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The Life And Mirror Of A St. Louis Veteran

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Wayne Pratt
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St. Louis Public Radio

Elmer Boehm's life is a story about war, survival, love and life-saving luck.

The World War II veteran is headed to Washington, D.C., on Veterans Day as part of the final Greater St. Louis Honor Flight of 2014.

“I just hope I can … I’m strong enough to make it. I’ll be 92 in January, but I’m still pumping around,” said Boehm during a recent interview at his home in Town and Country.

“It’s kind of an honor to go. It will be nice to see all these memorials that they put up for the various servicemen that have done a lot for their country.”

Boehm served in Gen. George Patton’s Third Army.

In September 1944, he was one of the soldiers who landed on Utah Beach  and he was wounded while part of an assault on the Germans.

“That’s when I was making this frontal attack on a machine gunner and he opened up on me,” said Boehm.

One bullet went through his rifle strap and another hit his chest.

This is where the luck comes in.

That bullet was deflected by a pocket mirror, which was in front of his heart.

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Credit Wayne Pratt / St. Louis Public Radio
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St. Louis Public Radio
A close up of the pocket mirror that was hit by a bullet in France and likely saved the life of World War II veteran and Town and Country resident Elmer Boehm.

“... my dad’s in World War I and also it was much heavier metal and chrome plated. Most of the mirrors they had in World War II were kind of tinny. So this was a big life-saver.”

After that Boehm and several others hit the ground just before a big explosion.

Shrapnel ripped through his glove and blood started pouring from his hand. Boehm wrapped it in a dirty handkerchief and helped bandage the wounds of others.

Once the fire fight ended, he walked for an-hour-and-a-half to get help. He then shuffled from hospital to hospital before ending up in the United Kingdom.

Thinking people back home would be worried, he wrote the following letter to his high school sweetheart, Jan.

 

Written by Elmer Lee Boehm from Overseas Transcribed by Janeth Helene Brinkman November 29, 1944 I guess you would like to have the full details of my short escapade on the front, we are supposed to wait two weeks before writing about these things, so I guess I can write safely now, so here goes. We pulled up on our positions in a large woods late in the evening, the Jerries were only about a hundred yards in front of us and the weather was wet and cold, our foxholes (already dug) were very small but covered by logs and dirt.  During the night German Patrols came around and fired their guns and then went back to their lines, it seemed like the day would never come since it didn’t get light until eight o’clock. We stayed in that area all day and during the day were told to draw all the ammunition we could carry, then we figured something was up.  It rained continually all day and by night the ground was so soaked that our foxholes started to fill up, by evening there was just a few puddles, but later on the water rose and we had to start bailing the water out on the ground with a cardboard box.  By this time our blankets and equipment were soaked so we left them in the water.  Soon the water was about 6 inches deep and we had to sit on our helmets.  I found a wooden box and sat on that when the water got above our helmets.  We couldn’t sleep so we bailed as much water out as we could but it just kept filling. Early in the morning we were told to pile all our equipment near a tree and draw back, because the artillery was going to fire near there and then we were going to attack. After the artillery let up we moved out just firing at anything that looked suspicious, then we finally ran into the Jerry machine guns.  I was with the lieutenant and several other men in a small ravine directly in front of machine guns, we threw several grenades and then started out of the ditch.  The gun opened up again, they nicked the lieutenant and several men and one bullet cut the sling on my rifle and another hit the metal mirror in my right breast pocket and was deflected away.  We hit the ground and while I was lying there something exploded in front of me.  Shrapnel cut the glove on my left hand and I knew it had gone in my hand.  I pulled my glove off and blood was just flowing out of my hand.  Being unable to reach my first aid packet on my belt, I grabbed my dirty handkerchief and held it over the wound to stop the bleeding and then crawled back into the ditch where there were several other wounded fellows and together we helped each to bandage wounds.  After the resistance was wiped out, I walked for about a half an hour to the aid station and from there from hospital to hospital until I finally landed here in United Kingdom. So there you have a pretty detailed description of my adventure probably a lot of it will be censored, but you will have a general idea of the fighting that is going on all the time along the front.

Return to the U.S.

Eventually, Boehm made it back to the U.S. and the two were married. That was more than 68 years ago and they are still together.

Boehm went to college and became an engineer. The Cincinnati-area native ended up with a company in Louisiana.

“Then finally one day my wife said, we’ve got to go back north. All our shoes are mildewy.”

Shortly after that, he landed a job at Monsanto and they moved to the St. Louis area.

The close-knit family man is the true definition of an American hero. He has been honored with the Purple Heart, two battle stars, along with a good conduct medal, combat infantry badge and a rifleman’s badge.

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Credit Wayne Pratt / St. Louis Public Radio
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St. Louis Public Radio
A collection of World War II medals and other items gathered over the years by Town and Country resident Elmer Boehm.

He is equally as proud of honors involving family.

“My son and four grandchildren are all Eagle Scouts and I’m a Silver Beaver … Boy Scout, Silver Beaver.”

As he approaches his 92nd birthday in January, Boehm remains sharp and closely monitors current events. He’s very concerned about what is going on overseas.

“This ISIS situation. It’s kind of like when Hitler was going up and taking over everything. It got me worried about all of this in this world.”

Boehm is one of 22 area veterans on the Veterans Day Greater St. Louis Honor Flight.

The organization has flown approximately 1300 veterans to Washington, D.C. since 2008.

The group says World War II veterans are dying at a rate of at least 550 per day. Its aim is to make sure veterans can make it to D.C. to view the national memorial in their honor before it’s too late.

“We were the greatest generation,” said Boehm.

“It’s been a great life. Been a great country to be a part of.”

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