By: John Cuddy – 05-23
Despite the fact that I arrived with a two-pound box of Tripoli’s cookies, ninety-nine-year-old US Army Veteran Salisbury’s Robert “Boots” Chouniard, spent a good part of our time together, on his rowing machine, vigorously working out. He walks a mile a day, rows, lifts weights, and travels worldwide.
Boots spends part of each winter in Florida. In March of 2022, he spent six days with the New England Wounded Veterans visiting Amsterdam, Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany and on June 6, 2022 he re-visited Normandy and attended the 78th Anniversary of D-Day events in Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France with his daughter Mary Ann. Robert also participated in an “Honor Flight” to the World War II Memorial in 2022, spending four days in our Nation’s capital with his brother Veterans.
While attending Newburyport High School during the war, Boots and his friends, would go to school all day, then work second shift in the machine shop of Lawson Machine & Tool in Malden, Massachusetts. Lawson Machine was a Defense plant manufacturing aircraft parts vital to the war. Boots said during the interview that “common sense” was more prevalent in our American education system back then. His high school principal felt that the young men’s work in the defense plant manufacturing aircraft parts was essential, and simply graduated the young men from high school. Free from attending class, Boots and his friends could focus on the war effort, either by working in a defense plant, or serving in the military.
His nickname “Boots”, dates from going to the corner store as a child, in Newburyport during foul weather with oversized rubber boots on, while doing errands for his mom. Growing up he had six sisters and a younger brother.
He shared fond memories of growing up in Newburyport, at a time when children played football, baseball, and basketball, all day in the parks, in unorganized, “sandlot” games, without adults running the play. He recalled shoveling snow in downtown Newburyport during the Depression and delivering ice to homes with “ice boxes”. Then and now, Boots loved sports. While I visited, he rowed, lifted weights, and talked about his new exercise bike that was getting delivered later that weekend.
Out of school, he attended one-year of prep school in Virginia and then he joined the US Army, and trained and formed up, with the 128th Anti-Aircraft Battalion in El Paso, Texas in June of 1943. Each of these units during World War II had four batteries of 90mm anti-aircraft artillery; two batteries of 155 mm “Long Tom” seacoast artillery; 40mm, 20mm and 50 caliber weapons designed as both anti-tank and anti-air artillery.
In addition, teams that manned and operated fire control apparatus, transport, and support units each battalion comprised about 1,300 men. Boot’s unit landed in an LST at Omaha Beach on D-Day +5, on June 11, 1944. The battalion would go on to earn five Battle Stars fighting in the European Theater during World War II.
One of the stories he told me, was going to a farmhouse looking to obtain fresh food, and meeting an American woman, living there, who was married to a German national, and provided him with fresh eggs and vegetables. Another was of a German officer wishing to surrender to the Americans, rather than the French or the Russians, with his ninety German soldiers.
The officer, wanted to surrender to an American officer equal or greater rank, but soon realized surrendering to an American of lesser rank, was far better than being captured by the French or the Russians. The Germans had occupied much of France and Russia during the war and were not as gracious as the Americans or British during surrender.
The 2014 film “Monuments Men” was about the looting of artwork and valuables by the German army in the occupied countries. Towards the end of his service in Europe, Boots guarded one of the caves containing some of the looted artwork. He and his comrades entered the cave one night, finding crates of brand-new German Air Force jackets, Boots helped himself to one. He brought it home from the war and gave it to a friend who needed a warm coat. During the war, he met General Patton in England, and was in Lidz, Austria when Germany surrendered.
Boots was a four-year starting lineman on both offense and defense for the Boston College football team and in his senior year he was invited to attend the Green Bay Packers camp but declined. He married Barbara Pow of Salisbury, Massachusetts and the couple had four sons, Robert, Dana, Daniel and Steven and a daughter, Mary Ann. Steven was killed in an automobile accident as a young man. They have nine grandchildren, many great grandchildren.
After service in the US Army, playing football for Boston College, he spent his working life as an educator. He was a swimming instructor and served as the Chief lifeguard for fifteen years at Salisbury Beach.
He now divides his time between Florida and his wife’s family home in Salisbury. Children and grandchildren live nearby and visit often. Boots will turn 100 years old in December of this year. Soldier, football player, educator, husband, father and grandfather, a member of our Greatest Generation, is truly “a Hero in our Midst”!
The Valley Patriot would like to thank the “all Lawrence” team that helped research and write this article, Michael Bourque, Ron Guilmette, and David Fabrizio.
Their assistance was invaluable.
The Dracut American Legion asks all World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War Veterans, to call (603) 518-5368 and sign up for an Honor Flight to the Memorials in Washington DC! Veterans of all eras are asked to go the American Legion’s Web site www.legion.org, and join the American Legion, our mission is working with Congress, Veterans, and the Community, preserving our Veteran’s Benefits for future generations and serving all Veterans and their families.
John Cuddy served in the US Navy’s Construction Battalions (also known as the Seabees) after retiring from the US Navy; he earned a bachelor’s in history and a master’s in economics from the University of Massachusetts on the Lowell Campus. He has been employed in Logistics at FedEx for the last 26 years. If you know a World War II, Korean War, or Vietnam War Veteran who would like their story told, please email him at John.Cuddy@Yahoo.com ◊