Family and friends lay to rest the oldest Marine in Colorado | TheFencePost.com

Family and friends lay to rest the oldest Marine in Colorado

Tommy Simmons
For The Greeley Tribune

For a moment on March 28, the sharp crack of gunfire in Sunset Memorial Gardens drowned out the rumble of traffic from nearby U.S. 34 and the frigid, biting wind.

The seven soldiers facing the hardwood coffin and the fellows holding the United States flag aloft in the breeze waited a moment and then fired another round as the crowd of black-clad mourners watched.

It was the 21 Gun Salute in honor of Ralph Boehner, who until his death March 19 was the oldest living Marine in Colorado. Boehner was 100 years old when he died, and was two days shy of his 101st birthday. His funeral service took place at the First United Methodist Church in Greeley, but his interment took the mourners here, to what became Boehner's final resting place.

It was a distinguished end to a life both quiet and remarkable.

Boehner was born March 21, 1917, in Kansas and grew up on a farm there. From the time Boehner was 6, his parents recruited him to help plow the earth on the family farm, said Dick Boehner, his son. He credits that hardworking farming background in part for his father's longevity.

"They all worked so hard when they were young," Dick said. "They had to stay in shape. You got up early, and you were working hard early."

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That work ethic served Boehner well in the U.S. Marine Corps, which he joined May 9, 1942. He taught vocational agriculture for a year in Ford, Kan., before that, but the United States' entry into World War II spurred his enlistment. His commitment to his country was a major theme of his life, Dick said.

"He was in love with the country," Boehner's son said. "He believed in the country extraordinarily."

Boehner shipped out of Oakland for the Pacific Theater with 2,000 Marines. He served actively until the mid-1940s, Dick said, but remained in the reserves for more than 10 years.

After the war, Boehner married Harriet Richardson, his college sweetheart. He managed grain elevators in Colorado and Kansas for years before he bought one in 1954 in Keenesburg and put down roots in Weld County. His wife taught at Weld Central High School while he managed the Boehner Mill and Elevator.

His discharge from the U.S. Marine Corps came in 1958. After that, he focused on his family and church, where he taught Sunday school. He ensured his children always attended, Dick said with a laugh.

"He was a German first and a Marine second," Dick said.

Yet Dick said he learned a great deal from his father about integrity and hard work. His family respected his commitment to those values, but other people did, too. Dick met some of them at his father's funeral in Greeley, where he retired with his wife in 1982.

"Dad really had a following; he was just a unique guy," he said. "I heard hundreds of stories this afternoon I'd never heard before."

Those stories were told by the time a soldier knelt next to Dick in the windswept cemetery and offered him the American flag, folded into a triangle, that enshrouded Ralph's coffin. There were tears in Dick's eyes as he stood after the ceremony and carried the flag with him. He's still proud of his father's legacy.

"Everyone in our family felt proud to be a part of his family," he said. ❖

About Ralph Boehner

» Born: March 21, 1917, Cawker City, Kan.

» Date he joined the U.S. Marine Corps: May 9, 1942.

» Date he was discharged: Dec. 9, 1958.

» Married: June 14, 1946, to Harriet Richardson.

» Hometowns in Colorado: Keenesburg, then Greeley after retirement.

» Died: Mach 19, 2018.