MASON CITY - - While his classmates were playing ball, dating and going to Prom their senior year of high school, Harry Ray Boyles was half a world away - jumping out of airplanes with a gun, and fighting to preserve the freedom of a nation.
He was barely 18-years-old, drafted into the Army while in his final year at Ansley High School. He was inducted Oct. 25, 1944, at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. Harry completed basic training at Camp Hood, Texas. Life had dealt young Harry blows before, but nothing could have prepared him for what was to come.
Harry was born on the Eatinger Ranch April 1, 1926, halfway between Thedford and Valentine, where his father worked. When Harry was just 2-years-old, his father took a job on the Thompson Ranch east of Thedford. Shortly after the move his mom got sick with blood poisoning and died. His father, also Harry, was left to raise little Harry Ray and his 1-year-old sister alone.
In 1938, the family moved south of Ansley on the Frank Rohde place; Harry Ray and his sister, Bertie, went to school at Tufford School near Mason City, before transferring to Ansley to attend high school. Harry Ray says Bertie was both a sister and mother to him growing up.
He was a good athlete, and liked to ride bucking broncs. He competed a little in some local rodeos, "but I wasn't as good as the big boys," he quips.
With basic training under his belt, Harry was going home for a short leave. He was waiting at the station to board the train, bound for Nebraska, when he was pulled aside and told he was heading to Fort Benning, Ga., instead - for paratroop training. He had volunteered for paratroops, but was not expecting this.
For the next six weeks, Harry endured what he calls "one of the toughest training programs the Army had."
"We would get up about 3 a.m., put on our combat boots and go down to the beach and run in the sand. We'd come back in about 5, eat our oatmeal, then go out and do calisthenics."
After his parachutist training was complete, Harry got a 15-day leave to come home. "I spent 7 days at home, and 8 days on the road," he now laughs.
After the 15 days, it was back to Georgia, then to Fort Ord, Calif. on his way overseas. First stop - the Philippines.
Harry had received his marksman MI Rifle badge Dec. 15, 1944, and his parachutist's badge in March 1945. He is not real sure how long he was in the Philippines, Luzon to be exact, before heading to Okinawa.
"We didn't really keep track of time," he says. "It didn't mean much."
Harry had been assigned to the 11th Airborne Division, 511th Regiment, and was part of the forces in the taking of Okinawa. Much of the details of the campaigns Harry prefers not to share.
"I have spent a lot of years trying to forget," he says softly.
He does recall the many long nights in the Philippines without a bed to sleep on. "Each man only had half a tent, so if you couldn't get with someone you couldn't have a tent."
"I prayed to the good Lord a lot of times to let me live long enough to get to sleep in a nice warm bed. And he did."
Harry says it rained just about every night on Luzon. "We would dig a foxhole to sleep in, but it would always get muddy before the night was over. I don't know how we made it through that."
Harry recalls sitting on the beach at Okinawa when the atomic bomb was dropped.
"If it had not been for the atomic bomb, I doubt I would be here."
Harry was discharged Nov. 20, 1946, at Camp Beale, Calif. While in service, he had earned the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, Philippine Liberation Ribbon, one Bronze Star, Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal, and the Army of Occupation Medal. He was discharged with the rank of Sergeant.
Harry returned to his father's farm and worked with him, until the Army called him back during the Korean War in August 1951. Initially he was to go to Ft. Lewis, Wash., but he says that kept changing. In fact, no one seemed to be able to make up their mind just where - or when - he was supposed to go, and it was Jan. 6, 1951, before he was finally assigned to Ft. Custer, Mich. There he was assigned to the 5460 ASU Reception Center.
"Our job was to greet the new soldiers coming in," Harry explains. "We gave them their book work and things like that."
Harry says he was extremely relieved he did not have to go into battle this time.
In June 1951, Harry came home on leave to help his dad hay. By this time he had a love interest as well.
"We tried to hay, but it just kept raining. So we decided to get married," Harry laughs. It was June 24, 1951.
Harry was honorably discharged Sept. 21, 1951. Upon returning to Nebraska, he and Gretchen made their home in the Mason City area where they lived the rest of their married lives. The couple raised six children - four boys and two girls - while farming and raising cattle. Son, Jim, lives on the farm and continues to take care of the cattle. Harry lost his beloved Gretchen this past January.
The two years Harry spent as a paratrooper in World War II are visibly difficult for him to talk about.
"I'm not sorry I went in though," he says. "We helped secure the freedom for you - and me - and the rest of our people. In fact, it was an honor! Our freedom is something we sure don't want to lose."