BEMIDJI, Minn. — The grave marker that honors the lives of World War II veteran John O’Boyle and his wife, Monica, is unlike any other at Bemidji’s Greenwood Cemetery.
Instead of a traditional tombstone, John chose a granite bench that includes a crest depicting his family’s Irish lineage and the national emblem of Sweden for Monica’s heritage.
“The O’Boyle bench has become an oasis of respite and socializing,” wrote family friend Patrick Lochwood of Bemidji, Minn. “It was John’s hope that when selecting a bench as a grave marker it would provide a place to sit, contemplate, and to admire the obelisk monument honoring the Civil War’s Grand Army of the Republic.”
John had the bench installed after Monica died nine years ago. He often visited the cemetery in the ensuing years before his death in 2019 at the age of 96.
Lochwood wrote his tribute to the war veteran this past summer:
“Cigarette butts are often found in the grass; a plastic lawn chair pulled up to converse with friends; a flower laid in remembrance; evidence of kids playing: the bench and a neighboring stone set up as a ‘store’ or a bright red Fisher Price farm set opened up with cattle, sheep and horses grazing on the black marble; and my favorite, an overturned book waiting for the reader to return to finish another chapter. There is no resting beneath the bench, but that is just as John wanted it. He preferred active lives lived in peace.”
O’Boyle was a decorated war veteran. He served in the Merchant Marines from April to September 1942. His tour of duty ended when a torpedo from a German submarine sank the oil tanker he was on in the Caribbean. For this service, he earned the American Theater Service Medal and the Torpedoed Seamen’s Medallion. But he wasn’t done fighting.
John then enlisted in the U.S. Army as a Combat Infantryman and served as a Private First Class in the 28th Infantry Division from November 1942 to December 1945. For this service, he earned the European-African-Middle Eastern Theater Service Ribbon with three Campaign Stars (Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland), the WWII Victory Medal, the Combat Infantry Badge with the Bronze Star, the Overseas Service Bar, and the Purple Heart.
His unit engaged in some of the bloodiest battles of the war and lost more men than any other outfit in Europe, spearheading the main force in the battles to liberate Paris and the first American outfit to enter Germany. The division took a day off from fighting on Aug. 29, 1944 to march in the Victory Day parade down the Avenue de Champs-Elysees. John can be seen in the lower right-hand corner of the famous Liberation of Paris photo that was later made into a U.S. Commemorative Postage Stamp.
On Sept. 15, 1944, John had his legs shot up in a battle along the Siegfried Line and was sent to a hospital in England to recover, thereby missing the Battle of the Bulge. He would have been sent back into combat had not the war ended first.
In 2013, O’Boyle was bestowed membership as a Chevalier in the French Legion of Honour by the French government for fighting to liberate France from Nazi occupation. The award was presented by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
After the war, John devoted his life to education. He taught for 21 years at Bemidji State University, retiring as a Professor Emeritus of Spanish in 1989.
In his later years, O’Boyle continued to serve fallen veterans and march in parades as a member of the Ralph Gracie American Legion Post 14 Honor Guard.
“He always had a smile on his face,” said fellow Honor Guard member Bob Aitken. “He was pretty emotionally level. He didn’t have any downers. He felt very strongly about the Legion.”
Lochwood said John’s patriotism was unmatched.
“The John O’Boyle I knew in his later years kept a copy of the United States Constitution in his shirt pocket,” Lochwood said. “He would pull it out frequently to recite the Preamble, always emphasizing ‘We The People,’ and then every word holding great meaning and purpose.”