ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

War story: This U.S. soldier from Germany made false teeth for his comrades during WWII

Don't let the cane and slight shuffle fool you. North Long Lake resident Herman Boehme is 96, but still has some swag left in his step. He took his very first steps nearly a century ago in Friedenau, Germany. Growing up in the furor of the father...

Don't let the cane and slight shuffle fool you.

North Long Lake resident Herman Boehme is 96, but still has some swag left in his step. He took his very first steps nearly a century ago in Friedenau, Germany. Growing up in the furor of the fatherland after World War I was unforgettable. What he remembers most was being raised by his German-American father to be proud of their American citizenship. Though Herman felt caught between these two worlds for much of his early life, his pledge of allegiance has always been to the United States of America.

Herman's father, William Boehme, was an international salesman for an American company. His love of music brought him to a concert hall in Berlin one evening, where he saw a concert pianist playing named Marie Augustine. He said to himself, "I'm gonna get that girl!" Get her he did. They married, made some music together, and on Nov. 5, 1922, produced a lively little piece named Herman Horst Boehme.

He wasn't born to the sound of music but "to bombs exploding and machine guns firing." Herman laughs as he recounts, "They held me upside down, patted my behind, and I screamed because I knew this was going to be a tough one!"

Germany's political factions were indeed waging war on the streets. Hyperinflation was decimating their economy. Worst of all, the ideological battle raging there would lead to some radical solutions in the future-Herman's future.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sailing, gymnastics and fencing kept Herman active through those early years. The pinnacle of his youth was being in the opening and closing ceremonies for the 1936 summer Olympics in Berlin. His school was chosen to form one of the five human circles (representing the five Olympic rings) in the center of the Olympic stadium. "It was a fantastic experience for a 14-year-old," Herman said. He remembers how exciting the games were, but also recalls an immediate change for the worse after the games ended. "Everything-and I mean everything-was rationed, from bread to bootstraps."

After high school he entered dentistry college. He was also appointed as fencing instructor to the children of military officers stationed in Potsdam, a suburb of Berlin. Word quickly spread about the cute new fencing master, and over 30 eager girls showed up for class. One of those female students, the daughter of a Swiss ambassador in Potsdam, invited Herman to her 16th birthday party. Becoming acquainted with this ambassador would later prove providential to Herman's future. For while he was enjoying the perks of being the new fencing master, he was approaching a personal bout with the German authorities.

The growing paranoia in Germany meant war tattlers were everywhere. "You never knew who would rat on you," Herman said.

It wasn't a rat that got him in trouble, though. It was his American citizenship. While signing in to a seaside hotel for vacation in the summer of 1942, the clerk checked his passport. "You're American?" he asked. Within an hour the local police were questioning Herman.

They asked if he knew the recently arrested British spy dropped on their shores. Herman said no. The police refused to believe him. He was promptly escorted by train to Berlin, relentlessly interrogated by the Gestapo, and put under house arrest. He could only attend school and the dental lab.

"I felt like a criminal. I was being watched constantly. It got so bad I even carried a small pistol with two bullets, so if someone came after me I'd shoot the bastard, then kill myself and be done with it." Thankfully, Herman didn't have to go that far to be done with Nazi Germany.

The final blow came in December of 1942. Herman's father was arrested. The U.S. diplomatic corps was fleeing Germany as well. The Swiss ambassador Herman met earlier through fencing was in charge of these evacuations. "He made sure I was part of the last diplomatic exchange, otherwise I couldn't have gotten out at all," Herman said. After the long transatlantic voyage, he finally disembarked in New York Harbor.

Herman enlisted in the U.S. Navy shortly thereafter. While awaiting orders he moved to Denver, Colo., to be with the Austrian-American girl he'd met on the trip overseas. They married and moved to Los Angeles so Herman could help in the Air Corps. He sometimes worked 80 hours a week making false teeth for our soldiers overseas. He was finally drafted in 1944, working as a dental technician at Camp Pendleton near San Diego. His prior schooling in Germany made him invaluable to the war effort stateside. Herman shared with a laugh, "I didn't get to shoot any Germans, but I got to fix plenty of Americans!"

ADVERTISEMENT

World War II officially ended in August of 1945. The next day Herman opened his own dental lab in L.A. Unfortunately, his first marriage ended there while their two daughters were teenagers. He'd founded Knight's Fencing Club in Hollywood as well, when one day a woman named Diana approached him about some lessons. He told her she could join a class. With a twinkle in her eye she told him she'd prefer private instruction. Herman deftly replied, "That could be arranged."

That arrangement turned into a first date at a fine restaurant in Beverly Hills. Herman often did fencing tutorials on local TV, so while they were eating, his producer (with his entourage in tow) stopped by the table. He warned Diana, "Be careful, this one's a fencing master!"

Her laughter turned to shock as Bob Hope walked in (with his entourage in tow), and came straight to their table. He recognized Herman and said, "Hey you're the fencing guy!" Mr. Hope grabbed a butter knife and began mock attacking Herman. After the Hollywood moguls left, Diana said, "I don't know how you arranged this Herman, but I can't believe it!" That arrangement made her a believer-they soon married and had a son together.

Herman's crowning career achievement occurred in Phoenix, Ariz., where he opened the first Sunshine Dental Clinic. A rare but successful business partnership followed when fellow dentist and Minnesota native Dr. Ed Silker invested in three additional clinics. At its peak, he and Herman employed 24 dentists, eight hygienists and 100 techs and assistants. All of them affectionately called him Father Herman.

He and Diana retired to Seattle, where she succumbed to cancer in 2006. Herman was heartbroken, but reminisces, "We had a honeymoon for 46 and a half years." He was still feeling the loss of companionship when in early 2009 Silker introduced him to Rorn (nicknamed Ronnie), a Cambodian refugee living in St. Paul. They married on Dec. 31, 2009, and later purchased a home near North Long Lake.

Herman's traveled the world and worn many hats throughout his long life, saying, "I ought to be tired after all I've done!" He's small in stature, but his story is larger than life.

When I first met Herman, I assumed he'd emigrated from Germany. I opened this interview by asking him, "When did you immigrate to America?" In that unmistakable German brogue, he corrected me immediately, exclaiming, "I didn't immigrate-I came home!"

What To Read Next
“Missing” is a new mystery or thriller about a single mom who disappears on a romantic vacation with her boyfriend. It’s up to her 18-year-old digital-savvy daughter to find out what really happened.
Based on the international bestselling book, “A Man Called Otto” starring Tom Hanks is the English language remake of the 2015 Swedish film “A Man Called Ove."
The regents and presidents of the University of Minnesota have increasingly been moving more and more assets away from struggling students and into the pockets of overpaid administrators.
“M3GAN” is a new sci-fi horror movie that riffs on the evil doll Chucky. Created to be a child’s faithful companion, the childlike girl doll M3GAN is violently overprotective.