Frank Boehm, dead at 96, cop survived 2 WWII battles, robber’s bullet
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The wet, freezing weather was only the beginning of misery for Frank Boehm, who served in two of the most brutal clashes of World War II — the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of Hurtgen Forest.
As an army corporal, he laid communication lines as trees lit up by artillery fire exploded around him.
“He’s crawling on his belly, and if he had to use a dead soldier to anchor the line, they had to do what they had to do,” said his son-in-law Joe Gebhart. “He saw guys lift their heads up and get their heads shot off.”
As Mr. Boehm explained in a Veterans History Project interview, “Every hedgehole was a battle.”
Thanks to an extra pair of socks sent by his mother, he was able to keep his feet warm and dry — sometimes. That might have saved him from the trenchfoot that sloughed off the skin on other soldiers’ feet.
“He would be outside for weeks and wouldn’t be able to get warm,” said his sister Betty Chrastka.
When he returned to Chicago after the war and joined the Chicago Police Department, the horrors he’d seen receded. Until 1968.
At 47, while directing traffic in the Loop, Mr. Boehm was shot by a robber fleeing a store he’d held up. The bullet punctured a lung and his liver, Gebhart said.
According to news accounts, he squeezed off a shot or two. But his family said he told them it didn’t happen that way.
“He realized there were too many people on the street, and he didn’t want to hit an innocent bystander,” Gebhart said. “So, like the good soldier he was, he put his gun in his holster, laid down on the sidewalk and put a hand on the hole in his chest to stop the bleeding and waited for help.
“He died twice on the [operating] table,” but was revived, according to Gebhart, who said doctors had to remove two ribs and that he wound up with hepatitis from the blood he received.
Mr. Boehm recovered and lived to be 96, dying Oct. 7 at MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn.
After he was shot, his wife and son Jim, then 9, visited him at the hospital, but kids weren’t allowed beyond hospital lobbies in those days. One day, though, the lobby elevator opened, Jim Boehm said, and his mom emerged, smiling. Alongside her “was my dad with an IV. He wanted to surprise me. I just remember running to him.”
In his youth, Mr. Boehm and his Austria-born parents lived in an Austro-American enclave near 39th and Wentworth — “the kind of place where you would start out to go to the store that was three blocks away, and it would take you two hours because there were so many people you knew,” his sister said.
Young Frank was close to his grandfather, Mathias Kovacs. “When he would go to the neighborhood tavern, he’d take Frank with. Frank was his buddy,” his sister said.
He went to grade school at St. George’s, where Monsignor Bernard Springmeier was a safety net for many during the Great Depression. His father, also named Frank, was out of work for a long time. When they went to confession, “Father Springmeier recognized his voice and asked him if they had enough coal” to heat the house, said Mr. Boehm’s sister.
Mr. Boehm graduated from Tilden Tech High School. Before he was drafted, he liked to play baseball at Fuller Park and see movies at the old Emmett Theater at 43rd and Wentworth.
Good-humored and independent, he liked being a traffic cop.
“He was always worried about being partnered with someone who was on the take,” his sister said. “Frank had a very strong moral, ethical center, and he wanted no part of anything unfavorable because of who he associated with.”
It took more than nine months to recover from the shooting. When he did, he joined the major accidents unit.
He was married for 44 years to the former Nancy Malloy, who died in 1990. They’d met at a park where he played baseball and her brother coached. They were so close that “when you saw one, you saw the other,” said their son.
Mr. Boehm is also survived by his daughter Rosemary Gebhart, brother Otto, and three grandchildren. Two sons died before him, Frank and the Rev. Michael Boehm. Services have been held.
After his father’s sacrifices, his son said he felt hurt in the 1960s when some other kids denigrated Mr. Boehm for being a cop. “ ‘Oh, he’s a pig,’ ” they told Jim Boehm. “And I thought, you have no idea what you’re talking about.”