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Bill Boggs documents WWII experience

By Sherri Ellington William ‘Bill’ Boggs is one of two local World War II veterans who will be featured on the website http://http://witnesstowar.org, which videotapes the memories of veterans for their historical value and to make them accessible to the public. While he was happy to take part in the interview (see related story) he does not think of himself as a hero. ‘I didn’t see any fighting,’ he explains. What he did see was the rescue of a ship full of weary veterans as the war wound to an end and the love of his life, both in Newfoundland. Upon his graduation from Gordon Military College in 1944, Boggs knew he would be drafted. He got a job at the William Carter Company ‘“ back then when a company promised to save a job for a veteran it did ‘“ and applied for a delayed birth certificate in hopes of getting into the Merchant Marines before the Army called his number. The Army called. ’By the time I got my birth certificate I’d already gone to Fort McPherson for my physical,’ he said. ‘I didn’t know it but I could have joined the Marines anyway. I stayed, though I didn’t particularly like it.’ The Army, it turns out, was where he was meant to be. It shipped him to Fort McClelland in Alabama for 17 weeks of basic training with the intent to invade Japan. ’One Saturday afternoon in the middle of August they called us to the drill field and said the Japanese had surrendered. We didn’t have to go kill them or them kill us. Truman had dropped the bomb, saving millions of lives. We were thankful. There were men on ships headed from Europe to Japan and they were thankful too.’ Boggs found himself in Newfoundland, an island in the North Sea that was then a British colony but is now part of Canada. The supply base at St. Johns protected supply ships from German U-boats. ’I spent Thanksgiving of 1945 aboard the USS Merak,’ he said. ‘In civilian life it was a banana boat before the government took it over as a supply ship.’ The base had Navy and Marine detachments, a dry dock and sea tug storage. It also had a Newfoundland dog named Butch who loved to ride in Jeeps, even though he was almost as big as the vehicle. Boggs still has a picture of the base mascot. In January, the tug came in handy when the USS Baldwin, carrying veterans home from Europe, ran into a fierce North Sea storm in the middle of the night. ’They sent the tug out to lead it into port,’ Boggs recalled. ‘They were there three days repairing the ship. They had sand for ballast and had spent the night shoveling the sand from one place to another to keep the ship from breaking in two. They had a harrowing experience.’ Years later Boggs and his wife Georgina were fishing at High Falls Lake when they met another WWII vet. They began trading stories and Boggs recited the one about the USS Baldwin, which had been decommissioned just a few months after the incident. The man replied, ‘I thought all those guys were lost.’ ’He was glad to find out they weren’t,’ Boggs said. ‘It’s a strange world.’ A native of the island, Georgina had a civil service job on the Navy side of the base along with her three sisters and brother. Not one to talk much to the ladies, he met her through a friend. The men from the base were taking a walk in the countryside and came upon a group of women in a clearing. They said hello and walked on. ’For no reason, I turned around and introduced myself and the guys followed me,’ he said. ‘Her friend was one of those women. After she started dating my friend, she started badgering him to get me to go on a blind date with Georgina. I accepted.’ Six months later he proposed. He was 19, she was 23. They have been together ever since. ’We got married in December 1946,’ he said. ‘I had never taken leave so I went back to the United States on a three day leave for a delayed discharge at Fort Bragg. She told me to bring back my birth certificate. Naturally, I forgot it.’ The document took two weeks to arrive and the couple were married by a minister of the United Church of England in a nearby town. They then bought passage back to the states from St. Johns to Atlanta. It turned out to be a circuitous route on two or three airplanes, a train and an automobile. ’We got snowed in and couldn’t get a flight out,’ he said. ‘After a day and a half we got our money back and took the train to Boston. We finally got a flight out of New Jersey that was headed to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It had the one stop in Atlanta.’ They took a taxi from Atlanta to Barnesville, arriving home at 4:30 a.m. Instead of waking the family he flipped the latch on the back door and got Georgina and their luggage inside the house at 608 Greenwood St. Naturally, they then took a nap. ’I came downstairs later that morning and my brother said, ‘˜Where did you come from?’ I said, ‘˜From upstairs.’ And that was the extent of my Army career.’ They settled down. He went back to work at Carter’s, where he stayed until the day the mill closed in 1999. They had two children who gave them numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including one now in the Marines. They visit Newfoundland from time to time. Once his brother-in-law took him up in an airplane. They flew as close to the base as they could get; the airspace was restricted. ’They were taking down our old barracks,’ Boggs said. **************** The Witness-To-War Found ation, which runs witnesstowar.org, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the oral histories of individual veterans in digital video and vintage photos. The veterans and their families ‘“ locally they are Bill Boggs and Bob Nash ‘“ get DVD copies of their interviews that are put on the website for the public to view. ‘Mr. Boggs is one of our many Lamar County heroes, men and women who answered the call to serve in WWII,’ said Mark Stone, who with the Rotary Club organizes events for veterans. ’It’s been my honor to work with our veterans, Emily Carley, and local Rotary Club support to assist with this great project during the past years,’ said Stone. ‘Witness-To-War conducts interviews with our WWII veterans to gain their factual stories from their service in the military, for their families, friends and future generations to read and know that ‘Freedom is Not Free’, ‘“ that there was a high price paid for it, fought and won, and the need to maintain those precious freedoms today.’ Emily Carley came to the Old Jail Museum in fall to interview area veterans, including men from Meansville and Forsyth. Carley will be conducting additional interviews on Jan. 29th in Barnesville at the Barnesville First United Methodist Church. ’Our focus is the Atlanta area,’ said Carley. ‘This is my third or fourth time coming down after coming for a Rotary Club event for local veterans several years ago. Mark Stone has been a big help finding people and setting up video days.’ Witness stories from veterans of Vietnam and later conflicts. It also accepts written memoirs and family made videos as well as copies of photos the men took while overseas. ’We have over 2,000 stories on our website,’ Carley said. ‘Editors go through the footage for individual stories to educate the public about what our veterans have done for us.’ Founded in 2002 by an Atlanta businessman who has an interest in preserving the stories, there is no charge for veterans for their participation. ’It’s a thank you for their service,’ she said. ‘We don’t make any money off of this though we do accept donations. It’s primarily funded by our founder. We plan to eventually donate our collection to the Library of Congress.’ The site is organized by theatre of conflict, service branches and experiences such as being a prisoner of war or tank encounters. ’This helps the viewer find what he or she is looking for,’ she said. For information call 770-481-3018.

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