Family StoryImmigrationIndo ProfileMemoirPOW TRIBUTEProfilesWitness to the WarWorld War IIIndo Profile William Paatje Boon

By Sylvia Boon Couto, daughter

Name:  William Boon
Born:    December 17, 1917, Java, Dutch East Indies
Died:    June 10, 2011, California, USA
POW:   Camp Tjimahi, West Java, Nov 20 , 1942 camp 4e Bataljon

Dad wearing one of his favorite caps

The Early Years

Dad was born on December 17, 1917 on the island of Java, Indonesia to a Dutch father Cornelius Boon and mother Fela Robinson of Chinese-English heritage. He was one of six children with brothers Jan Boon (AKA Tjalie Robinson), Alex Boon, Kees Boon, Henk Boon and sister Elisabeth Boon.

The War Years

My parents met during the war through the prison camp experience. My mother’s brothers were his fellow prisoners. After Liberation, during the Bersiap period (Indonesian Revolution) he was eventually chosen to guard the women’s camp where my mother was captive. This is how they became acquainted.

Both left as single parents, they married shortly after Liberation. He lost his first wife to tuberculosis and was left with an infant son Billie (born May 29, 1940). He married my mother Sylvia Van Ommen (born June 21, 1921) in Sawahloento, West Sumatra on December 12, 1945. Sylvia was a war widow left with an infant daughter Linda (born November 29, 1942). Together they had a son Arthur (born September 7, 1946) in Indonesia and a daughter Sylvia (born October 30, 1950) in the Netherlands. Arthur passed away in May of 1990.

The Netherlands

After the war they started a new life in the Netherlands living in a one-room pension in Gelderland. I was told many times how tough it was starting out again. When he became a civilian, he became a cartoonist for Maarten Toonder in Hilversum and held a supervisory job. Dad had provided well for the family and life was on the upswing. We had a television when no one else owned one, a car (a true luxury then). My parents traveled throughout Europe and made sure my oma (Sylvia’s mother) was well taken care of and eventually she came to live with us.


The USA started to beckon and on January 18, 1962 we emigrated after living in the Netherlands 11 years.

Sponsored by his brother Kees, our first place of residence was Pasadena. His first job was in a plastic factory making less than minimum wage. He got laid off within a few months of arrival. With a few bumps in the road, perseverance and Indo connections he went from White Collar to Blue Collar back to White Collar. His artistic talent won out and he landed a job with the Automobile Club of Southern California around 1964. He became a top Cartographer. His specialty was “mountain relief” work. He retired after 17 years with the Automobile Club at age 62.

He became restless again. In the early1980’s he purchased an empty lot on the big island of Hawaii in a little town 28 miles south of Hilo called Pahoa where it rained most of the year. My feeling was always that this move was Dad trying to get as close to his roots as possible without returning to Indonesia. I don’t know how else to explain his restlessness. He uprooted, left his kids and grandkids and convinced Mom that this was where they should live and grow old. They built a brand new, 1300 sq ft house on this lot and of course became immersed in the little Indo community that had already formed there.

However, after the first year, they started traveling back to California for 2 months during the holidays and did so for the remaining 6 years in Pahoa. As their friends started having health issues and were unable to get the medical help locally Dad realized that maybe staying there was not so wise. They sold the house in a timely manner and returned to California in 1987. Upon their return they eventually purchased a mobile home in Dominguez Hills, California where they lived for another 24 years.

While the grandkids were growing up their favorite thing to do with their Opa was to sit at the table with him. They would draw a line or squiggle on a piece of paper and their Opa would create something out of nothing. Over the years he also became famous for taking faces out of pictures or paintings. His grandchildren would bring home numerous boyfriends and girlfriends who became part of our family photos. These photos would remain in our family history but with the ever changing of partners with the grandkids, he was asked once to remove someone which he of course did with ease. Kind of became a joke because over the years he continued to remove other faces and at one point he requested that the “newby” not stand in the middle but at the end so the removal process became easier.

Wall Hanging from Prison Dish

The most treasured of his work was gifted to me. It was a wall hanging of great significance. Dad created a work of art from an object representing greatest despair. This was his eating dish in the camps during his time as a prisoner of war. One of his hobbies was engraving. He used an ink pencil to draw the design on one side. He outlined the design using an engraving tool and pounded the design out with a “stomp nail”. This is how he described it in an accompanying letter he left. It’s entitled “De Roep der Vrijheid” (A Call for Freedom) Tjimahi (Indonesia) 20/11/1942. Japanese P.O.W. camp 4eBataljon. It’s a beautiful picture of a Buck standing among flowers looking toward the mountains. It is engraved with his name and those of his brothers, Jan, Lex, & Kees who were also held in a camp. Once he was freed he presented this to his mother who took care of his son Billie for the duration of his captivity while she was in a civilian camp. Once his mom passed away it was returned to him. Apparently it was decided then that since I carry the same name as his mom (Fela) he wanted it passed on to me.

Our family grew to 15 grandchildren, 31 great grandchildren and 2 great-great-grandchildren. He left us before Father’s Day. One of my daughters brought me the Father’s Day card she had chosen for him. I could not stop crying. It was a card with a bunch of shoes on the front and inside it simply stated “no one can fill your shoes”. That says it all.

December 24, 2010 Christmas Eve.  The same day we buried Mom.  Dad is flanked by two daughters, 10 of his grandchildren, a handful of great-grandchildren, 1 great-great-granchild, and a smattering of spouses and girlfriends.


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  1. Beautiful story that paints a clear image of a legacy of using art as a means to get through trials and tribulations. Paatje Boon seemed like a lovely family man, and send respect and love to his extended family to the honor of his memory.

    • Hi Andrea, your last name is very familiar to me. I know Mom and Dad were friends with the Mattheis. I remember a “Bob Mattheis”? Perhaps your parents/grandparents? You know, Paatje continued his love for art and with art. He received a certification that assisted him in later years to obtain employment. He became known for “mountain relief” work for the Auto Club of Southern California. There was never anyone else that had that talent. Now they use drones :-). His name actually was on the cover of many of their maps. Of course Paatje painted nature scenes and portraits of anyone else in the family that was willing to sit still for him. His last work was a painting of a lighthouse that I asked for. He had a good life with many friends and of course surrounded by his children and grandchildren. He was a wonderful husband, a sweet father and the best Opa. He is greatly missed, still!!! So thank you for acknowledging his story and sharing your sweet comments.

      • Hi!!
        I am from family MacMootry. Matthies is my married name. My family settled in San Diego in 1960 with sponsors from the Episcopal church, Father and Mrs Copeland.
        They belonged to a Dutch Club called DURF started by Edith Attinger at the urgency of Jan Boon. He had encouraged a small group to make sure they keep the culture intact by starting a group. I just found that out as I was interviewing oudjes in San Diego about their personal diaspora stories, and found it very heartwarming.

  2. Wow, how wonderful to see the complete story again. Jeff Havelaar and Kees Kunst, thank you for bringing this to my attention so I was able to check out this link. I will also always be greatful for having met Priscilla who helped make Pa’s last months so very special because he was able to speak about his life as an Indo. Insatiable appetite would describe him best and like his brother, Tjalie, was willing to share and opinionate when it came to Indonesian life.. The photo posted is up at my house & i love the picture even though it was after Paatje lost Ma and he was just beginning to go thru a very tough time. We miss them both and of course that is an understatement. Can’t even begin to touch on the void they have left. I know I speak for everyone in that photo and for those that didn’t make it in the picture. Pa was our center, our heart! Pa’s smile in the picture posted is what I carry in my heart . My memory of Paatje is the knowledge he shared, that smile , his energy, the laughter and just forever funny. Unbelievable strength. Thank you!

  3. Leuk om zo over opa zijn leven te lezen. Ik kon hem helaas niet heel goed maar wist dat hij heel erg lief was. Ik wou altijd nog zo graag een keer naar Amerika voordat hun zouden zijn overleden. Helaas is dat er nooit van gekomen..

    • Lieve Soraya, Ik heb eindelijk de tijd genomen om al de comments te lezen die van Opa’s verhaal ziijn. Jou Ma en Tante Rana en jou Opa Bill waaren nog naar Opa William’s begraafenis gekomen. En Johnny ook. Lief meisje het is wel laat, maar beter laat dan nooit, om even wat terug te schrijfen en jou te bedanken. Jij hebt in 2013 geschreven. Wel verlegen dat ik dit niet eerder hebt gedaan. Opa William is al weer bijna 11 jaar van ons maar hij leeft in ons hart. Hij was zo trots op al zijn klijnkinderen en achter klijnkinderen. Nog maals bedankt meisje!! Heel veel liefs van Tante Syl.

  4. ik hoop over bovenstaand relaas kommentaar te ontvangen over het d woord zou ik graag een diskussie beginnen..

  5. mijn schoonmoeder mevr. h.koot kende tjalie robinson heel goed en tjalie gaf in 1960 een talk over indiese nederlanders in mijn leidse dispuut prometheus. mijn vrouw edmee gerritsen plaggert kende hem natuurlijk ook. we hebben zijn zalige boeken uiteraard. mevr.koot logeerde omstreeks 1985 bij een indiese jazzpianist.tennisleeraar eddie van steenbergen op hawai(hilo?)ik weet niet of mevr.koot paatje boon ooit heeft gekend, hoewel zoals marion bloem zeft alle indiesemensen kennen elkaar.

  6. very well written Sylia. Makes me want to write my mom & dads story. How much fun my parents had living next door to yours in Hawaii. My mother missed yours so when they left.

    • Hi Tilly, I hope this reply finds you. Priscilla Kluge McMullen of the Indo Project reached out to me and reminded me that Paatje Boon’s story is still out there and being read. She directed me to the latest comment from Andrea Matthies. As I scanned through the site I was reminded of these other comments that were written so long ago and I never acknowledged. So better late than never, right? Yes, our parents had a grand time living next to each other in Hawaii. Mom and your Mom were exceptionally close. Paatje and your Dad were buds as well. It was a sad day when Mom and Dad moved back to Cali. Many of their Indo friends had migrated to Pahoa on the Big Island. They started bowling there and had all kinds of fun. It was a good many years until they found their way back to us. Thank you for your sweet comment and acknowledging our parents. Hope you and your family are well. Love, Syl (the little Syl, or as your Mom would refer to me as “klijne Syl”. I can still hear her laugh.

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