Boyer, war vet, FBI agent, loved life near the river

December 31, 2006|by ERIN JULIUS

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs "A Life Remembered." The story takes a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Donald Bruce Boyer, who died Dec. 26 at the age of 81. His obituary appeared in the Dec. 28 editions of The Morning Herald and The Daily Mail.

His family remembers Donald Boyer as an outdoors-man who took his sons on a fishing trip to Canada every year, and as a handyman who could fix almost anything. Boyer also was a man central to some pivotal historic moments.

Donald died Tuesday at his home at the age of 81.

One of his oldest son's first memories is of hunting with his father.

"We ate everything we shot," Christopher Boyer said. The father taught his sons how to hunt, set fires and navigate through the woods on the family's land in Washington County.


In 1943, the Johnstown, Pa., native left college after one semester and joined the U.S. Army's 301st Signal Operation Battalion with the 87th Division.

On D-Day, Donald landed on Utah Beach. Months later, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge at the Germany-Belgium border.

Boyer only talked about World War II when his sons asked, said his widow, Nancy Boyer.

"We kinda had to badger him to get any stories," Christopher Boyer said.

Daughter Rebecca Boyer-Andersen had the impression that her father enjoyed his time in the Army when he wasn't in the midst of fighting, she said. Her brother remembers the same.

"When he was not in the thick of things, he enjoyed his time over there," Christopher said.

When Donald was honorably discharged, he finished his undergraduate work studying math at Grove City (Pa.) College. After marrying Nancy, Donald embarked on a five-year career as a field agent for the FBI, which took him all over the country.

The newlyweds moved 13 times in their first seven years.

"That was a mess," Nancy said.

They lived in Chicago and Los Angeles while he worked in the bureau, she said.

As far as his family knows, Donald worked on criminal investigations and looked into Communist activity during his time with the FBI.

Donald didn't talk much about his time in the FBI. Nancy did know that whenever they left the house, her husband called the bureau and left a phone number where he could be reached, she said.

After five years, Donald shifted gears and started working at a radiation laboratory in Livermore, Calif. While there, he did work on the atomic bomb, occasionally traveling to Nevada and the Bikini Atoll for tests.

Once, Donald talked about diving into the sea after an atomic bomb had been detonated. All he saw was a huge bowl of nothing left at the bottom of the ocean, Christopher said.

Donald applied for an engineering job at Fairchild Aircraft after he visited his brother, the late Dr. David Boyer, in Hagerstown. The last three of his four children were born in Hagerstown.

After a four-year stint with Fairchild, Donald rounded out his career with 25 years as a deputy post engineer at Fort Ritchie.

Donald retired in 1985 because "work got in the way of golf," Christopher said.

Every week, he golfed with friends from Fort Ritchie.

Donald took up golf with such a vengeance that he even drew his own set of golf course blueprints, said daughter Amanda Boyer-Everett.

He also loved the Potomac River.

"He never didn't have a boat," Christopher said.

When Donald briefly was transferred to Alexandria, Va., to work on a Fairchild project, the family stayed close to the Potomac River.

"With the river right there, it was only a matter of days before he got a boat," Nancy said.

In his later years, Donald visited the river with his grandson Toby, Rebecca said.

Even after Donald no longer could go out in a boat, he just wanted to see the water, his family said.

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