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World War II vets take center stage in Memorial Day parade
Cecil Boswell in 1941 while in the U.S. Army during World War II. - photo by For The Times

Memorial Day parade

When: 10 a.m. May 31

Where: Green Street from First Baptist Church to E.E. Butler Parkway, Gainesville

How much: Free

More info: Dave Dellinger, 770-718-7676, or Roger Keebaugh, 770-869-7941

Upcoming stories

May 30: Three brothers who grew up in Gainesville share their experiences in the European and Pacific theaters of World War II.

May 31: Mack Abbott talks about surviving the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor and other wartime experiences.

June 6: A retired nurse shares her experiences treating some of D-Day’s first wounded soldiers.

Cecil Boswell’s uniform is older than many of the people marching in or watching Gainesville’s annual Memorial Day parade.

The 92-year-old Gainesville man puts on the green U.S. Army garb — the same one he wore when he was in World War II — and strides down Green Street each year for the big event, which is sponsored by the Paul E. Bolding American Legion Post 7.

Why so faithful? Simple. “I just like a parade,” Boswell said with a hearty chuckle.

The American Legion, with the help of others, has organized the parade for eight years, following the basic route of First Baptist Church to downtown Gainesville. This year’s marchers will travel Green Street to E.E. Butler, then turn left on Spring Street and disband.

Dave Dellinger, one of the organizers and a member of Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 772, expects this year’s parade to be the largest yet. His phone has been ringing off the hook about interest in participating.

“Two years ago, it took an hour to stage everybody at the church. Last year, it took an hour and 20 minutes. I don’t know where it’s going this year,” Dellinger said.

World War II veterans, including Boswell, will lead this year’s parade. Pearl Harbor survivor Mack Abbott of Gainesville will board a horse-drawn Wells Fargo stagecoach.

The banking giant “just has one (stagecoach) in Georgia and originally had it planned for some place else,” Dellinger said. “But our Wachovia office here got to talking to them and (bank officials) decided to bring it here for our parade this year.”

Tony Manzo, a Vietnam-era pilot and Gainesville resident, is scheduled to fly over the parade in a Boeing-Stearman PT-19 open-cockpit biplane. The planes were built during the 1930s and 1940s as a military training tool.

Manzo also is one of the Experimental Aircraft Association pilots of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, a heavy bomber the U.S. used against Germany in World War II.

Also, the Vietnam veterans group plans to serve free hot dogs and hamburgers after the parade in Roosevelt Square between the Joint Administration Building and Georgia Mountains Center.

Area veterans groups, including the Disabled American Veterans and Marine Corps League, will have booths set up in the square.
The parade also will feature other marchers, including the Girl Scouts, who will pass out flags beforehand to spectators lining the route.

Organizers hope to spotlight World War II veterans in the parade, featuring an antique tractor that will “haul some of the veterans who can’t walk the parade,” Dellinger said.

“There are fewer and fewer every year, and this is our chance to honor them,” he said.

Boswell, a Jackson County native who moved to Gainesville in 1925, worked at the Gainesville Mill until one morning, when “I didn’t come home. I went and joined the Army and left that day,” he said in an interview at his Georgia Avenue home last week.

He entered the Army and was part of the second wave invading Normandy as part of D-Day.

“It had quietened down a whole lot, but there was stuff still going on,” Boswell recalled.

Fighting got worse as troops advanced into France. He remembers at one point getting pinned down by enemy fire and “dead boys (were) lying everywhere,” he said. “I slept two nights between two (who had been killed).”

Boswell fared OK through battles. The cook’s worst injury came when a stove blew up in his face, putting him in the hospital with severe burns.

After the war, he returned to Gainesville and worked at the New Holland Mill and later Lazy Days Boat Manufacturing in Buford.
“I’m my own boss now,” he said.

Boswell stays active mowing his yard, gardening and “piddling around” as a handyman.

“The Lord’s been good to me,” he said.

Memorial Day is particularly special to Boswell, who flies a U.S. flag from his front porch and keeps a glass case containing his Army medals hanging on a living room wall.

“Some things happened (during the war) that I can’t talk about or I’ll start crying,” he said.

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