US Army

John Roderick O'Boyle

June 13, 1922 ~ June 9, 2019 (age 96)


Dr. John R. O’Boyle died peacefully of natural causes early Sunday morning, June 9th, 2019, at Neilson Place, Bemidji, Minn.  He was 96 years old.  John requested no public services.  A private graveside service will be held later in the summer.  Inurnment will be in Greenwood Cemetery, Bemidji, Minn.  Arrangements have been entrusted to the Olson-Schwartz Funeral Home and Cremation Service, Bemidji, Minn.

John Roderick O’Boyle was born June 13th, 1922, in Minneapolis, Minn, to Michael and Marie (Nollet) O’Boyle.   The O’Boyle family emigrated from Belmullet, County Mayo, Ireland, and John celebrated his Celtic heritage.  His Belgium and French heritage came from his mother. John shared the story that Benjamin Franklin was inspired to conduct his kite experiment by his relative Abbe’ Jean-Antoine Nollet, French monk and scientist, who, in 1746, gathered about two-hundred of his fellow monks, had them hold an iron wire, and shocked them all! 

John and his brothers:  Patrick (Elsie), Roger (Franny), Carroll (Helen), baby boy Pedric, and Michael (Rita) lived their early years in the Como neighborhood of St. Paul where John relished in boyhood stories of sneaking into the Minnesota State Fair.  During the Great Depression and having the means to save the Nollet farm on Grey Cloud Island, John’s father moved the family to Saint Paul Park, where the boys farmed, fished the Mississippi River, and engaged in all sorts of mischief.  John received his first communion on May 3rd, 1931, at The Church of Saint Cecilia, St. Paul, and he was confirmed on July 5th, 1936, at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, Saint Paul Park.  John graduated from the elementary schools of Washington County, on June 26th, 1936, and from Saint Paul Park High School in June 1940.

John 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, near the Dutch island of Curacao. For this service, he earned the American Theater Service Medal and the Torpedoed Seamen’s Medallion.  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. The 28th Infantry Division did not go in on the initial D-Day invasion, but it did engage 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 28th Infantry Division took a day off from fighting on August 29th, 1944, to march in the “Victory Day” parade down the Avenue de Champs-Elysees under the Arc De Triomphe.  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 in 1945.  On September 15th, 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 in to combat had not the war ended first.

After the War, John devoted his life to education and earned a Bachelors of Arts degree, a Masters of Arts degree, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree.  His undergraduate degree was in English and Spanish studies.  His graduate degrees were in Latin American Affairs, Economics, and Education.  John attended St. John’s University, Collegeville; University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; University of the Americas, Mexico City (B.A.); New Mexico Highlands University, Las Vegas;  Universidad Interamericana, Mexico (M.A. & Ph.D.); and Macalester College, St. Paul.   John taught eleven years in public high schools in New Mexico, California, and Minnesota.  He taught two years at Wisconsin State University-River Falls, and twenty-one years at Bemidji State University, retiring as a Professor Emeritus of Spanish in 1989.  In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, John spent his summers traveling in Spain to sharpen his language, cultural and teaching skills.

Prior to teaching, John worked three years as a bi-lingual inspector in government agriculture in Mexico where he met his wife, Paz, a war widow with a young daughter.  After marrying, they owned and operated a restaurant in Mexico City for a short time.

On  September 21st, 1948, John married Paz DeLara Borja, (now deceased), of the family lineage of the Spanish Pope Alexander VI.  Their Best Man was the famous Mexican comedic actor, Mario Moreno, professionally known as “Cantinflas”.  John adopted Paz’s daughter, Georgina, and moved his family to the United States.  On  May 4th, 1974, John married Monica Ingvarsdotter Bergengren, (now deceased), from Sweden, whom he met in Spain. John moved Monica and her son Anders Ahnberg to Bemidji.  He later adopted Anders.

John was well known in the community for his civic involvement and strong allegiance and dedication to the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.  This follows in the tradition of his father and family.  His uncle Isidore “Toby” Nollet was Minister of Agriculture in Saskatchewan, Canada, and was one of the founders of the Canadian Health Plan.  John was elected and served as the Ward 2 Councilor, City of Bemidji (2 yrs); Councilor-at-Large, City of Bemidji (2 yrs); and Supervisor, Cottage Grove (4 yrs.).  He also served on the Bemidji Planning Commission (10 yrs).  John served on many Boards:  Sprucewood Apartment, House of Hospitality, Latin American Bemidji Rotary Aid, KAWE Public Television, Library Trustees, April Shelter, Inter Faculty Organization, Community Arts Council, Trail Country, Paul Bunyan Theatre, Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, State of MN Senate Advisory Board on Veterans Affairs, and the State of MN NW District Board of Advisors for Ombudsman for Older Minnesotans.  John was a proud member of the Bemidji Rotary Club, the Bemidji Senior Center, a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, and an ambassador for the Bemidji Chamber of Commerce.  He was also a life member of the Order of the Purple Heart, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and the 40/8 Society.

John felt it was important that it be known that the honors and recognitions he received were accepted only as a representative on behalf of all soldiers that have gallantly served.  On Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013, John was bestowed membership as a Chevalier in the French Legion of Honour by the French government for his service during WWII and liberating France from Nazi occupation.  The award was presented by U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. Of the award, John said, “The event is more important than the recipient. I am no different from thousands and thousands of others.” He often drew attention away from himself to another soldier from Cass Lake, Alvin Jackson.  Alvin was wounded on the Siegfried Line the same day as John.  John’s veteran’s marker will be placed in the Grey Cloud Island Cemetery.

John is survived by his daughter Gina and son-in-law, Donald Ostertag, of Oakdale, Minn; his grandsons David (Sarah), Daniel (Shannon), Derrick (Holly), Darren, and Dirk (Jamie), and 10 great-grandchildren.  John is also survived by Monica’s son, Anders Ahnberg of Stockholm, Sweden, and grandchildren Carl, Axel and Cecelia.  John is survived by his youngest brother Michael of Brandon, Mississippi, and many nephews, nieces, grandnephews and grandnieces.

John was very well read and able to converse on many topics.  As an Irishman, he particularly enjoyed a good story with a drink in one hand and a pipe in the other.  As a guide for living his life, John often referenced the Buddhist traditions to be kind and do no harm.  He prized reading fiction, friends, curiosity, truth, family, and responsibility.  John tried to be good, honest, decent, and friendly; and he hoped to leave a legacy of good will.  His life was a testament to these values.  John asked that memorials be directed to the charity of the giver’s choice.


Summary of John O’Boyle’s WWII service record, provided by Scotty Allison,Beltrami County Veterans Service Officer, Bemidji, Minn:

John entered military service with the United States Army on 9 November 1942.  Receiving Basic Training at Raleigh, North Carolina, PFC O’Boyle was designated as a U.S. Rifleman.    On 18 October 1943, PFC O’Boyle arrived in the European Theater of Operations.  Serving with the 28th Infantry Division, the oldest division-sized unit in the Armed Forces of the United States and nicknamed the "Bloody Bucket" division by the Germans due to its red insignia, PFC O’Boyle saw action in the Normandy, Northern France and Rhineland campaigns.  On 13 September 1944, the 28th Infantry Division opened an assault on the Siegfried Line, the main German defensive network protecting the western front of Germany.  On 15 September 1944, at the Siegfried Line, PFC O’Boyle was wounded in battle receiving gunshot wounds to both legs.  PFC O’Boyle’s days as a Rifleman were over.  Returned to England for medical care, PFC O’Boyle was eventually separated from the US Army on 6 Dec 1945.  His military awards and decorations include the Combat Infantry Badge with Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the WWII Victory Medal, the American Theater Service Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Theater Service Ribbon and the Overseas Service Bar.

Two documentaries of John O’Boyle are available for viewing:

French Legion of Honor award to John O'Boyle

John O'Boyle World War 2 Veteran

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A service summary is not available
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