Former Iowa Congressman Leonard Boswell, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, died in a Des Moines hospital early this evening at the age of 84.
Boswell spent much of his political life representing southern Iowa in the state senate and then in the U.S. House before losing a bid for reelection to a ninth term. Boswell said farewell to congress in December of 2012 in a speech on the House floor.
“I hadn’t planned on this coming to this kind of closure, but it’s caused me to reflect back over life and I feel very blessed,” Boswell said. “…I started out in a tenant farmhouse, but look what I’ve gotten to do.”
Boswell served 20 years in the U.S. Army and retired at the rank of lieutenant colonel. Boswell and his wife, Dody — a teacher, then moved to a Davis County farm where Boswell raised cattle. He was first elected to the Iowa Senate in 1984. In 1993, his Democratic peers elected him president of the state senate. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bonnie Campbell chose Boswell as her running mate in 1994, the year Republican Terry Branstad won a fourth term as governor.
In 1996, Boswell won a seat in the U.S. House, where he served for 16 years. In saying farewell to Congress, Boswell said he had lived the American Dream and he offered these parting words to his colleagues.
“It’s been my pleasure and my good fortune to live in the United States of America and to serve our country,” Boswell said. “We’ve got lots on our plate, but you what? We can do this and I’m sure we will.”
Boswell was found unresponsive in his Decatur County home early this morning and flown by helicopter to a Des Moines hospital where he died from complications of Pseudomyxoma Peritonei, a rare disease Boswell had battled for 13 years, according to a family spokesman.
Just three months ago, Boswell spoke briefly at a fundraiser for Polk County Democrats and introduced keynote speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“I’m very pleased that in spite of some of the things that have happened to me that I can be here tonight to do a very special thing for me and that is to introduce somebody that I have the greatest admiration for,” Boswell said.
Pelosi, the top Democrat in the U.S. House, came on stage and the two raised their joined hands in a victory pose.
“Thank you very much Leonard Boswell for being who you are, for the patriot that you are…You honor us all with your presence, as you have honored America with your leadership and your service. You served in the military. You served in congress. You served in the community. Leonard Boswell — isn’t he something wonderful?” Pelosi asked and the crowd stood to cheer and applaud.
During his years in the state legislature, Boswell represented a sprawling southwest Iowa district that was geographically larger than some of the state’s congressional districts. Boswell routinely made calls to constituents who were hospitalized and served as the auctioneer at many community and party events.
While serving in the U.S. House, Boswell led the Congressional Prayer Caucus. At the National Prayer Breakfast in 2004, Boswell told the crowd about flying an airplane in horrible weather Germany when he was assigned to NATO. It was a key moment in his faith journey.
“I think I said — maybe out loud, I don’t know, but: ‘Lord, I need your help. I’m not going to make it.’ And no sooner than I thought that then it was just like there was a tunnel of light right down to Bonhoefer (landing) strip. I turned, flew right down that tunnel it seemed like and landed and I heard footsteps running toward me. And pretty soon four or five people showed up and they said: ‘Where did you come from?’ And I said: ‘Well, there was a hole in the clouds and I came down that hole,'” Boswell said and the National Prayer Breakfast crowd laughed.
“In all seriousness, they said: ‘We heard you fly and turn up the valley. We heard you go into the power climb…We waited for the crash. How’d you get here?’ And I told them and they looked at each other. They weren’t sure, but I knew. I knew.”
Boswell, an assault helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, had a non-cancerous tumor removed from his stomach in 2005. In 2015, Boswell announced he was having another tumor evaluated and he said the tumor could be linked to the chemical known as “Agent Orange” that was used during the war in Vietnam.