Essex County

98-year-old North Shore vet returns to Europe for first time since WW2

SALISBURY, Mass. — For decades, millions of World War Two veterans put the war behind them. But now in their 90′s, some are heading back to Europe to revisit one of the biggest parts of their life, including one North Shore veteran.

Robert Chouinard, who is known to everyone as “Boots,” writes every day from his home in Salisbury. At 98 years old, he’s writing an autobiography chronicling his life, including serving in the US Army during WWII. “I never thought of going back. I couldn’t have time, but here I am in my old age with time,” he said.

Chouinard hasn’t been back to Europe since the war, but will be revisiting one of the most poignant chapters of his life during a 9-day trip to Amsterdam, Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany with 6 other WW2 veterans. The trip is sponsored by the nonprofit, New England’s Wounded Veterans.

One of Chouinard’s goals is to find the tiny German church that he and a handful of U.S. soldiers attended Easter Sunday Mass in 1945. “We all thought it was so strange. Here we are in church together, enemies, praying to the same God for peace,” he said. “So stories, human stories like that, just fill you up to know that he’s just a young man and he’s having these rich experiences while at the same time having experiences that could have certainly maimed him or taken his life,” said Mary Ann Fitzgerald, Chouinard’s daughter.

Fitzgerald is accompanying her father to Europe. She says growing up she had no idea her father even served in the military. Like many in the Greatest Generation, he rarely spoke about WW2. “The first time he ever mentioned it to me I was 32 years old and that was our first father-daughter get away. It was just the two of us and he wanted to tell me what he had an experience in life,” Fitzgerald said.

Chouinard says he landed on Omaha Beach 5 days after D-Day and stayed there until General Patton came in with the Third Army. After returning home, Boots attended Boston College where he played football for the Eagles. He raised a family, was a longtime teacher and coach and always hoped to one day return to Europe. “It was quite an experience. I’m glad I survived it. I’m fortunate I wasn’t an infantry man. I was artillery. I shot a gun and survived it all and I’m ready to go back,” he said.

Chouinard says he plans to go back to Europe again, in June, to celebrate the 78th anniversary of D-Day.

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