Bill Kiesinger, now 75, remembers the certificate framed on the wall in a family home when he was a kid.
“I always thought the lady was my aunt and the soldier was my grandfather.”
Well, not exactly. The certificate — given to Kiesinger’s grandfather, David Boone, by the U.S. Army in lieu of a Purple Heart medal — depicts a World War I soldier in uniform kneeling before a woman in a flowing white gown as, akin to a knighting scene, she rests a sword blade on his shoulder.
Above the scene are these words: “Columbia Gives to Her Son the Accolade of the New Chivalry of Humanity.”
Below the scene and above the printed signature of President Woodrow Wilson are these words, “David Boone served with honor in The World War and was wounded.”
David Boone’s son, John “Chick” Boone, 91, remembers seeing the certificate, too, and being aware his father had been wounded and gassed in World War I. But his military records and discharge did not show he had been gassed. The certificate was the only proof.
After David’s wife, Katherine, died from complications of childbirth in her eighth pregnancy in 1931, David, who was a car knocker for the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad, had to break up the family. The younger three children, including 4-year-old Chick, went to live with Katherine’s sister, Mary Exter and her husband and their six kids, and their maternal grandmother in Moosic. The older three stayed with their father in Avoca.
When he was 11, Chick went to live with his father, who over the years moved four times. In the turmoil, the certificate went missing. But it never went missing from Chick’s mind.
Three years ago, the certificate was found.
“It ended up in my son’s house somehow,” Kiesinger said. “And he found it when he was moving out. I took it right over to Chick.”
Armed with the certificate, Chick pursued a Purple Heart medal for his father.
“I saw a newspaper story about a guy who helps get Purple Hearts. I went to see a presentation in Dunmore. That started me on my quest.”
The quest will end Saturday, Aug. 18, when U.S. Congressman Matt Cartwright will present the medal to Chick and the rest of the family at Kiesinger’s Funeral Home on McAlpine Street in Duryea. Kiesinger and Boone credit Cartwright’s aide, Bob Morgan, with helping the family receive the medal.
“He put the wheels in motion,” Kiesinger said.
The day of the presentation is the 100th anniversary of the day Cpl. David Boone was poisoned by mustard gas from a German shell in an exchange of artillery fire with the 109th Artillery Battery near Champagne, France.
Chick Boone was 29 when his father died in 1956 of complications of mustard gas poisoning, which surfaced decades after he was gassed. As best Chick can recall, his father seemed healthy when he came home. He got married, had seven kids, and walked to work every day at the Erie Yards in Duryea.
“The effects came on gradually,” Chick said. “By the late 1940s, he looked like he had severe sunburn. His skin was red and peeling. He lost his eyebrows and eyelashes.”
In 1948, the Erie doctors said he could no longer work and he was put on disability.
Chick enlisted in the Navy at age 17, during World War II. He served on ammunition ship in the North Atlantic, suppling ships for the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
He and his wife, Carol, live in Avoca. Their 58th wedding anniversary is in September. They raised five kids, four boys, all of whom served in the Gulf War, three with the Navy and one with the Air Force.
Chick went to college on the G.I. Bill and got a degree in accounting. He spent most of his working life as manager of the Parodi Cigar plant in Moosic, retiring in 1992.
How will he feel when he finally gets his father’s Purple Heart on Aug. 18?
“Well, like I found the Holy Grail,” he said.