LEFT in ALASKA

Tragic tale of an Army soldier and his prized automobile.

1968 Plymouth GTX formerly owned by SP4 James Boggs

I’ve been a Mopar guy forever. It’s an addiction of sorts. That doesn’t mean I don’t like Ford’s and Chevy’s. I’ve owned both, but I do prefer Chrysler over all other brands.

My first Mopar was a wrecked, 1969 Plymouth Road Runner. A classmate at East Anchorage High School, David Church, hit a telephone pole with it creating a horseshoe imprint in the front bumper and grille. I installed the Plymouth’s 383 engine, 4-speed transmission, and differential into a 1954 Chevrolet sedan. All other salvageable parts were stripped and sold. The transplant breathed new life into my old Chevy.

Soon after completing that project, a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T came roaring my direction. I talked mom into buying the Dodge, with her taking my recently purchased 1970 Chevrolet Camaro in trade. I was happy to be rid of the Camaro as it was a tortoise in disguise. Slow & Steady suited mother just fine.

The Charger served me well, although it had a ferocious appetite for high octane fuel. City police seemingly placed it on their Most Wanted list. I was constantly pulled over. Most stops were warranted, yet on the other hand some weren’t. My Dodge looked fast sitting still!

In the summer of 1972, I spotted a gray 1968 Plymouth GTX on the Glenn Highway. The car was jacked in the back with extended spring shackles. The young driver wore a military-style-haircut. His wife or girlfriend with infant children rode with him. I followed the muscle-car into town for a closer look.

Weeks later I came across the same Plymouth on Ingra Street at a red light. I was cruising in my Charger most likely having just washed it. That was standard procedure on weekends. This time the Plymouth contained 3-male-passengers instead of a woman and kids. The fellow riding shotgun took a long drag on a cigarette, quickly flicking ashes out an open window. He glanced over pointing a finger straight ahead.

A quick stoplight to stoplight race ensued with me severely beating the crippled Plymouth. Most likely the GTX owner “banged gears” quite often. His engine puked blue-smoke indicating something was amiss. The car was deathly-ill in the oil-consumption-department.

Turns out, Boggs, the fellow owning the Plymouth, worked at Fort Richardson with several soldiers I knew. His co-workers Don, Chuck, and Jim turned wrenches at Wonder Park Texaco when they were off duty. I was employed at the station during my high school years. I was a gas pump jockey. My father and his business partner Isaiah Lewis owned the place.

Don Weber was the red-haired soldier who sold me his ’54 Chevrolet sedan. This was the car I owned a couple of years before the Camaro and Charger. I drove it during my high school days. It was lifted on all corners much like a 4×4 truck. Don’s the only G.I. whose last name I still remember. Chuck drove a fast 1970 Chevelle. Jim was his best friend.

A fellow called Boggs stopped by on occasion to top off his tank.  Boggs owned the Plymouth that I raced with my Charger. He’d talk trash with his buddies, Don, Chuck, and Jim, for several minutes before leaving. Wonder Park Texaco was a favorite place for Army and Air Force car fanatics to hang out. I lost contact with all these guys after I graduated from high school.

Two years later an ad appeared in Penny Saver for a 1968 GTX. The advertisement mentioned it had a 440, a 4-speed transmission, and a Dana 60 differential. Price was $600.00. I desperately wanted that Dana 60.

Quickly dialing the listed telephone number, a man gave me directions on where to find it. He was at work and couldn’t meet me, yet seemed fine with my checking things out. The address was a small log-cabin off West 15th with a one-stall detached garage. The home was likely built in Anchorage during the ‘40’s.

Opening a rickety garage door, I instantly recognized the Plymouth. No other GTX in town came close to it in appearance. It was the same car driven by Boggs. Remnants of a military sticker remained on the front bumper. Someone had made a poor attempt with a razor blade or knife to remove it. Its Indiana license plates had been taken off and placed on the dash.

The car’s 440 Magnum engine was partially disassembled. Cylinder heads, exhaust manifolds, intake manifold with carburetor, including other parts were stashed in the trunk. The odometer read 110,000 miles indicating the Mopar had covered lots of ground.

I stopped by Turnagain Chevron at Old Seward Highway & Klatt Road where the seller was employed. Handing him cash, he presented me with a clear title. The fellow was supposed to tow it to my house with his company wrecker, yet weeks later the promise went unfulfilled. With help from my brother-in-law, Gary Adair, we pulled it home using a rope.

All five ashtrays in the Plymouth contained cigarette butts. Smoking was common for servicemen back in the day, and the seats and headliner reeked of secondhand smoke and nicotine.

The person I purchased it from mentioned a sad story associated with the GTX.  Unfortunately, he never relayed the specifics to me. A brief meeting to finalize our transaction was the only time we met.

Searching for the guy many years later hoping to learn the mystery, I couldn’t locate him. Even without his help I’ve uncovered information on my own.  It was an old vehicle registration that eventually put me on the right track.

Undoubtedly Boggs had significant mechanical ability. I assumed he was the one who built a clever gauge and switch panel, locating it above the GTX rearview mirror. Much care was taken in the construction. Aircraft quality stainless-steel tubing connected the oil-pressure-gauge to engine. A chrome push-button switch was installed for starting. Tin work and riveting on the panel was precise and professionally done. All electrical-wiring was hidden from sight.

As I previously mentioned, I purchased the Plymouth for its Dana 60 rear end. The beefy component was needed to go underneath the 1954 Chevrolet. Plans were made to strip and sell all the extra parts. Over the next few years the automobile sat underneath a blue tarp waiting to be dismantled. Fortunately, that never happened. As more and more time went by, I decided instead to resurrect the car.

Both fenders had rust, including the rear quarter panels. I purchased new fenders from Anchorage Chrysler. They also supplied me with left and right quarter panels. A body shop owned by a friend did the work.

Modifications by me include a supercharged 426 Hemi with added 4-wheel disc brakes for improved stopping power. The transmission was rebuilt, with a heavy duty Borg-Warner clutch and pressure plate installed for durability. Well-worn seat covers were exchanged for new ones including new carpet. I performed all the chassis cleaning with a wire brush and electric grinder. There was plenty of hardened mud underneath.  I needed a chisel to remove some clods. When the project was done, I added a small United States flag to the rear window. Something inside me said it was the proper thing to do.

The finished car wasn’t a picture perfect restoration by any means. A buddy, Jeff Thimsen, repainted the body in gray-lacquer. Today, nearly 40-years after having been sprayed, it looks much the same as when Boggs owned it. Aesthetically speaking, time and dust took a toll on the paint.

People snicker and sneer at the nicks, dings, and visible body flaws. I refer to them asbattle scars. But there’sa tragic ending to this story, that remains macabre 44 years after it happened:

**********************************************************

James Henry Boggs was going through hard times. Only 24-years old, the specialist fourth class was a mechanic assigned to the 109th Transportation Company at Fort Richardson. He had three small children and a marriage on the rocks. When James’ young wife unexpectedly departed Alaska for Indiana taking the kids with her, he became despondent.

Anchorage in January is a terrible place to be alone, especially for those with drinking problems. Lack of sunlight and extreme cold can make life miserable and depressing. Add to that the plight of owning a car that wouldn’t run. James was without wheels at a time when he desperately needed them.

After receiving orders in February transferring him to Fort Hood, Texas, Boggs became emotionally unglued. He called his parents 5 times that Friday.  Army officers counseled him hoping to calm him down. Unsuccessful, they decided to leave him alone. Their decision was a fatal one.

Late Friday night, on February 8, 1974 after leaving a seedy 4th Avenue bar, James encountered 2 people on the street. One of them he knew from Fort Richardson. This soldier had a less than stellar military record having gone AWOL the previous year. The young men came across as partiers looking for a good time.  That was a fallacy. They had devious plans laid out instead.

 Lots of excess alcohol was consumed that evening. Drugs were used. Intoxicated, Boggs was intentionally led to a secluded spot behind the Alaska Native Hospital. Easily overpowered by his “friends”, they slit Boggs throat with a knife to near decapitation. Then they placed a 38-caliber pistol to James’ head and fired. Everything went according to plan.

The young soldier’s decomposing body was found several months later dumped in a pile of snow and ice. Thankfully, his killer and his accomplice were caught and prosecuted. An initial charge of first-degree-murder was surprisingly reduced by the Anchorage District Attorney Joseph D. Balfe and Assistant District Attorney W.H. Hawley to second-degree-murder.  According to court documents, presiding Judge Seaborn J. Buckalew Jr. seriously questioned that decision. Court room records show he believed the killing was an execution.

 The admitted killer, Gregory Allen Wolford, was given the maximum 20-years behind bars.  Nicholas Lee Pelkola was sentenced to 6 years for his part. Neither Wolford nor Pelkola served full terms.

**********************************************************

James Henry Boggs was a hardcore Mopar guy. His 1968 Plymouth GTX, next to wife and kids, meant lots to him. Records show he bought the vehicle soon after entering the service. Many G.I.’s purchased automobiles prior to being deployed. In Boggs’ case, it was a 13-month tour in Germany.

In 1971, James and his family made the long 3,000-mile-trip to The Last Frontier. In the 70’s the infamous Alaska/Canada Highway was still mostly gravel and mud. Recently married, James and Hazel would’ve been nervous, yet, on the other hand, extremely excited about their journey. Little did they know that in 3 years, James’ promising military-career would end in such horrific fashion.

Owning this vehicle and finally learning its full history has been eye-opening. For me it’s hard to fathom that I had known Boggs, never realizing he’d later been killed. I hardly read newspapers or watched the news back then.

Unfortunate events sent the car my direction. Things weren’t intended to go that way. Most likely after the Plymouth’s engine went sour, SP4 James Henry Boggs planned to replace broken parts.  He would’ve repaired and then driven the Plymouth back down the Al-Can Highway to Texas, to ultimately join his wife and kids.

Sadly, fate made sure that never happened.

Photo circa 1968

Author: michaeldexterhankins

ordinary average guy

One thought on “LEFT in ALASKA”

  1. What a turn of events back then. It is amazing the degrees of turns life took us back then and even now. Thank you for the wonderful story. Thank you for your service James Bogg.

    Like

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