Fifty-two Veterans Days have come and gone since Harold Boozer left Dian, Vietnam, as a major in the First Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. The 88-year-old Pennsylvania native has never returned to the country, but one memory of that year still haunts him, especially whenever there's a news item about the Southeast Asian country on his television or in the newspaper.
"There was a girl who worked in our dining facility," said Boozer, who moved to Chattanooga from New Mexico 20 years ago so that he and his wife of 49 years, Marie, could be closer to their children and grandchildren, who all live in the Southeast.
"She always had a smile on her face. While I was there she became the victim of a Viet Cong land mine explosion. She suffered horrible abdominal injuries and had many surgeries, but she survived. I was unable to keep up with her, but whenever I think of Vietnam I think of her and hope she's had a good life."
Perhaps that compassion for others is why the Boozers' neighbor the past five years in Hixson, Johnny Jones, says of the retired lieutenant colonel: "That gentleman is a cut above everybody else. He's one of the most benevolent, sensitive, giving people I've ever come across."
Like far too many Vietnam veterans, Boozer returned home to a United States that was anything but benevolent, sensitive or giving toward those who fought in that war. Despite earning a Bronze Star with an oak leaf cluster (in essence a second Bronze Star), an Air Medal, the Legion of Merit and an Army Commendation Medal, Boozer came back to the States in July of 1967 to no parades or celebrations.
"It was very disappointing to find so many people had a great dislike for the military," said Boozer, who spent 24 total years in the Army, including two stints at the Pentagon, before retiring for good in 1980 and turning to consultant work.
And now, as another Veterans Day arrives?
"I think there's more respect for the military, for our veterans, and that's good to see," said Boozer.
His service to his country began in 1954, when he graduated from Cornell as a classmate of recently deceased Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and began to satisfy his military obligations through his ROTC commission.
"I didn't know her personally," he said of Ginsburg. "But I'm quite proud to have had a Supreme Court justice for a classmate."
Name: Harold Edward Boozer
Branch of military: U.S. Army
Years of service: 1954-1957, 1958-1980
Anyone would be proud to have accomplished all Boozer has over the years. In addition to his impeccable military record, he has a doctorate in education from American University, was assigned by the Army to be a logistics advisor to the Royal Saudi Arabian Army, is a self-proclaimed "fanatic of bluegrass music," is active in local charity work, especially through Hixson United Methodist Church, and is a lifelong follower of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Said Jones of Harold's and Marie's 40-year passion for bluegrass, especially the work of Rhonda Vincent: "They are indeed a walking, talking encyclopedia of bluegrass music. They know the artists and their backgrounds, but they also know their children's and parents' names. (Bluegrass festival promoters) have placed personal chairs for them on the front row of events."
After 20 years in our town, Boozer said, what he's enjoyed most about Chattanooga is the weather and Southern food.
"I love Southern cooking, sometimes too much," he chuckled last week.
But it is when Boozer is asked about what makes him most proud of his year in Vietnam that his benevolence and sensitivity shine the brightest.
"Just that we took care of the Vietnamese people and their country," he said. "There were a lot of good people over there who needed our help."
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.