It was his tour of duty in Vietnam that made Bob DeBoever appreciate the American flag and the freedom it represents. It is that pride in his homeland that makes DeBoever known as one of the most patriotic men in Henry County.
When DeBoever was drafted into the military in January of 1966, he didn’t know he was going to be a Marine.
The Vietnam Veteran said when he received his draft notice, his orders were to report to Chicago…"It was an open draft," he said. They lined everybody up and every other one of us went to the Marine Corps. It wasn’t what I expected."
The 1963 graduate of Geneseo High School was farming on the family farm in Osco when he received the draft notice.
He and his high school sweetheart, the late Judy (Olson) DeBoever, had planned to be married in January of 1966, and DeBoever said, "The lady at the Henry County Courthouse said to me, ‘you won’t be here in January,’ so Judy and I were married in December of 1965."
After completing basic training with the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton near Oceanside, Calif., DeBoever left for Vietnam in July of 1966.
He said, "We were all told from the beginning that we would be going to Vietnam. The drill instructors were tough on us because the whole idea was to train us to be ‘good Marines’."
His first assignment was as a truck driver, but he ended up doing very little of that, he said, and explained, "We were based out of Danang to begin with and then our unit moved to Hoi An. That’s where the Marines were based and there was fighting all over the country of Vietnam at that time."
DeBoever said the troops were "in constant danger and I, like everyone else who was there serving their country, was in constant danger.. I went on frequent patrols and was shot at. I lived in fear for the 13 months I was there."
Those experiences made him appreciate home, he said…"After you see how the people live over there and you don’t know who can trust because the enemy and good Vietnamese all look alike."
"I got a letter from another member of the Marine Corps who was stationed elsewhere in Vietnam, and someone I met in basic training and he wrote, ‘how does it feel to know that you can die any minute over here’. That pretty much sums it up and after seeing how people in that country lived and survived, it made me realize how fortunate we are to live in the United States of America."
"To me, the flag means freedom, national pride and it reminds me to respect our country, our individual rights and our independence," he said.
When he and his wife moved to his present home just west of Geneseo 53 years ago, DeBoever said the couple put up a flag pole and added, "the American flag has flown on that pole ever since."
"I fought for our freedom and when you see how other people live in other countries, some under Communist rule, and who don’t have the freedom we do, it makes me realize just how lucky we are to have the freedom we have and we need to appreciate that."
In regard to the current protests, DeBoever said, ‘People have the right to protest as long as it is peaceful, not rioting and looting."
He continues to be involved in all aspects of honoring the United States and the American Flag including his devotion to Geneseo’s Aisle of Flags when American Flags in memory and in honor of local veterans are placed in Geneseo City Park and North Park. DeBoever is president of the Aisle of Flags, a position he assumed when his wife died in 2018, as she had been president from 2011 until her death.
He recalled the project was started in 1981 by three ladies from the Geneseo VFW Auxiliary who had lost their husbands…"Their husbands’ memorial flags that had been on their caskets were put away on shelves in their homes and they wanted to get a program going to show the flags and fly them on Memorial Day, July 4 and Veterans Day, weather permitting.
The Aisle of Flags has grown to include 818 flags and represents 835 veterans because some of the individual flags represent more than one person’s name, DeBoever said. The flags in the Aisle of Flags represent veterans who have some connection to the Geneseo area and for more information, contact DeBoever at 309-944-6343.
In addition to his dedication to the Aisle of Flags, DeBoever has been a life member of the Geneseo VFW Post since 1982 and served as commander four times and each of those times he was named All-State Commander. He also is in charge of the Memorial Day program held in Geneseo City Park, is in charge of the registry of all deceased veterans and where they are buried. He also is the person who orders the small cemetery flags for grave markers that are put in place on each veteran’s grave on Memorial Day and left there until after Veterans Day.
"I also am in charge of the firing squad for military funerals and I do the flag folding at the funeral and present the flag to the veteran’s family," he said.
"I am proud of the American Flag and the freedom it represents, and I am proud to be a Marine," DeBoever said.