed him down a hill, also broke both his legs, shattering his left knee. He still can only bend it halfway and needs a wheelchair now for longer distances.
       About five years ago, Boswell started sharing his military stories. “A good friend convinced me that groups would like to hear them,” he relates in an e-mail. “I have spoken with groups from 20 persons to over 600 at a high school. I have spoken with Kiwanis and Lions clubs, elementary schools, middle schools and high schools.”
       His talks go from one to two hours, depending on the situation. The starting point is his enlistment in 1940 at age 16. He freely admits he lied about his age. The Army was a step up for a North Carolina boy whose previous job had been picking cotton.
       When America got into World War II a year later - after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor - Boswell recalls that his local military officers (knowing his real age) gave him the chance to opt out. But he decided to join the fight, he said. After volunteering for parachute training in 1942, he was assigned to the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, which wound up with the most combat jumps of any regiment in World War II, according to Boswell. There were four in all - Sicily, Italy, Normandy (D-Day) and Holland. In between, he served as a rifleman in numerous battles, including the deadly but climactic Battle of the Bulge.
LEFT: In a photo from the late 1940s, after the end of World War II, Henry Boswell is shown with his wife Maxine. They were married 60 years until she died in 2007. RIGHT: A display of Boswell's medals includes the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantry Badge and the Army Commendation Medal for good conduct. Regarding the latter, Boswell quipped, "I don't know how I got that."
Left: Courtesy of Henry Boswell; Right: Westside Pioneer photo

       The 505th's nighttime D-Day jump was immortalized in the movie, “The Longest Day,” which focused on the tragedy of several in the regiment who accidentally parachuted right into the town of St. Mere Eglise, where German soldiers shot them as they came down. Fortunately, however, most of the 505th, including Boswell, landed as planned outside the town, and they were able to liberate St. Mere Eglise the next day. Rejoining their ranks at that time was John Steele, the soldier who was captured by the Germans after his chute famously got caught on the town steeple (a scene also depicted in the movie). “He got away from the Germans in the confusion,” Boswell recalled. Nowadays, St. Mere Eglise has a pub called the John Steele Bar and celebrates an annual “John Steele Day” to commemorate gaining their freedom, thanks to the American soldiers. “They are happy to see us,” smiled Boswell, who flew back to France this summer, meeting other veterans for the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Simply walking down the street in uniform now gives veterans like him celebrity status.
       The Army handled its soldiers differently in World War II than it does now. Once a soldier went to the front, he stayed there. The only way a man came back, Boswell recounted, was if he was badly wounded or died, or the war ended. When the war finally did end with the surrender of Germany in 1945, Boswell and 12 others were the only ones remaining from the 146 who had participated in the first jump into Sicily.
       “I think we all became pretty fatalistic,” Boswell said. “No one was worried about dying, but you didn't make any long-distance plans. You didn't brood on it. You just did your job and tried to be more careful than you normally would.”
       It was a surprise in talking to Boswell that, despite all he went through in war, including his serious injury in Korea, he admits to feeling “a little guilty.” The reason, he elaborated, has to do with the philosophical issue of fairness - that he managed to survive and so many he fought with didn't. He remembers them as they were then, young like him, many who'd become his friends. One friend in particular survived almost to the end of the war, but shortly before victory was killed accidentally by an American artillery round that landed short of its target.

Henry Boswell taught at Whittier from 1971 to 1986. The plaque above, presented to him in 1981 by his sixth-grade class, adorns the same wall as his medals.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Boswell retired from the military because he'd decided to become a teacher. He earned a master's degree in elementary education (at the CU campus in Greeley). His two sons (Ralph and Jamie) also went there, obtaining bachelor's degrees.
       Boswell taught sixth grade for 20 years in District 11, the last 15 of them (1971-1986) at Whittier. On a wall in his house that features military-related photos and war medals, Boswell has hung a plaque he received from a class he had at Whittier. It was actually the first thing on the wall that he showed a reporter during a recent visit. The plaque reads: To Mr. 'B.' - the biggest, baddest, beautifullest & bossiest teacher in the world - Your Class-Grade 6, June 1981.”

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