As a twenty- year old staff sergeant, Gerry Boe from Cross Lake, Minnesota was one of the last American G.I.’s to ever place his hands on the lifeless body of Nazi Field Marshall Herman Goering. Born in Pequot Lakes in 1926 and now a resident of Crosslake, Minnesota, the now eighty-seven old Mr. Boe is understandably proud of his service to our nation during the Second World War. A collector of classic automobiles in pristine condition, Mr. Boe also carefully maintains documents, photographs, and artifacts – including an iconic “Eisenhower jacket” bearing the Big Red One of the 1st Infantry Division - from his tenure as a guard at the first Nuremberg War Crimes trial from 1945 – 1946. Charged with maintaining security as the architects of the “Final Solution” – the planned annihilation of six-million European Jews – faced some measure of justice at Nuremberg, Mr. Boe would have literally had a front-row seat to history had he not been standing guard at the back of the courtroom.
Mr. Boe appears in pictures from the trial standing mere feet away from the war criminal defendants. (Mr. Boe has a prize artifact from the trial: the front page of the November 3, 1946, Minneapolis Sunday Tribune with a color photograph of the courtroom scene which he keeps under a laminated cover. The caption to the newspaper picture asserts the photographer – Peyton Stallings of the University of Minnesota – took the only color pictures of the trial. Mr. Boe is present in the picture.)
With great energy belying his age, Mr. Boe still enthusiastically travels throughout Minnesota sharing his story of what he witnessed at Nuremberg and before that as a soldier in the Second World War. Speaking often alongside Nuremberg clerk-stenographer, Larry Tillemans, Mr. Boe ensures that the lessons of the Holocaust are not lost on those who did not personally witness the horrors of the Third Reich. If you are fortunate enough to attend one of Mr. Boe’s lectures, please be sure to ask him about the time convicted Nazi war criminal Goering began to address the court without permission after his death sentence had been pronounced. Struck by his insolence, Mr. Boe immediately took his nightstick and authoritatively told Goering to “sit down.” Please ask him as well about Goering’s suicide in his Nuremberg cell on October 15, 1946, shortly before his scheduled October 16th execution. While Mr. Boe has no particular insight into how Goering managed to escape the hangman’s noose, he along with fellow Minnesotan, Douglas Saxfold, were ordered to drag Goering’s body from his cell. Accordingly, after conspiring to murder millions, Goering met his ignominious end at the hands of two Minnesotans.
As we honor Gerry Boe and Larry Tillemans today, we also recall proudly the service of Sidney Kaplan and Justice William Christianson who respectively served as the attorney who drafted the initial indictment at Nuremberg and as a judge at one of the subsequent Nuremberg War Trials. Collectively, these veterans embodied the best of a generation of Minnesotans who were credited by the WPA’s American Guide Series as representing the “exuberance of youth” in one of the “most rapidly developing states in the Union.” Whether it was defeating Hitler or forging striking innovations in energy, technology, and farming, they built a world which was not only safer for democracy, but more prosperous as well.
Finally, it is worth noting that for years, Mr. Boe did not speak of his experience during the Nuremberg war crimes trial. Like so many other World War II veterans that he knew, Gerry Boe simply wanted to move ahead with his life upon discharge from the service. Older now and with perhaps greater perspective, Mr. Boe has grown more introspective. Pondering the many photographs which he brings with him on his many speaking engagements, Mr. Boe called our attention to a picture of the iconic Iwo Jima Memorial which is especially meaningful to him. In it, Gerry Boe sees the extra hands represented in the sculpture reaching out for the American flag as the hands of God reaching out to our flag and our nation. On this Veterans’ Day may God be with Gerry Boe, Larry Tillemans and all those who have served our nation so faithfully so that we may be free and at peace.
The Iwo Jima memorial is meaningful to Mr. Boe. He sees the extra hands represented in the sculpture reaching out for the American flag as the hands of God reaching out to the flag and nation.