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John Burdette Boynton
"Birdie"
US Air Force
Command Pilot - Colonel, Ret.
B29 Blind Date
b  1-20-1924 Bangor MI
d  9/23/2006 Fredericksburg TX
Age 82y, 8m, 5d

In service
3-2-1942 to 6-30-1977
 


John B. Boynton - W11
 

  Wounded in action                    POW


MY  MEMORIES  OF JOHN BURDETTE BOYNTON
by Stu Elder
 

He was born in Bangor (I believe) on Jan. 20th 1924.  He was exactly 25 days older than me.  We first met in the summer of 1929 when we became next door neighbors in Hartford.   My parents had just moved to Hartford from Detroit to live with my uncle (Doc Stewart).   Birdies dad, John Boynton managed the Elevator which was on the south side of main street immediately east of the railroad tracks. I can remember the Boyntons police dog Prince riding in back of John Boyntons pickup.

We were 5 years old at the time and I remember that I didnt believe in Santa Claus any more but Birdie still did.  They didnt have a fireplace at their house so Birdie always left a window open for him and a plate of cookies and glass of milk.  We started the first grade together along with Peggy Olds, Jean Hastings and Red Snodgrass.  We both learned to ride a 2 wheel bike about the same time and we liked to play in Roy Osbornes barn.  We also played cowboys at a vacant house and barn on South Center St. across the street from Beth McAlpines house.  I cant remember who owned that property but the house and barn had a lot of broken windows and floors but ideal for stalking the bad guys.

Another of Birdies relatives I got to know was his uncle Marshall who lived in Benton Harbor.  Both Marshall and brother John always had a cigar in their mouth. I worked at Clarks Drug store from the summer of 1938 thru the summer of 1941.  Marshall Boynton worked for the Barensten Candy Co. in Benton Harbor and was a regular vendor for our drug store.   He kept us supplied in candy and also punch boards.  Do you remember punch boards?   I remember selling them a nickel a punch or 6 for a quarter. I believe that you won cash prizes if you got the lucky punch.  I remember that we sold a pound box of Whitmans Sampler for $1.50 but you could also buy a pound box of chocolate covered cherries for 29 cents.  Marshall  also supplied Bill Clark with the pin ball machines that we always had in the drug store.  Also in connection with the drug store, Birdies brother Bill had married Betty Jean Quick in his senior year in high school and they lived in the apartment over the drug store.  Birdie and I and Johnny Spaulding used to like to drop water balloons from Bills place on passers by on the sidewalk below.

Clarks Drug store was always a gathering place for the high school crowd.  Im sure many a romance blossomed there.  It was always busy after the basket ball games and school dances.  When I started there just after finishing my freshman year, Eddie Lammon was still working there and also Gordy Kime.  Gordy had quite a temper at times and one time he was mad at Eddie and thru the 5 pronged ice pick we used for breaking up ice at Eddie and it stuck in the wooden counter next to Eddies leg.  Birdie and I and Johnny also liked to sneak into the State Theater across the street.  Pat Kelly worked at the theater and had to get a ladder from the back room to change the marquee signs.  So that was our chance to sneak in the back door and crawl up the aisle to sit down and the see the second show.

Birdie and I and Johnny were a three-sum from the time we first met Johnny, who lived south of town and went to a country school (North Bell).  However Johnny was in town a lot even before he came to high school because his grandfather Ira Spaulding lived kitty corner from Doc Stewarts house.  The three of us were crazy about airplanes and built a lot of models and collected pictures of different planes both civilian and military.  We went to the Benton Harbor airport a lot particularly when there was an air show.  One time Birdie and I and my sister Joan took our first airplane ride with a barnstormer who flew a Travelair biplane from  a lot next to the fairgrounds.  It cost us 50 cents apiece for about a 10 or l5 minute ride over Hartford.  I had a cheap Univex movie camera and took pictures of Hartford from the air.  The three of us rode in the front cockpit. An interesting episode with the Barnstormers plane and Birdie took place at night after our ride.  Birdie came down when the pilot wasnt around, untied the plane, started up the engine and taxied it around the field.  I didnt know about this until sometime later when Birdie related it to me.

As you know, all three of us became military pilots in World War II. Johnny flew Corsairs off the carrier Midway and was killed in a training flight off the coast of Virginia in January of 1949.  Incidently, the Midway is now permanently berthed in San Diego as a museum.  I had been separated from service by then but was still flying as a weekend warrior while going to college in Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor.

I corresponded with Birdie a lot during the war.  Birdie enlisted at 18 in the Army Air Corp in April of 1942 and was commissioned a 2nd Lt the following October still just 18 years old.  He spent most of the war years as an instructor at various bases in the states so was gaining a lot flying proficiency because when you teach others you are also becoming a better pilot yourself.  He was flying multiengine most of his later instruction years and so had some B-17 time in and then the B-29.  I believe it was early in 1945 that we went to the Pacific and flew many B-29 bombing runs over Tokyo from a base in Tinian.  It was in May of 1945 that he was shot down over Tokyo during the fire bombing of that city from an altitude of 8,000 feet.  He got all of the crew out before he bailed out.  He told me he had to shove the last crew member out before he could leave.  He landed in a field and was quickly apprehended by the Japanese.   

Birdie described his prison time in bits and pieces to me whenever I could prompt him to talk about it.  Every morning at one of the prisons he had to stand at attention to answer a roll call by reciting his name and the plane he flew which he had to say in Japanese.  I can say that word for B-29 but I dont know how to spell it.  The worst prison he was in was in Tokyo and it was a cage about 22 feet long and 8 feet wide with about 50 prisoners crammed in it.  They rolled rice balls in on the floor and gave them very little water because it would make them pee too much.  It is hard to imagine the reality of this but it was also described quite well in a book by Jim Lehrer a few years ago.  According to his description many pilots were executed and many died of starvation.  Another good book about the Japanese and the air war in the Pacific is Fly Boys.  I think Birdie was very lucky that the atomic bomb came along when it did and no doubt saved his life.   He spent quite a bit of time in Air Force hospitals recovering after being released from prison in September.  I first saw him in October a day or two after he came home and he still had a protruding starvation belly on him but by then he was putting on weight and getting his health back. 

Then in November of 1945, he met Doris Jean Colman.  She and Jean Hastings worked in the State Hospital in Kalamazoo.  DJ was engaged to a Navy man at the time that Jean introduced her to Birdie.  They hit it off pretty quick and were married in February of 1946.  They would have had their 60th anniversary last February.  I remember that wedding very well.  DJ accused me of being on roller skates to keep returning thru the reception line to kiss her again.  I had yet to meet Irene which didnt occur until October of 46.  Birdie lived on March St in Kalamazoo at that time with his mom and his step dad. We affectionately called them Mom and Pop DeRyke.  He and DJ also lived there until they moved to the Sioux St Marie to manage the airport there. During the time they lived on March St. we had many a party there which included Irene after we met.  I remember one time when Birdie and I were alone in his house and telling jokes and laughing a lot.  I got into such a laughing jag and trying to drink some coffee while trying to stop laughing that the coffee went down the wrong way and I passed out completely.  I made it to the kitchen sink coughing and then folded up like a dish rag as he described it to me later.  The next thing I knew Birdie was holding me upside down and bouncing my head off the floor until the coffee finally came up and unchoked me.  How do you like those medical terms.  Anyway he saved my life but by the same token I wouldnt have needed saving if he hadnt made me laugh so much.

When the two of them lived at the Sioux,  I got up there to see him on two different occasions.  One time Irene and I drove up and I remember that his younger brother Marshall and his mom were there at the time.  Another time Johnny and I rented a plane in Kalamazoo and flew up to see them.

Irene and I were married in August of 1948 and Birdie was my best man.  Ray Sreboth actually shared the roll of Best Man with Birdie.  Harry Parrett and Red Snodgrass were two of my ushers.  Johnny Spaulding would have been a part of it but he couldnt get the time off from his Navy duties. 

In 1949 Birdie was called back into the service to fly C-54s on the Berlin Airlift.  He had left the service at the end of the war as a captain but when he returned it was as a 1st Lt.  Then later in 49 he was stationed in Savannah, GA for the next 9 years.  Here he flew the B-52 first as a co-pilot and when he left he was a Lt Col and Wing Deputy Director of Operations.  In 1953 I was working for Pratt Whitney Aircraft and assigned to work at the Convair Fort Worth plant.  Our daughter Linda was 2 years old and we stopped in Savannah to see the Boyntons.  Their son John Gayle was a year older than Linda.  They owned a Cadillac convertible at the time and the four of us had a great time driving around Savannah.

In 1958 and 59, Birdie was assigned to Laughlin AFB in Del Rio, TX .  He was the Asst Director of Operations there and was flying the U-2.  Thats the plane in which Gary Powers was shot down over Russia.  We had moved to San Diego in 1955 and had not visited the Boyntons in Texas.

From 1960 to 1964, he was assigned to SAC HQ Offut Field in Omaha, NE.  While there he went to night school and earned his BS degree in Engineering. in 1964  We were only in touch with him there by correspondence.

From 1965 to 67 he was assigned to Beale AFB in Marysville, CA.  Here he was flying the SR-71 nicknamed the Blackbird  This was a Mach 3 plane.  He has a plaque on his wall in Garden Ridge saying he flew at three times the speed of sound.  Thats about 1800 miles per hour at 35,000 ft. Birdie described that as a pretty rough ride  particularly when the afterburners kicked in.  It carried a Pratt & Whitney engine. During the summer of 1967, our family went to a Presbyterian Family Camp at Lake Tahoe and we stopped over to visit the Boyntons for a couple of  days.  Linda was 16 at the time and John was 17.  DJ and Irene kind of arranged  that they went on a bowling date together.  They were secretly hoping that something might work out and that we would eventually be a family in common.  However, there was no chemistry there at all.  John tells me now that he was completely unaware of any complicity on the part of his mother and I dont think Linda was aware either.  But mothers can be devious at times when it comes to their children.  I also remember the Boynton kids thinking that I too was a Col.  Thats because all the men they knew at that base were Cols.  Birdie was promoted to Bird Col. while at Beale and was Squadron Commander of the 99th Squadron.  Later that same year their family visited us in San Diego for a few days.  I remember our son Johnny and Rick fishing off a pier in Mission Bay. I do remember that Birdie was smoking quite regularly at that time. I had given it up in 1964 but couldnt talk him into doing the same.

From 1967 to 71, he went to the Pentagon as Chief of the Strategic Reconnaissance Branch. In the summer of 1969 we spent a week with the Boyntons in Fairfax, VA  Linda was in Europe that summer but Johnny and Cindy were with us.  Marsh and his wife Esther were also living in the Washington area at that time.  We visited all the well known sites in the capital which was a good time for our children both to be with the Boyntons and learning something of our nations history.  John Gayle must have graduated from West Point during their time at Fairfax.  And to think he is now a retired Bird Col just like his dad.

From 1971 to 1974, the Boynton family experienced what I would consider a real high point in Birdies career.  He became the Military Defense Attache at the US Embassy in Tehran, Iran.  This, of course, was during the reign of the Shah.  Birdie had to learn to speak Farsi before going there and of course he and the family had plenty of opportunity in 3 years to practice it a lot.  Iran, at that time, was a beautiful place to be and they were able to acquire many pieces of furnishing for their home in Texas and also pieces for the children.

In 1973, we attended the class of 40 reunion in Kalamazoo.  That was Bill Boyntons graduation class.  So we did see Bill & Betty and many other Hartford people there.  They recognized the football team of 1940 and Bill was one of them.  That same year in June, we visited Pop DeRyke on March St and it happened to be on his 80th birthday.  He was very pleased to see Irene and me.

From 1974 to 77, he was assigned to March AFB as Director of Intelligence for the 15th Air Force.  We visited him there a couple of times.  They had a nice large house on the base.  At that time, they were planning the house they wanted to build in Texas when he retired.  They showed us the house plans which they were quite excited about.  I remember one visit there when my sister Joan and husband Don and also Jim Byers and Dick Walling were all there.  This was a mini Hartford reunion and fun was had by all.  I remember that Chris was of high school age then and in to horseback riding.  Then in 1977, Birdie did retire and they moved to Garden Ridge Texas to build their new home.

In the 1980s, there were lots of HHS reunions.  On the odd years there was the All Class reunion in Michigan and in the even years there was the West Coast reunions at different cities west of the Mississippi.  Birdie and DJ attended quite a few of these as follows 

      1981 Class of 41,  40th reunion in Coloma, MI
      1982 the first West Coast Reunion in
San Diego
      1984 the 2nd West Coast Reunion also in
San Diego
      1989 All Class reunion in
Benton Harbor.
      1990 the 5th West Coast Reunion in
San Diego, but preceded by a cruise to Alaska
                that ended in San Diego.  That was a fun time with Birdie and DJ.
      1993 West Coast Reunion in Las Vegas
      1996 West Coast Reunion in Tucson
      2000 West Coast Reunion in Phoenix 

In 1991, a bunch of us descended on San Antonio for a surprise 45th Wedding anniversary for them  They really were surprised.  It was well organized by their kids.  From HHS, besides Irene and I, there were the Snodgrasses (Red & Helene), Joan Scouller,  and the Johnsons (Jean & Don). And of course there were a raft of Boynton relatives.  Then in 1996, Irene and I joined them for their 50th wedding anniversary which was supposed to be in the BOQ at Randolph but didnt happen because the place was being remodeled.  We had a good time in spite of the inconvenience.  And again for their 55th anniversary in 2001, we joined the Boynton crowd for a very wonderful time.  We remember the church choir putting on a spoof for D.J. that was quite clever.  But then came the sad time in November of that same year, we lost DJ to cancer.  I was privileged to be at her service to support Birdie. The church choir sang a special anthem and left an empty seat where DJ normally sat.  What a woman!

We did get to visit Birdie one more time in 2004 when we drove to Texas and spent a few days with him.  He still loved to cook his breakfast burritos which Irene and I always enjoyed.  We also stopped in Tyler and visited Mark & Suzanne.  Didnt get to see  Tim & Chrissy or Rick but John did visit us in San Diego that same year.  Birdie amazed us how well he got along alone and always having to take such special precautions about his medications.  I know that Chris came down from Fredericksburg quite often and made sure things were going right.  I had called him on the phone several times after DJ died and he always recognized by voice right away and seemed quite upbeat considering his circumstances.  He never forgot our birthdays and wedding anniversary.

So we were close friends for 77 years and he leaves me with a richer life because I knew him.

Stu Elder
HHS 1941

 

This letter was sent to John Boynton's son, Rick, after John's passing from this life on September 23, 2006.   It is a capsule of John's life and military service that includes his capture as a POW during WW11.  An incredible lifetime story and lasting friendship of two young boys who made a difference in the lives of many and served their country so honorably.  As 1941 graduates of Hartford High School, their heights of lifetime achievements are commendable and proof that being from a small, rural community provides support, lifetime friends, and the start of skills to survive whatever is ahead and can be imagined.  

Hartford can be very proud of all who have served in the military - there are many.  We can't thank you enough for the sacrifices made to help ensure freedom for everyone. Click on these links to view John and Stu's WW11 military profiles in the Military section of the History of Hartford website at http://www.hartfordmichigan.com/.  

       

 


Information for this web site was gathered from personal interviews, newspaper articles, scrapbooks, personal photo albums, and other documented materials - many available to the public at the Hartford Public Library or Van Buren County Historical Museum.  Please report any typographical errors, updated information, or incorrectly stated information to the webmaster for correction.  Reprinting for personal and instructional purposes is permitted, however, unauthorized commercial reprinting of this information or unauthorized linking to photos-pictures on this site is strictly prohibited without written permission from the webmaster. 



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A Pictorial History of Hartford, Michigan
Emma Thornburg Sefcik,
Competent Secretarial Service
Copyright 2000 - All rights reserved.


Revised: May 27, 2015


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