Life Stories

LIFE STORIES: A lifetime of work, sacrifice and service

Dennis Boden poses for a photo at the American Legion in his regular bar seat on Friday, Mar. 10, 2017. Boden served as a Marine before joining the Quincy Police Department until he retired. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 20, 2017 8:50 am Updated: Mar. 20, 2017 9:02 am

QUINCY -- Dennis Boden has served his country as a soldier, his community as a police officer and his family by adopting an orphaned relative.

Boden always has been a worker. While attending St. Rose School, he would shovel snow with friends over the lunch break, bringing in $5 each for their troubles. In high school, he lied about his age to get a job at Monogram Industries at 16. He continued his education while working immediately after school until midnight each night.

"I was making a man's wages at 16 years old," he said. "I got fired down there when they found out I was only 16 (when he started). I made it a little over two years."

He worked at a series of gas stations as an attendant, pumping gas.

"I worked with a couple of school buddies (at a gas station)," he said. "When there was nothing else going on, we would bring our own cars there and work on them. We had a good time there."

At 18, Boden won the lottery -- sort of. The Vietnam War was raging, and the draft in full swing.

"My draft number was seven, so I knew I was going anyway," he said. "I took the attitude that time that they're not going to tell me I have to go into the service. I'm going to make my own decision. I decided I was going to have a little say-so in my career."

At 19, just before Christmas 1969, he pre-emptively enlisted in the Marine Corps for two years. The induction ceremony in St. Louis was at 12th and Spruce streets, the same as where he lived in Quincy.

"... and I was wrong about having anything to say about my career. They pretty well said it for me," he said.

He went to basic training in San Diego at Camp Pendleton.

"Any time you screwed up, you went to the pits. The pits were right outside the barracks, and when you did something wrong, you had to get into them," he said. "That's where you did your pushups and your mountain climbers. Anything and everything."

Boden would be trained as a cook and sent to Danang, Vietnam.

"They didn't need cooks, but they needed a baker. I went on the midnight shift. I'd work two or three hours in the mess hall," he said. "I'd go in there about 5 or 6 o'clock in the evening, and the guys would come over. We would sit there and play poker until 10:30 or 11 o'clock. They would go to their billet at night, and I'd start my work."

During the day, he would often take up guard duty shifts or run supplies and rations to others in the field.

"We went out on those runs mostly just to get out. When I had an opportunity to hop a chopper and go out on a mail call, I would do that. The first thing I thought was kind of strange was when we got on that helicopter, these guys were taking their flack jackets off and sitting on them," he said. "A guy told me, when they're shooting from the ground, that's the part that's most susceptible. I did the same.

"I really think I was cut out to be military. My father was in the service during the end of World War II and Korea. He reached the rank of master sergeant, and then became the warrant officer. I went in second generation. I went into the Marine Corps, and when I got out two years later, I was a corporal."

He then joined the Illinois National Guard, ultimately reaching the rank of staff sergeant. He became an OCS platoon trainer and T.A.C. officer, tasked with training other officers.

"I knew what they'd already been through, so I cut them some slack. There was some empathy there," he said. "Drill sergeants were always the ones you looked up to the most. They're on top of the food chain. Having the opportunity to be one of them was just overwhelming at the time."

After leaving the Marine Corps in 1971, he attempted to parlay his training into a career in law enforcement, but he would face a number of hurdles.

"I (nearly) starved for a year, picking up anything I could," he said. "I really didn't feel too bad about it. My wife was working, and I was working all I could. I've always done something. If my family needed it, I've tried to do everything I could to provide for them. We weren't rich by any means, but we'd make enough to get by."

While waiting to become an officer, he had worked at Knapheide, sold insurance, returned to working at a gas station and mowed lawns to make ends meet. He joined the Quincy Police Department in 1981.

Being an officer in his hometown, he said, was often a benefit.

"If somebody had a problem, they would call me and ask me my opinion on it. I felt kind of proud of the fact they thought enough of me to ask my opinion," he said.

He didn't let relationships interfere with doing the job, though.

"I hold the record at the Quincy Police Department for the most DUIs in one month. We had 52 DUIs in the month of November, when I was on the midnight shift," he said. "Out of those 52, I wrote 26 of them. But that particular month they had a program going through, so any time I worked that month, I was on DUI patrol."

After six years on the force, he was struck by a car while directing traffic during a storm at Eighth and Broadway. The injury put him on disability status for almost four years before he was able to return.

"The traffic lights got hit and knocked out. I'm standing out there with my patrol car and the lights flashing. I'm in the intersection with a bright orange raincoat, but I still got hit," he said. "It was a hit and run. It popped my knee, and I had some pains in my back over that, too, so they put me off."

The driver who hit Boden was never caught. Boden returned to the department in 1989 and became a juvenile officer and investigator.

"(When) policing, you're a social worker -- whether you want to take that title or not. Due to my position as juvenile officer, whenever they had a sex abuse call or a rape, if it was somebody under 18, I was the person who went out there," he said. "A lot of the (negativity) I did take home. I didn't talk about anything confidential or secret, but I did talk to my wife about some of the things I could. She was my vent. You have to have somewhere to put the air out. When I'd talk to her about a problem, I knew it wasn't going any further.

"My wife told me once, ‘In your lifetime, there's only been three things you've ever stuck with. Me being the first, and I thank you very much for that, but you've always stuck with your work and the military.'"

He retired in 1997. He and his wife, Linda, have been married 46 years. They have two children and adopted a third.

"My sister-in-law was involved in an accident in Rock Island. It was her, her husband and their four children. There was a 14-year-old boy, 13-year-old girl, a 5-year-old girl and a 4-year-old girl. The 5-year-old girl was killed in the accident along with her parents.

"We were going to take all three kids. Before they got out of the hospital, the father from the first marriage filed suit and got custody of the (older two siblings). We got permanent custody of the youngest one. We figured the only thing we could do was adopt her. She's been ours ever since. She is in her 30s now."

Every Monday, Staff Writer Matt Dutton will bring you a story detailing the life of a local resident.

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