Lake Milton veteran pays tribute to others
Salute to our veterans
LORDSTOWN — If you see a black 1949 Ford with “POW MIA” on the continental, know that James Boehmer is likely on his way to the funeral of a fellow veteran.
Boehmer, 76, a Navy veteran, is part of the honor guard at American Legion Post 737 of Lake Milton and for the past 12 years has played taps for veterans at their funerals.
“I love doing taps for the veterans’ families around here,” Boehmer said. “The families really appreciate the honors that we give them. I would do it every day if I had to.”
The son of immigrants who fled from Germany in the 1920s, Boehmer grew up in Minoa, a small railroad town in upstate New York.
“It’s a town about the size of Lordstown, only it’s outside of Syracuse, New York,” Boehmer said.
When he graduated from high school in Minoa, Boehmer knew he would be drafted, so he decided to enlist in the Navy, following in the footsteps of two uncles who served in the Navy during the Korean War.
While still in Minoa, an older veteran gifted Boehmer a pocket Bible he had been given when he served in World War II. The veteran told Boehmer that the Bible had brought him home and would do the same for Boehmer. It bore the signature of Franklin D. Roosevelt — which would also be the name of the ship on which Boehmer spent most of his time at sea.
Beginning his service in 1964, then 18-year-old Boehmer did his basic training at Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois before going to Norfolk, Va., to board the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, a ship that is now a museum in New York, he said.
After six months on the Intrepid, Boehmer was sent back to Great Lakes for “A School,” where he spent three months learning to be an electrician. Then, he was sent to the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier bound for the South China Sea to assist army soldiers and marines in Vietnam.
“When you’re used to country living, that’s a big transition. You went from a boy to a man real quick,” Boehmer said. “You write a lot of letters home, that’s for sure. And you’re always looking for mail call.”
The USS Franklin D. Roosevelt helped troops on the ground in Vietnam with airstrikes.
“We faced the ship into the wind and sent our jets over and they did the airstrikes,” Boehmer said. “Or they put napalm on the trees, so if there were snipers up in the trees, the leaves would fall off and you could see them, and the army could shoot them down.”
During the Roosevelt’s tour, about 20 sailors were killed and four went missing in action, including one man who was captured, Boehmer said.
The ship was sometimes visited by famous performers like Bob Hope, Phyllis Diller and Joey Heatherton, who entertained the soldiers.
When not in the South China Sea, the Roosevelt traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Subic Bay in the Philippines; and Yokosuka, Japan, among other places. At Capetown, South Africa, American sailors were not allowed to get off the boat because the country was still segregated, Boehmer said. In Hong Kong, Boehmer and a friend rode a rickshaw. A taxi cab hit the sticks used to pull the rickshaw and spun it around, but the man pulling it insisted Boehmer and his friend finish their ride.
Boehmer said after his travels, he was always glad to get his feet back on U.S. soil.
When the servicemen came through U.S. airports, though, there were protesters who were upset about the war.
“(That) didn’t go over too good with us, but we dealt with it,” he said.
After the better part of a year, Boehmer and the crew of the Roosevelt were given two months off to return home, and then were sent on a “goodwill” tour of the Mediterranean.
Boehmer finished his service in 1968 and returned home to upstate New York, where he worked as an electrician for Bristol Myers and then for General Motors. When the Syracuse General Motors plant closed, Boehmer moved to Michigan for two years, then transferred to the Lordstown fabrication plant, from which he retired in 2005.
His three sons, Terry, Edward and Joseph, live in Virginia and North Carolina. He has seven grandchildren, including two in Toledo who are the grandchildren of his partner of 30 years, Sandy Seeland, who died in 2020.
He now dates Cindy Leasure of Palmyra, he said.
Boehmer has 60 percent hearing loss from being stationed in the Roosevelt’s steering room, where the noisy motors and hydraulic units moved the ship’s rudder. While he and the other men had hearing protection, it was never adequate, he said. Now, Boehmer uses a hearing aid and reads lips to understand what people are saying.
He is a member of the VFW and AMVETS of Newton Falls and the American Legion Post 737. He regularly travels to the national cemetery in Rittman, Ohio, to do honors for the servicemen and women buried there. On Memorial Day, Boehmer sometimes goes to graveyards that do not have services to play taps for the veterans.