GAINESVILLE, Ga. - On any given day, you could find Cecil England Boswell sharing a laugh or one of his many war stories at the Big Bear Cafe in Gainesville. Patrons who would normally look forward to seeing him daily for breakfast and lunch, but now are feeling his loss.
“I looked for him to come in all day, I was just so used to it,” Big Bear Cafe Owner Chad Vaughan said.
Months away from his 100th birthday, he was still driving around in his Chevy pickup truck, trimming lawns for several residents, and doing his own maintenance. Every Memorial Day, he would put on the same Army uniform he wore when he was honorably discharged from his service with the 4th Division, 22nd Infantry and walk the full two miles, leading the parade.
“It just seemed liked he’d live forever. He drove every day, he was still cutting grass,” Vaughan said.
He didn’t just act young. Boswell would walk about with a WWII Veteran of 4th Division cap on except for when he attended church or a formal function. Often he would be mistaken for someone else.
“He had a full head of hair,” said Vaughan. “It made him look much younger.”
As war was breaking out, Boswell tried to enlist in the Army, but had initially been rejected due to his height. Boswell would often tell the story about how he went home and tried everything to become just a little bit taller. On his third try, he was able to enlist and was assigned to be the cook.
“We had a waitress, who was about 5’1” give him a hug, and he probably shrunk a little over the years, but he must have been 4’9” at the time, but acted like he was 10-feet tall,” said Vaughn.
Boswell was about 25 when he rode on to the beaches of France in the second wave of the D-Day invasion. During his 11 months in Europe, he would earn five battle ribbons which he proudly displayed at his home, but his stories were on display every day at the local railroad cafe.
One of those stories was about Archie the Rooster. Boswell would talk about the fowl which followed him through Europe only to succumb to the cold. He was okay talking about Archie’s death, but would often stop his stories mid-sentence during other stories when he realized the man he was talking about did not make it out of Europe alive.
The tech sergeant had his own brushes with death, a few close calls and a mishap with a stove that landed him in the infirmary for about nine days.
When the war was over, he returned to Georgia and married Bonnie Mae Dean. The two remained married until her death in 1993.
Born October 22, 1917 in Jackson County, the Boswell family moved to Gainesville when he was 12 and except for the occasional trip, especially to see the Atlanta Braves, he remained. He was a member of the Montgomery Memorial Baptist Church. By all accounts, he never drank or smoke and lived on the same street for about 75 years.
“He was a shining member of the community,” said Vaughan.
Next door, up until 10 years ago, was his younger brother, who had been a local pastor in the community.
Boswell was recovering from an illness when he passed away quietly on Sunday. He is survived by his daughter, Rachel Worthington, of Atlanta, and a few cousins, nephews and nieces.
His daughter remembers him as “a different man” who was “very big hearted.”
“We’re trying not to be sad because he had such a wonderful life,” said Vaughn.
When asked how he lived so long, Boswell would not always respond the same. But two of the favorites were “because I didn’t die” and “because I minded my own business.”
Funeral services will be held 2 p.m. Thursday at the Montgomery Memorial Baptist Church in Gainesville.