Lieutenant Wayne T. Boles Remembered
Wed, 01/27/2021 - 12:22pm admin
One hundred years ago this week, the Thursday, January 27, 1921, edition of the West Plains Journal-Gazette newspaper, on its front page and leading column, reported the: "Largest Funeral in West Plains. One Thousand People Witness Soldier Heroes' Burial." The headline also announced, "Business Houses Close To Honor Lieutenant Wayne T. Boles, Who Died in France."
The West Plains American Legion Post 23 was named in honor of Wayne Thomas Boles, born in West Plains on May 3, 1894. Wayne was the grandson of Daniel Boles of whom I have written previously. The Boles family, early pioneers, arrived in the Ozarks and Willow Springs community as part of a wagon train of several families arriving in 1872. From this group emerged many of our past community leaders.
As an adult, Wayne's father, Thomas David Boles, moved from Willow Springs to the West Plains area and remained there all his life. In the early 1900s, "Tom" served as Howell County Coroner. He encouraged his sons to join the local Howell County Militia, as he had done when the local company was organized as Company K, later designated as Company D of the Missouri State Guard. Tom Boles rose to Sergeant's rank and recruiting officer and served the guard all his life. After he was too old to join in the soldier's deployments, he served as a cook for the company until they were sent to the Mexican border in 1916. In addition to the county coroner, Tom also served for several years as West Plains City Marshal and finally late in life as janitor of the Howell County Courthouse.
To a degree, the family's history answers a question I had about why this particular man, of the hundreds who served in the First World War, was so honored. Thirty-four of our county's young men perished in the war in combat or as the result of disease.
The Journal-Gazette continued, "The largest funeral ever held in West Plains was that of Lieutenant Wayne T. Boles last Friday. More than 1,000 persons were at Oak Lawn Cemetery where the remains were consigned to their last resting place."
"For a week after the arrival of the body in this city from Beaune, France, where Lieutenant Boles died of pneumonia, the remains reposed in a casket, wrapped in an American flag, at the home of the hero on Maple Avenue. In the little home, he had furnished before he went overseas and to which he had expected to return and spend a happy life with his devoted wife."
It was a tragic story of a life cut short. Lieutenant Boles was secretly married a couple of years before his death to Miss Cora Wyatt of West Plains, daughter of prominent citizen Kirk Wyatt. When Wayne started to build a new cottage in the Cady Addition of West Plains, the couple's secret marriage leaked out. Wayne had been working for the Buck Grocery at the time. He had just taken a job with the Langston Mercantile Company in West Plains before his Guard Company was nationalized in 1917 and deployed to the Mexican border in response to a rebellion led by Pancho Villa encroaching into towns in the United States. Lieutenant Boles had little time to enjoy married life.
The Journal-Gazette also reported, "Every business house in West Plains closed for the funeral. Flags at half-mast were displayed all over the city. The streets were lined with people anxious to get a glimpse of the casket as the hearse took the body to the First Methodist Church, where Reverend W.T. Farley preached the funeral sermon and paid the highest tribute to the dead hero. Long before the hour set for the services, the church was crowded, many persons being unable to gain admittance."
"Reverend Howard Peters, pastor of the Christian Church, acted as chaplain for the American Legion and offered prayer. A beautiful prayer also was offered by Reverend J.B. Cash, pastor of the First Baptist Church. A quartette composed of Lieutenant Charles Bohrer, J.E. Hull, Roy Hill, and Leo Parks rendered special music."
"Major A.H. Thornburgh, who served in Company D for several years with Lieutenant Boles, paid a glowing tribute to the good character of the West Plains boy who made the supreme sacrifice. He said: 'I knew him most intimately. He was a good boy, a good citizen, and a good soldier. His superior officers loved him for he was a good officer and those who served under him respected him because he was a real man.'"
"The band headed the procession to Oak Lawn Cemetery, followed by the American Legion color bearers and color guards. Next came the firing squad of eight men, heroes of the World War in full dress uniform led by Captain Mark Springer, the members of Company D, Second Regiment N.G.M. (National Guard Missouri), members of the Boy Scouts, and the funeral car, accompanied by the pallbearers: Captain Elmer R. Axon, Lieutenant Bob Mullins, Lieutenant Dean W. Davis, Lieutenant R.M. Sarde, Lieutenant Howard Fisher, and Lieutenant Jack Diggs."
"At the grave, the Chaplain read the military burial ceremony, and as the casket was lowered into the grave, the firing squad fired three salutes, and Bugler Harold Livingston, formerly of Company D, sounded taps."
"Lieutenant Wayne T. Boles was one of the most popular young men in West Plains. He served with Company D on the Mexican border. He went to France with the company and was first lieutenant in command. In the Argonne offensive, where the American boys won the day, Lieutenant Boles became ill. He was sent to the base hospital at Beaune, France, just back of the lines, where he developed pneumonia and died October 19, 1918. He was buried in his blanket in a cemetery near the hospital, and the remains were brought back to America last month."
"Captain Springer had great confidence in Lieutenant Boles, having served for years with him in Company D. 'Boles was a fine officer,' Captain Springer said of him. 'Whenever I wanted anything done right and properly, I looked for Boles. In the times, when everything was so exacting, and punctuality and strict discipline meant so much, Boles was the man upon whom I could depend."
Another newspaper article said of Boles, "He was a favorite of all his friends. When only a boy, he joined Company D, of which his father was one of the original members. Three of his brothers also have belonged to the organization. He rose from the ranks, filled the Corporal position, Sergeant, and finally became First Lieutenant. (Note: Their fellow soldiers elected officers.) Lieutenant Boles served with Company D on the Mexican border in 1916. He was known as a fine officer and saved his pay. He had no bad habits, did not drink nor gamble, and was devoted to his men and his duties."
Boles was transitioned from the Missouri National Guard to federal service on August 5, 1917. The Howell County Honor Roll states, "He served at Camp Doniphan and in the Allied Expeditionary Force with Company D, 130th Machine Gun Battalion, 35th Division. He was promoted to the rank of Second Lieutenant, National Guard Missouri June 1916, and to First Lieutenant National Guard Missouri June 4, 1917. Lieutenant Boles was held in reserve at St. Mihiel on September 12, 1918, and went over the top to the Argonne Woods, September 26, 1918. He died of pneumonia at Base Hospital 47, Beaune, France, on October 19, 1918."
Wayne's wife Cora did not remarry and continued to live in West Plains until she died in 1970.
The West Plains Post of the American Legion is still named in honor of Wayne T. Boles. Soon after the war, West Plains had a city-wide celebration of their boy's return from the war. As the bodies of the men killed overseas began to return over two years later, it was essential to recognize that fact. It is likely Boles contracted what was then known as the Spanish Influenza, leading to pneumonia that killed him. West Plains had its last cases of same influenza late in 1920. In January 1921, with the war and influenza outbreak finally over, I think it was cathartic to have an outpouring of this kind and recognize what the community had lost. I'm familiar with our area American Legion posts but was unaware of Wayne Thomas Boles and his family's sacrifice. I'm thankful for the National Guard's continued presence in Howell County and their strong legacy in the past here.