When it comes to country and community, duty and service to both of them go hand-in-hand.
That’s always been the belief of Army Maj. Gen. Peter J. Boylan Jr. (Ret.).
It’s the belief he has held for better than three-quarters of his life. He gives of himself to make not only the country better but also the community where he lives.
Boylan, who celebrated his 85th birthday earlier this week, is a war hero. Wounded three times in enemy gun battles while fighting in Vietnam in 1966, he was also involved in an explosion that resulted in pieces of shrapnel becoming embedded into his body.
“I’m no hero,” Boylan is quick to point out. “I just did my duty and what I was supposed to do.”
He said he believes every American citizen has that same responsibility.
During his distinguished military career that spanned more than three and half decades, Boylan was also involved in combat missions in Granada and Central America.
After a delay due to the global pandemic, Boylan was recently inducted into the 2020 Class of the Georgia Military Veterans’ Hall of Fame. The honor was bestowed to him for courageous acts of bravery and inspirational leadership during his time as company commander in the 1st Infantry Division while on one of his two tours in Vietnam.
The following was read aloud about Boylan during his induction into the Georgia Military Veterans’ Hall of Fame:
“Captain Boylan’s courage while always under relenting small arms fire from enemy forces caused not only his men to courageously respond to his undaunted bravery and example, but also resulted in the defeat of numerically superior enemy forces.”
Despite his injuries in military action, he refused medical evacuation until he was ordered to do so by his battalion commander.
“The common theme found in all of his awards for valor is the way in which he constantly, selflessly and without hesitation, entered the deadly kill zone of the enemy to rescue and protect his men while always disregarding any concern for his own safety,” according to statements read during his Hall of Fame induction.
For such heroic actions, Boylan was bestowed the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Purple Heart, two Bronze Stars for Valor, and the Silver Star — the nation’s third-highest award for valor.
Inside Boylan’s office, decorated with numerous military photographs, is a picture of paratroopers jumping out of an airplane over Honduras.
He recently shared a memory from that time.
“When we parachuted into Honduras, in the very early morning — maybe 4 or 5 o’clock — we bumped right up to El Salvador,” recalled Boylan. “This was the day that El Salvador was holding its first democratic election, and Napoleon Duarte was running for president of El Salvador.”
Boylan explained that he and 299 other soldiers parachuted in and then turned on their intercept radios so they could listen to the Contras “because they thought the 82nd was going to come over and kick their ass.”
History was made that day as Duarte was elected the country’s new president.
“Later that same day, we heard that (Daniel) Danny Ortega was sending Contras up the Pan-American Highway through Tiger Island, so the commanding general said, ‘Boylan, take a bunch of guys down to Tiger Island, and mop it up if there is a problem.’ So, we went down there and all that were down there were old men, women and kids.”
A group photograph of some of those people hangs on his office wall.
“That was taken on Tiger Island,” said Boylan, whose memories of his military career are as fresh today as the day they happened.
Boylan grew up in Portage, Wisconsin, a town of about 5,000 people.
“It was a small rural town,” Boylan said. “It was a place where everybody knew your business. You couldn’t get away with anything.”
He was the oldest of three boys. He remembers well that his parents worked hard to support their family, but it was difficult because there wasn’t a lot of money to be made working back in those days.
“We were poor,” said Boylan. “I made very good grades.”
After graduation from high school, Boylan attended the University of Wisconsin.
“I became an expert at distinguishing among the various Wisconsin beers,” Boylan said with a chuckle. “I never went to class. I bought the books and outlined them. And when it came time for tests, I passed each of them without a problem.”
Boylan said his parents did not think that his studies at college would lead him to success in life, so they encouraged him to enlist in the Army.
He followed their advice and he soon found himself going through basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
It wasn’t long before he received a letter from the congressman that represented the part of Wisconsin where he lived previously. Boylan said the letter informed him that he was being appointed to West Point.
“So, I went to West Point and West Point changed my life,” Boylan said. “I learned a lot about myself — a lot of which I didn’t like.”
He said West Point provided him the opportunity to become the person he had wanted to be.
“After four years there, I had met a lot of heroes,” Boylan said.
At the time, he thought to himself that he could never be like any of them.
“But I knew I wanted to be around people like them,” Boylan said. “I looked up to each of them with a lot of respect. And I wanted to be like them.”
He had a desire to emulate them.
“In some respects that became a part of me, which is why I suppose, sometimes, I ended up doing some things in combat, which were kind of stupid,” Boylan said.
After four years as a professor at West Point, Boylan said every day he got up, saluted the American flag, and recited the words, “Duty, Honor and Country.”
“Those things became a part of me after having done it for so many years,” Boylan said. “Again, I say to you that I didn’t do anything that I wasn’t trained to do.”
As a professor, Boylan taught thermodynamics.
“In general, it was teaching about how to generate power, basically,” he said.
Boylan said it helped him because he was called upon to help build a small power plant when he was commanding general at Fort Drum.
He said he was given a $2 million budget to build it. As it turned out, Boylan said he seemed to know more about how to build it than those involved in the actual construction of it.
“That was really kinda funny, actually,” Boylan said.
Boylan said his family’s decision to join the Army and serve the country as he did for 36 years, including four years of teaching as a professor at West Point, is his legacy.
Boylan said he couldn’t be prouder as a father and a grandfather.
Boylan and his wife, Kathy, who have been married for nearly 60 years and have five children and 10 grandchildren, will be in attendance this weekend as their 21-year-old grandson, Tully, graduates from West Point in New York.
Ironically, West Point was where Peter Boylan Jr. and his future wife actually met and later began dating.
“Without diminishing any of my other grandchildren, Gregory will make my fourth grandchild out of 10 who has chosen to join the Army and to make it a career,” Boylan said.
Three of the Boylan’s children are graduates of West Point.
“They include my oldest boy, my oldest girl, and my middle boy, all went to West Point,” Boylan said. “They have all been in combat and shot at, including my daughter.”
Boylan said he is very proud of each of them, as well as his other two children.
Life in Milledgeville
Most people, including friends, may not know that Boylan is a highly skilled artist when it comes to making things out of wood.
Over the past 56 years that he has been engaged in such a hobby, he has built chess tables, and a variety of other items, including making the dining room table out of leftover pine flooring. His son, Gregory, helped him with that particular project.
Boylan said woodworking has provided him an opportunity to see the world differently.
While talking about his woodcrafting projects, he gazed at a chess table that he made several years ago.
“A lot of work went into making this — bending all of the wood and all,” Boylan said with a big smile.
Boylan said it took him about a year to complete the chess table.
“I’ve enjoyed creating things,” Boylan said. “I actually started creating things from wood when I was a professor at West Point in 1969.”
Following Boylan’s distinguished years of service in the Army, Boylan continued to give of himself to others who solicited his help and inspiring leadership qualities.
In 1992, he became president of Georgia Military College (GMC) in Milledgeville.
He served in that position for 21 years.
Boylan later advocated for funding in 1999 to develop the Oconee River Greenway along the banks of the Oconee River that flows through the heart of Milledgeville.
“The Greenway was a big project,” Boylan said.
Since then, several million dollars have gone into the Greenway.
“The park is something I’m very proud of in this community,” Boylan said.
For nearly four years now, Boylan has also served as chairman of the local hospital authority. It’s a position he takes seriously.
“We’re doing well at the hospital, and we’re making money, unlike the case where our local hospital used to lose money every year,” Boylan said.
Asked what it means to him when people come up to him and thank him for his military service to the country, Boylan said it’s humbling.
“I’ve had some successes, but I didn’t do anything that you wouldn’t have done or any other American would not have done,” Boylan said. “I did my duty. I did what I was supposed to do, and I served my country. I did what I was trained to do.”