Boehm pioneered Navy's unconventional
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
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
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
Boehm, however, had become a legend
nationally for the historic role he played in pioneering unconventional
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 &
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,
"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
The lanai was decorated with a fake
waterfall and jungle foliage. A sign on the wall identified the abode as
"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
In his book, he tells how he was disciplined
several times for insubordination as he bent rules to properly equip his
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
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,"
"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.