Sunday, January 04, 2009

Legendary 'First SEAL' passes away

From MustangLT (a member of Princess Crabby's Navy Coterie) via SailorBob (a place for SWO where they let me peek).

Legendary 'First SEAL' passes away
Boehm pioneered Navy's unconventional warfare
Roy Boehm of Punta Gorda, a cantankerous retired U.S. Navy lieutenant commander who fought three wars, started the Navy's first SEAL team and shared his harrowing adventures --and his battles against military bureaucracy --in an autobiography, has completed his last mission.
Roy Boehm, who had struggled with health problems for many years, died at home Tuesday night. He was 84.
His widow, Susan Boehm, declined to be interviewed about her husband. In fact, she pleaded that no story be written.
Susan said she was trying to carry out her husband's last wish, that his death not be publicized.
He wanted no obituary, no funeral service and no fanfare over his death, Susan said.
"He just wanted to go in peace," she said.
Boehm, however, had become a legend nationally for the historic role he played in pioneering unconventional warfare tactics.
Locally, Boehm also was respected for the way he stood up for the military veterans within his community, several local veterans said Friday.
"John Kennedy was right," wrote U.S. Navy Admiral Whitey Taylor, in a 1997 letter to Boehm. "The U.S. Navy SEALs will bear your mark as long as they and the freedom they fight for exists."
"He was quite a great guy," said Lionel Schuman, a board member with Charlotte County's Military Heritage & Aviation Museum.
Schuman said he got to know Boehm, who became an avid pilot during his retirement, through both men's participation in events with Experimental Aircraft Association 565.
Boehm and his wife, Susan, started a tradition of providing hot dogs, beverages and other snacks to military personnel who stopped by the group's hangar during the annual air shows, Schuman recalled.
"He definitely stood behind you, and he was always there when you needed him," Schuman said.
"His last 30 years were as full as the 31 he spent in the Navy," said Susan Boehm.
She declined to elaborate.
But the Boehms had opened their home to a Sun reporter several times for interviews in the past. The home was decorated from stem to stern in a style that spoke of the heart of the old sailor.
The lanai was decorated with a fake waterfall and jungle foliage. A sign on the wall identified the abode as "Hog Hollow."
"Beware of Pick Pockets and Loose Women," read another sign.
Even Boehm's cremation urn, which sat near a chest labeled "Davy Jones' Locker," spoke of his attitude toward death. Open the lid, and one would find a miniature ship's cabin, replete with a bunk and a sea bag.
"My ashes are going into the sea bag," Boehm had said in a 1997 interview. "How many people can hardly wait to get where they're going?"
Boehm was most proud, however, of a plaque mounted on his wall: "Roy Boehm, Man-O-Warsman." That honor was bestowed on him by the men who served under his command.
"It's the highest compliment you can get," Boehm had said.
In his book, "First SEAL," Boehm recalls how he got initiated as a deep-sea diver. A shipmate tricked him into trying on a dive suit -- and then tossed him overboard.
He describes how he manned the guns and tended to his badly injured shipmates during some of the greatest battles of World War II. They included the Battle of Cape Esperance, during which his ship, the Duncan, sank under a hail of shells.
Boehm survived 13 hours in shark-infested waters, bleeding from shrapnel wounds, before getting rescued.
Later, Boehm became convinced the Navy needed a special forces team that could accomplish any mission, anywhere at anytime.
In his book, he tells how he was disciplined several times for insubordination as he bent rules to properly equip his men.
President Kennedy commissioned him and one other commander to start the first two Sea Air and Land teams in 1960.
Boehm subsequently wrote manuals for the training program, which became the foundation for the toughest training in the U.S. military.
Recruits learned the skills of covert operations. They learned to crack safes, break out of jails and steal cars.
They learned how to jump out of airplanes at 33,000 feet and free-fall to within 700 feet before opening their chutes. They learned to swim to submarines and board them.
Boehm was subsequently transferred to Vietnam. As an "adviser," he trained insurgents and commanded river boat patrols in guerrilla actions in 1963-64 and 1968.
In retirement, Boehm learned to fly airplanes and competed in motorized parachute competitions.
"He was youngest old guy I ever met, just for his energy and his enthusiasm for life," said Kim Lovejoy, director of the military museum.
Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Rufus Lazzell said he greatly admired Boehm.
"He had a good sense of humor and he certainly served his country well," Lazzell said. "In addition, he was just an all-around kind of guy that you liked. He always displayed his patriotism."
Randy Spence, past commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10476, said he appreciated Boehm for shedding light on the nature of SEAL operations.
"He was a great inspiration, devoted not only to his country, but also to his community and family and friends," Spence said.
"He's an amazing man," said Terry Lynn, director of the Charlotte County Veterans Council. "Even to this day, you can tell there's a commanding presence about him."
Lynn said he first met Boehm at a dinner for veterans at a Punta Gorda restaurant in November. A long line to get seated had formed, and Lynn overheard Boehm say he could stand no longer.
Lynn said he offered to escort Boehm to a seat, but Boehm refused.
"He didn't feel he should be put ahead of anybody," Lynn said.
Boehm agreed to the escort only after Lynn enlisted him to serve by greeting guests from a table of council officials.
Staff Writer

LCDR Roy Boehm and his wife Susan.

I wish you a fair wind a following sea, sir.

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