FIRST SEAL BECOMING SECOND LINDBERGH

The many friends of Roy Boehm, whose book, First Seal, tells the fascinating story of his lifetime love affair with the United States Navy and quarrels with everyone else on the globe, will be happy to know he is happy, well, and thriving in Punta Gorda, FL. This May, I had the chance to spend an afternoon and morning with Roy and his wife, Susan, at their home filled with UDT/SEAL memorabilia, curios, and cats. In honor of Doc Rios and the Cinco de Mayo holiday, Roy had invited me to fly with him in a streamlined, clean and altogether shipshape Cherokee 180D. He and some local friends bought it last December, and together they share ownership and flying privileges. It is a lovely airplane, and but for the ominous weather front that moved in after devastating Oklahoma and Kansas with killer tornadoes, I'd have had a chance to watch an old SEAL pilot something that isn't intended to submerge. Gusty winds of up to 28 knots were forecast across the runway, and Roy said, "I do my flying for fun." We figured Doc's honor could wait until another day, but Roy took me into the hangar to show me the beautifully maintained four-seater plane. We sat in the cockpit and he explained the Cherokee's instrument panel as I thought to myself, Roy's come a long way for an old UDT and SEAL. He really has.

Two years ago, I was aware Roy had taken up flying ultra-light planes, which look to me like a parachute from which is suspended a lawnmower with a propeller out the rear. They are tiny, and something Ty Zellers, our free-fall enthusiast, might feel at home with. Roy got pretty good at that, taking sixth place in a national competition, and decided to look up at the next level. He was delighted to find that thanks to Sue, her salads, and the general discipline she imposes on him, he could pass the flight physical for a private license. He soloed a year ago March and received his private plane license four months later in July. Sue deserves, but didn't get, the Medal of Honor, for putting him into combat condition. Roy already has his pilot's license, and is working hard on getting an instrument license that will allow him to fly in bad weather.

To celebrate his last birthday, Roy bought a new Pentium III PC with all the bells and whistles, and a 22" monitor. Its graphics capabilities are impressive, and the system also has a videophone feature that allows the viewer to send and receive video while using the phone. He showed me his cockpit instrument display on the monitor, and as a training tool and simulator it should really facilitate getting proficient with his instrumentation. There's a lot to learn, but I'm betting Roy will have that license within a year.

While most of what I've described sounds, and is, technically formidable, the stories Roy tells about his flying show his puckish sense of humor. The one I liked best about his ultra-light craft was the day his buddy developed engine trouble while they were out practicing together. Roy's friend set his machine down safely in a pasture, and started to tinker with the motor. But the pasture had cows in it, and a lone bull who trotted over to see what had intruded onto his turf. Roy thought he could distract the bull by flying low and right over the animal, much like an airborne matador waving a parachute rather than a cape. The bull bought it, left his buddy alone, but reared up whenever Roy got close on a pass. Once, he nearly got Roy when the ultra-light flew too low, but his buddy was able to fix the problem and take off out of danger.

Roy's home resembles a UDT/SEAL museum more than a residence, and ought to be preserved for posterity just the way it is. He and Sue are active in community flying affairs. They belong to a club for experimental aircraft and ultra-lights, and help teach teen-agers about flying as members of the EAA(Experimental Aircraft Association.). Roy is often called upon for talks about his navy SEAL experiences and his book. He told me he'd written every word in that book, 600 pages for his first draft. Charles Sasser reorganized it from a chronological to a flashback format. He corrected typos, misspellings, and punctuation. It was Roy's book, in his own words. He mentioned the title he'd come up with when writing the book was The Reluctant Mustang, not First SEAL. The publisher told him First SEAL was more appropriate, and that's the name that stuck.

I saw a video tape of Roy made last year as he gave the principal address at a Navy Reserve annual function in Tulsa, OK. His talk covered much of his naval career, beginning from WWII, the sinking of the destroyer U.S.S. Duncan and his first long ocean swim. The speech was a no-punches held summary of what he believes is going on in the world and in our military today. Among the many pungent and truthful observations he made were, "Leadership can be defined in two words, Follow Me," and "The way you train in peace is the way you fight in war." I'd like to see that talk on network TV, in contrast to the mealy-mouthed, politically correct, poll-driven comments given by the talking heads we see each evening and on Sunday morning. All of us who love our country need to be told how it really is by people who have "Been there, done that," so we can reap their wisdom and experience.

I first met Roy only about six years ago. I can't make a comparison with what he is now, and what he was as the tough-minded OinC and then executive officer he had to be when SEAL TWO was formed in 1962. There's a human side of him now that's very touching. He and Sue proudly showed me their youngest cat, Scrufelina Duncan Nguyen Boehm, who was the most spoiled year-old kitten I have ever seen. She is unusually gentle and affectionate, wandering over to rub her tail on your leg to be petted. Roy said she'd been abandoned and was living wild in the woods when they noticed the little thing, but couldn't get close to her. Roy said he'd had to catch her in a have-a-heart trap, and came up with one raccoon, and two squirrels before they finally got the cat. She was so wild and fearful they just took the trap 25 miles to a vet they knew, and he had to tranquilize her before he could check her out. "$160 later, we took her home," he said. They have large bird-feeders just behind their house, and "Scruffy" likes to jump up on the rear window ledges and nervously watch all those birds just out of her reach. With the windows open, all that separated her from them was the screen, and I saw her hook her claws in the screen to hang there while watching them. Roy's hand moved to a ledge next to the kitchen table and grabbed a large gun lying there. I thought, "My god, he's going to shoot the cat," and he did. Scruffy jumped off the screen, looked around at the two of us sitting fifteen feet away, and shook the water off her coat. Roy put down the water pistol and said, "No, baby."

In a minute she came over to be petted, and he said, "You're all wet. How did you get all wet? Did you misbehave or do something bad?" Scruffy just purred and had him scratch her stomach. Later, as we drove to the airport, Roy stopped his car when he saw an old yellow dog lying in a front yard. He asked it to come over, and it just lay there. Roy reached into a big bag on the seat, grabbed two dog biscuits and held them out. The dog came over and took the biscuits, then flopped down again in the yard. Roy said when he and Sue ride bicycles all the neighborhood dogs run after them to get dog biscuits. My guess is this man has gentled down some since he served in the teams.

The final words I caught on the tape Roy made in Oklahoma were, "I don't know how to accept all the tribute and honor you've given this old warrior, whose two best years were those he spent in the seventh grade." Charles Lindbergh was never so eloquent!

S. R. Orr, 5/6/99

Sam Orr sorr@metrolink.net
World Traveler
and Philanthrope
(Location Unknown)