African-American veteran tells history
February 28, 2012
By Rhonda Apple
As George Boggess sat relaxing in a day room at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington, D.C., the African-American recalled some of his life experiences over the last 100 years. An Army veteran, Boggess was drafted in 1942. "[The attack on] Pearl Harbor had already happened and it was the beginning of World War II," said Boggess.
Boggess was inducted as a warrant officer at Fort Myer, then spent time at Fort Meade, Md., and Camps Kilmer and Dix, N.J. before deploying to help fight the war in Europe. "I was with a quartermaster unit," he explained, but after arriving in Europe, Boggess was transferred to the 578th Field Artillery Bn. as a field supply officer. "There were five companies with about 100 men in each," Boggess explained. "We were an all-African-American battalion. Only the officers were white men."
Serving in Europe, including the Battle of the Bulge, Boggess recalled duty in England, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. "I remember it was very cold over there," he said. "The ground was frozen so hard, you couldn't dig a foxhole."
Although his memories have faded a bit over the years, Boggess fondly remembered how nice he was treated by the locals in England. "We spent about four months there before going over to Europe, and it was very pleasant there," he said.
Boggess doesn't remember the date he was hit by enemy fire, but does remember how it happened. "I was sent to the front, scouting for targets ahead of the battalion and sending coordinates back by radio when I was shot by enemy fire," he said. The Soldier was evacuated to a field hospital where the bullet was removed from his right leg and returned to his unit after 20 days.
"They really didn't get that bullet completely out of me until I returned stateside," said Boggess, who was discharged after serving four years in the Army.
For being injured in the line of duty, he received the Purple Heart. He also received the Silver Star for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.
"I really wasn't afraid of anything. I had been trained to fight, it was part of my job," said Boggess. "I saw many of my friends die over there. That was hard for me, but it's part of the job when you're a Soldier."
Boggess said it stings to recall being injured while fighting for his country. "Serving in the same Army, fighting the same enemy, white officers did not want me in the same hospital room with them."
Growing up in what Boggess describes as "cotton country," in Waco, Texas, as a Soldier in a segregated Army, Boggess took segregation in stride. "I was used to everything being separate, being raised in the south," he said. "No, we couldn't even eat with the white officers."
Boggess continued having problems with his injury following duty in Europe. "It still hasn't healed completely," he said adamantly. "It was hard to walk when I got home. I had to go to the hospital at Fort Belvoir for six months, and they did everything they could, but I was still hurting."
Following his tour during World War II, the Army officer went to work in the Pentagon as a clerk in the mail room for four years, and then went to school at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he received a master's degree in social work. "I worked for the government, first as a social worker, and retired as supervisor of probation officers, in the district," said Boggess.
During his years working for the government, Boggess was an avid supporter of civil rights. He remembers marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in one of his three marches from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. "I took the train down there. I didn't actually talk to Dr. King, but I remember shaking his hand."
The Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965 marked the political and emotional peak of the American civil rights movement.
"It was very hot there and so many people were throwing rocks at us," recalled Boggess. "I participated in two other marches with King and went to hear his 'I Have a Dream,' speech. Dr. King was responsible for a lot of change for African-Americans."
Boggess also praised President John F. Kennedy. "He was one of our best presidents, along with President Obama, who has done a lot and made a big difference in this country. However we still have a lot of problems with race relations. I got to shake the president's hand last month when he visited my church, Zion Baptist," he added.
A fall at home in 2011 resulted in hip replacement surgery and now Boggess spends his week days at the VA medical center. "I'd be out there with the occupy movement if I could," he said with a smile. "I support what they're doing" said Boggess.
"It's easier on my wife for me to stay here all week, since I need medical attention, but it's not home. I like being home," he said. "On the weekends."
Boggess rested his cane, which he said he uses to help him walking. "I have arthritis," he said.
Another patient at the VA medical center walked by inquiring why Boggess was being interviewed as the century-old veteran greeted his friend. "I'm telling the story of my life," he said. What a life he's had.