Rodney Boyles missed World War II but still managed to experience a bit of important history.
He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1946 at age 18 and served for a little over a year.
The Sullivan County native guarded prisoners in Germany, including such notorious Nazi war criminals as Rudolf Hess and Hermann Goring.
“We had to watch prisoners 24 hours a day in Nuremberg,” he said.
Germany had been defeated by the U.S. and its Allies, and a new world order was being established.
Boyles was one of a number of soldiers guarding the prisoners at the Palace of Justice.
The building, which included the prison complex, was the location of the Nuremberg trials from 1945 to 1949 for the main surviving German war criminals, including Hess and Goring.
Hess was appointed by German Chancellor Adolph Hitler as deputy of the Nazi Party in 1939. He was convicted at the Nuremberg Trials and sentenced to life in prison but later committed suicide.
Goring, a leader of the Nazi Party, played a prominent role in organizing the Nazi police state in Germany and established concentration camps. Indicted by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1946, Goring was condemned to hang as a war criminal but took cyanide the night he was to be executed.
Boyles seems to have no clear memory of Hess and Goring, although he was certainly aware of them in his midst.
Boyles, 90, who reached the
rank of private first class, is proud of the small role he played in bringing justice to the world.
He spent much of the rest of his service time with the motor pool, driving officers.
He grew up in the Great Depression in the tiny village of Hillsgrove. After dropping out of school in the eighth grade, he went to work in the lumber yard of International Furniture in Montoursville.
It seemed to be a good fit for Boyles, who from a young age enjoyed working with wood.
He was too young to enlist for military service in December 1941 when the U.S. became involved in World War II with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Boyles said he was unable to serve in the war later because of medical problems tied to his childhood.
“I was 4F,” he said. “I had a mastoid operation when I was 9.”
By 1946, World War II was over. Still, Boyles received a draft notice to report for military service.
Boyles had just been married the previous year to the former Ruth Loudenslager. The couple would raise five children.
“Basic training” he remembered was “rifle training and 20-mile hikes.”
After basic training in New Jersey, Boyles did some stateside duty before heading to Europe. He was in Germany for a year guarding the prisoners.
“You were on guard duty for two hours, then you were off for four,” he recalled.
He said there was nothing in particular that really stays with him from those days of more than 70 years ago.
Of his time in the service, he said, “Well, I was drafted and made the best of it.”
He said it was a matter of carrying out orders and doing what he was told to do.
“I got discharged on July 4, 1947,” he said.
He came home and returned to his former employment at International Furniture. He worked in the cabinet room, loaded trucks and carried out other duties.
“I was always busy,” he said.
He stayed on with the company until 1989.
Over the years, he kept in touch with some of the men he served with in the Army.
Now a widower, he’s made his home in Warrensville for many years where he has spent his retirement hunting and woodworking. Up until recently, he did a lot of gardening too.
“I’ll be 91 in November,” he said.
Looking back on his military days, he said, “One thing about the service, you can’t get that experience any place else.”