Greenwood Legion follows legacy of sacrifice, duty

‘You’ve got to remember what it was about so we don’t do it again.’

John William “Billie” Boltz was killed 16 days before his 26th birthday. (Photo from the Canadian Virtual War Memorial)

Memories of the Second World War are fading quickly from the Boundary. For such a small population, the region around Greenwood and Midway saw at least four soldiers trade mountains for mortars and head to Europe to fight in the Allied effort. On the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the Greenwood Legion branch only has one surviving veteran of the war.

“That was a long time ago,” said president Bob Walker.

Walker, like others repeats the refrain on remembering: “You’ve got to remember what it was about,” he said. “So we don’t do it again.”

The former navy man first signed up for service in 1967 in Victoria. From the Prairies, he was living with an uncle who persuaded him that a career of military service was a good job and good experience. But even then, just 28 years after Allied forces stormed Normandy beaches, Walker said stories of the Second World War weren’t the loudest ones to be shared.

“The Korean War was more prominent,” he said, noting it was still fresh in the minds of several of his ranking officers. “It made you feel proud,” Walker said about hearing war stories, “because of what they had done.” Like the D-Dayers, he said, “going into the teeth of the guns.”

Flight Sgt. James Edward McDonald, 26, didn’t live to see D-Day. He died when his plane was brought down along the Dutch-German border on June 2, 1942.

Greenwood lost another son two years later on Valentine’s Day, 1944, when gunner Edward William Bryan was killed in Italy.

Six months later in France, shell fragments slammed themselves into the legs of gunner Thomas Forshaw, 25. The young Boundary soldier did get to see home again, but only briefly. He died Dec. 4, 1944, and is buried in the Greenwood Cemetery with his father, Robert, and mother, Agnes. Both parents outlived their son. Robert died in 1949, and Agnes 23 years later in 1972.

With only one month left in the war, one last Greenwood soldier was killed, Private John William (Billie) Boltz. The middle son of his family, Boltz did not want to see his brothers conscripted. Instead, he enlisted so they could stay and work the family farm. He was sent into active duty on June 15, 1944, just a week after his fellow soldiers paved the way across Normandy beaches. He died securing a vital crossroads near the Dutch-German border, on April 12, 1945.

Back home today, the memory of service is carried on at the Greenwood Legion. Just as Boltz was looking out for his platoon when he captured a German truck that April, Walker and the more than 160 members of the local branch look to support their own community.

Last month, they gave $10,500 to the Penticton Hospital Foundation, because, Walker said, “We’re all of the age where we’re going to need it.”

Despite an aging membership, the president insists the future is strong. “We’re getting more of a sense of community in the past few years,” he explained. It’s partly why drew him to the Legion when he joined from Kitimat in 1998.

“Our main base has always been to be friendly. We greet people when they come in, even if they’re strangers. Give them a feeling of belonging.

“Everything’s for the community. Veterans first, but community’s a close second.”

 

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