BEMIDJI-John O'Boyle, a longtime member of Bemidji's academic and veteran communities, died Sunday, June 9, a few days short of what would have been his 97th birthday.

Born June 13, 1922, O'Boyle served in the European theater in World War II and was among the Allied troops who liberated Paris. During his time in the war, O'Boyle was shot in both legs fighting on the Siegfried Line, for which he was awarded the Purple Heart. Decades later, in 2013, O'Boyle was named Chevalier in the French Legion of Honour during a ceremony in Bemidji, attended by state and national officials, including U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

Years before he was awarded the French distinction, and after his service in the war, O'Boyle earned bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees. In 1968, he began teaching Spanish and for several years and became a professor emeritus of Spanish at BSU.

It was his time at the university where he met Scotty Allison, the Beltrami County Veterans Service officer.

"I knew John since 1979, since when I was in college. I had just gotten out of the service and he was a veteran, so we hit it off right away," Allison said. "John was a big part of the veterans community, specifically as it relates to the American Legion. For me, he made a big impact. We had a lot of good discussions and he was always good for advice."

Along with his involvement in veterans' affairs and his career in academics, O'Boyle was perennially involved with local and state civic issues. For years, O'Boyle volunteered for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party's Beltrami County chapter. He also served on the Bemidji City Council and the local planning commission, while also voting in every election since the 1950s.

"He was a great man, I really looked up to him," said Bob Aitken, an American Legion past commander. "It's a tremendous loss we've had with John's passing. He was civic-minded. He exercised his right to vote, his right to speak his mind and participate in the democratic process."