WW II memories still painful for veteran paratrooperWritten by Barbara John | | firstname.lastname@example.org
His voice trembled; his eyes filled with tears and he said, “I can’t go into that … it’s just too hard!”
Thomas Boggs, 82, still cannot talk about the horrors, pain and suffering, and the loss of comrades he experienced during his three years of service during World War II.
PFC Boggs was a member of the elite Parachute Infantry Regiment 511, the “Angels” who, under cover of darkness, jumped 1,200 feet onto the island of Luzon in the Philippines, with the mission of driving the Japanese from the island and rescuing 2,000 Americans prisoners.
Because Boggs is the last survivor of F Company, he is now caretaker of the guidon, the identifying banner of his military unit. It will eventually be passed on to Boggs’ son Randy, who recently built a shadow box to preserve and display the guidon along with his father’s military insignia and service-era picture.
Drafted at 18, fresh out of Woodward High School, Boggs and his sweetheart, Betty, became engaged before he reported for training at Camp Mackall, N.C. “I volunteered for the paratroops because they made double the money as regular infantrymen,” Boggs said.
He earned $100 a month.
There is a strange dichotomy to Boggs’ memories. He remembers everything concerning his training: the bases, dates, months, year — everything except his return home. He knows his company was the first to go to Japan after the atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He knows he started his trek home on a ship to San Francisco; he remembers that he shared a duffle bag with two other men on the train to Indiana where they were separated. He rode a bus to Toledo, he thinks. He feels it was probably the first attempt to black out the memories from the battles and the taking of Tagaytay Ridge.
Thomas and Betty were married one month after he came back to Toledo. Parents of three, with six grandchildren, they have been married almost 60 years.
He and Betty share stories about the 511th reunions they attend every other year.
They both started laughing at memories of one of the first reunions.
“This fellow, Harold Spring, he got hit bad … two shots to the stomach. One guy alone got him out. It was in the midst of sniper fire. Next thing Spring remembered is that four men were carrying him someplace on a stretcher. His next memory is being prepped for surgery … on a hill. No hospital, no tents, no lights … just flashlights. He survived and was flown to the USS Hope., then to the VA Hospital in Chicago.
“What made us laugh was that none of us knew he had made it. He showed up at the reunion, and all anyone could say was ‘I thought you were dead!’ ” Boggs said.
Boggs also laughs at the memory of a “Tokyo Rose” broadcast where she told in “delighted” tones how the Japanese paratroops had wiped out the American troopers, “ the same troopers who were the first to occupy Japan” he said.
Paratroop training was rigorous. First there was basic infantry training, then four concurrent courses in parachute packing, daily half-hours of “double-time,” tumbling and 7 foot jumps, all to strengthen leg and ankle muscles. Next came two- part tower jump training, in harness, from 150 feet. Finally, qualification jumping from an in-flight plane and mass jumps of 12 men, called a “stick,” at two-second intervals. It took five jumps to be qualified.
Responding to a question about the worst of the battles he saw, Boggs said, “Tagaytay Ridge.”
That’s all he could say.