Cecil Boswell never misses the chance to march in Gainesville’s annual Memorial Day parade.
Proudly donning the same Army uniform he wore when discharged, Boswell marches every year through downtown, from Green Street to Spring Street. Boswell is a World War II veteran who was part of the second wave invading Normandy on D-Day.
Boswell, who has lived most of his life in the Gainesville Mill village, is 98 years old. He served several years overseas and spent much of that time in combat. He earned five battle ribbons and a wooden frame full of medals.
The medals are displayed in a glass case in his living room.
“When I came into Normandy … there was still some boys laying around on the banks who had been killed,” Boswell said. “When we hit the beach, we got organized and hit the frontlines … there were a lot of close calls.”
After his unit fought in Cherbourg, France, he went nearly 200 days without relief. Germans would take the territory, and then the Allies would take it back. He said there were bodies everywhere. In fact, for two nights straight, he was forced to sleep between two dead soldiers.
A cook with the 4th Division, 22nd Infantry, Boswell was in five major battles. It was while cooking for the division that he was almost killed. A stove blew up in his face, and he was hospitalized.
“I laid in the hospital for nine days,” he said. “I thought I was blind.”
Boswell saw friends die in battle. He survived some close calls, but there were also moments of happiness, he said. For one, the liberation of Paris.
He said troops had to keep stopping to remove trees that retreating Germans had dropped in the road to slow them down.
“Boy, that was a day and a half,” he said, chuckling. “We were chasing the Germans, and we liberated Paris. Now, that’s a day you’d like to go back through. There were girls, boy. They were all over us.”
When the war ended, Boswell said, “it meant our freedom. It cost a lot of lives, but we got our freedom.”
Upon returning home, Boswell married Bonnie Mae Dean. He got a job at New Holland, where he worked 19 years before returning to Gainesville Mill and later working as an electrician.
A regular at Big Bear Café, Boswell is a fixture at the restaurant. Chad Vaughan, the establishment’s owner, said Boswell “eats with me six days a week.”
“He’s nearly 100 years old, and he’s probably going to outlive us all,” Vaughan said, laughing. “Cecil is pretty amazing. He’s a shining example of what the Greatest Generation represents.”
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