LORDSTOWN – If you see a black 1949 Ford with “POW MIA” On the mainland, you should know that James Boehmer is probably on his way to another veteran’s funeral.
Boehmer, 76, a Navy veteran, is part of the American Legion Post 737 Honor Guard at Lake Milton and has played taps for veterans at their funerals for the past 12 years.
“I love doing taps for veterans’ families around here,” said Boehmer. “The families really appreciate the honors we give them. I would do it every day if I had to.”
The son of immigrants fleeing 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, except it’s outside of Syracuse, New York.” said Boehmer.
By the time he graduated high school in Minoa, Boehmer knew he would be drafted, so he decided to enlist in the Navy and followed in the footsteps of two uncles who served in the Navy during the Korean War.
While still in Minoa, an elderly veteran gave Böhmer a pocket Bible he had received while serving in World War II. The veteran told Böhmer that the Bible brought him home and would do the same for Böhmer. It was signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt – which would also be the name of the ship on which Boehmer spent most of his time at sea.
Boehmer, then 18, began his service in 1964 and completed his basic training at Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois before going to Norfolk, Virginia to board the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, a ship now a museum in Washington New York is , he said.
After six months on the Intrepid, Boehmer was sent back to Great Lakes “A school,” where he trained as an electrician for three months. He was then assigned to the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier bound for the South China Sea to support Army soldiers and Marines in Vietnam.
“When you’re used to country life, it’s a big adjustment. You went from a boy to a man very quickly.” said Boehmer. “You write a lot of letters home, that’s for sure. And you’re always looking for mail calls.
The USS Franklin D. Roosevelt assisted ground forces in Vietnam with airstrikes.
“We put the ship into the wind and sent our jets over and they did the airstrikes.” said Boehmer. “Or they put napalm on the trees so that if there were snipers in the trees, the leaves would fall off and you could see them, and the army could shoot them down.”
During the Roosevelt 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 artists such as 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 others. In Cape Town, South Africa, American sailors were not allowed off the boat because the country was still divided, Böhmer said. In Hong Kong, Boehmer and a friend rode a rickshaw. A taxi hit the sticks used to pull the rickshaw and turned it over, but the man pulling it insisted that Böhmer and his friend finish their ride.
Böhmer said after his travels that he was always happy to set foot on American soil again.
However, as the soldiers passed through US airports, there were protesters who were upset about the war.
“[That]didn’t sit well with us, but we looked into it.” he said.
After almost a year, Boehmer and the crew of the Roosevelt were given two months off to return home and then sent on a voyage “benevolent” Tour of the Mediterranean Sea.
Boehmer left the service in 1968 and returned home to upstate New York, where he worked as an electrician for Bristol Myers and then General Motors. When General Motors’ Syracuse plant closed, Boehmer moved to Michigan for two years and then transferred to the Lordstown manufacturing 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 is now dating Cindy Leasure from Palmyra, he said.
Boehmer has a 60 percent hearing loss from being stationed in the Roosevelt’s control room, where the noisy engines and hydraulic units moved the ship’s rudder. Although he and the other men wore hearing protection, it was never adequate, he said. Now Böhmer 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 American Legion Post 737. He regularly travels to the National Cemetery in Rittman, Ohio to pay tribute to the soldiers and soldiers buried there. On Memorial Day, Boehmer sometimes goes to cemeteries that don’t have services to play taps for the veterans.