With his green Army outfit snug around his small frame, Cecil Boswell strode along Green Street every Memorial Day parade.
He was the picture of walking history, his steps on the hard pavement reminding spectators of his march across bloodied Europe at the end of World War II.
Friends and family mourned Boswell’s death Sunday at 99, remembering the Gainesville resident as more than a local icon and American hero.
“He’s a national treasure,” said Bobby Canupp, who grew up a street away from Boswell and attended school with his daughter and niece.
Canupp said it was amazing Boswell could still march in the parade and wear his uniform into his 90s.
Only last year did Boswell agree to ride the parade route by car.
“He wasn’t happy about it,” friend John Staton said.
Dave Dellinger, longtime parade organizer and American Legion junior vice commander, said the parade is not going to be same without him.
“He was the star of the show,” he said. “We’re going to miss him.”
Dellinger said they planned to make Boswell grand marshal again this year.
“We did it once about five or six years ago, and now we’ve got to change our minds on that,” he said.
Short in stature and a bit feisty, Boswell would get tearful as he recalled his military service.
He was part of the second wave invading Normandy on D-Day and fought in the pivotal Battle of the Bulge. In a 2014 interview with The Times, he described being pinned down on a battlefield between two fallen soldiers.
Boswell also fought to liberate Paris in 1944.
“He’s a true hero, a true American hero,” Staton said, noting that Boswell may have also been the shortest man in the U.S. Army.
“He had to argue with them to get in because he was a half inch too short,” he said, recalling the story Boswell had told him.
When he went into the Army, Boswell said he was 5 feet 2 inches. At 99, he was closer to 4 feet 10 inches, Big Bear Cafe Owner Chad Vaughan said.
“But he was still a giant,” Vaughan said.
After the war, Boswell returned to Gainesville.
He kept his uniform in his bedroom closet and a framed panoramic photograph of his division on the wall in his living room next to his medals.
Boswell loved to tell stories, sometimes of combat. He’d often laugh so hard he’d have a hard time getting through them.
Boswell’s only child, Rachel Worthington of Atlanta, remembered that about her father Monday.
“He was a cook, and one time he poured a 50-pound bag of rice into one pot and it started (overflowing),” Worthington said. “It was a very funny story.”
She said her father was “a very sweet and loved person, and he would do anything for anybody he could.”
Boswell brought everyone together at Big Bear Cafe.
“He was my buddy. He was a neat part of the community,” Vaughan said Monday morning.
At the quaint cafe on Main Street near the railroad tracks, a wall of photos and newspaper clippings is dedicated to the veteran.
“It’s so cool to be 99 and remember all these detailed stories,” Big Bear server Somers Graham said, likening him to a “human textbook” of history.
Boswell ate breakfast and lunch there almost daily, and Graham had gotten to know him over the past three years. He sometimes gave Graham a ride. The last time they were riding around together, he told her the history of factories in the area.
“It’s going to be weird not seeing him here,” she said. “He kind of makes this place. He’s a colorful artifact himself.”
Boswell was born in 1917 in Hurricane Shoals in Jackson County. As a youngster, Boswell would ride his bicycle to Talmo to pick cotton, Vaughan said.
This past year, he wasn’t picking cotton, but he was mowing yards.
“He did it all himself, had a full-sized truck and trailer and maintained his own equipment,” Vaughan said.
Boswell died after contracting pneumonia earlier this month.
“We just kind of all thought that Cecil would live forever,” Canupp said. “He hadn’t been sick or anything up until a couple weeks ago.”
Boswell’s funeral will be 2 p.m. Thursday at Montgomery Memorial Baptist Church, 1210 W. Ridge Road, Gainesville.