Story of Boelens’ escape fascinates

 Bette Rae Peterson Jones, in sharing her mother’s (Jeanie Boelens Peterson) memories of her beloved Uncle Leo, said she could only imagine her feelings.
 “What I imagine is a kind uncle to my partially orphaned mother. She held him in high  esteem. Reflecting on it now, I imagine it was a little like when my older brother shipped out to Butte, Mont., then on to Fort Lewis, Wash., on Sept. 8, 1970, when I was 12. The country was worried about boys getting stationed in Vietnam at that time so our whole family went to Lovell and said our goodbyes to my big brother Darrell as he boarded the bus. “
Bette Rae said the family — mother, dad, and her brother and two sisters —drove up to the Medicine Wheel in the Big Horns. The first and only time she has ever been there. Each said a silent prayer and Bette Rae said it was probably very hard on her mother, who knew what war had done to her original family - the Boelens/Mills who lost 29-year-old Leo on Jan 22, 1944.
 “It is my belief that young girls are deeply influenced by older brothers, cousins, or, in my mother’s case, an uncle that was not a lot older than she,” said Bette Rae.
 “There was never a more level-headed, reliable, unselfish man than Leo Boelens,” wrote  his friend, Sam Grashio. “No American ever treated his Filipino workmen with greater concern and fairness. He was a true patriot in the fullest sense of the word; one of the finest men I have ever known.”
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And an apology to Leo’s nephew (we don’t know how many greats precede the uncle) who we had not heard of in time to include him in this story. Tim is a ‘historian’ and has a vast store of knowledge about Leo.  We’d hoped to carry his knowledge of the materials along with a photo of the material used to make the sextant that was used to guide the prisoners to freedom.  If we get one later, we will be sure to print it.
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The story fascinated me when I came across it while poring over the 1944 paper for items to include in Looking Back.
The story appeared in the February 11 issue.  It wasn’t until I got to the final phase that I discovered he died in January 1944. May his nieces and nephews continue to honor and cherish his memory.