Veterans Voice: Vern Boswell
Cameron resident Vern Boswell joined the U.S. Air Force while still in High School. After graduation, Vern was assigned to Amarillo for Basic Training in June of 1966. Ordinarily he would have gone to Lackland AFB, but they were experiencing an encephalitis outbreak at the time. Arriving in Amarillo and other recruits found the barracks at Amarillo boarded over and in need of considerable cleaning.
Following basic, Vern was trained as a POL (Petroleum, Oil, and Lubrication) technician, servicing aircraft. His unit’s first assignment was a brief stint in Vietnam, just prior to escalation of the war. From Vietnam, Vern’s unit was sent to the small island of Mactan in the Philippines. Mactan consisted primarily of an airstrip located in Cebu Harbor. Vern and his men lived in either grass huts or tents the entire time they were stationed there. Their duty was servicing aircraft as they flew to various locations. Today Mactan Island has been converted into luxury resorts which are popular vacation destination for Chinese citizens. The Chinese controlled baking in the Philippines and were therefore unpopular with the Filipinos. If they needed a loan, they had to go through a Chinese-controlled bank.
B-52 pilots had difficulty landing on Mactan. They had to transfer all fuel to one wing in order to land and it was always a tricky landing.
As an interesting sidelight to Mactan, it is the island where Ferdinand Magellan lost his life to a poison arrow from a local chieftain named Lapulapu.
Due to his brief stint in Vietnam, Vern was allowed to choose his next duty station. He chose England, and was assigned to Mildenhall Air Base, roughly 30 miles from London. Although it was officially a Royal Air Force Base, it was basically a U.S. base. Mildenhall housed a number of WW2 planes including P 54i’s which were essentially B-29 bombers. While Mildenhall was also a KC-135 Tanker / Refueler Base. There was a fighter base nearby. Vern said that there was at least 1 KC-135 in the air 24 hours a day and would serve as a Communication plane in case of emergency. On one occasion President Nixon and Air Force 1 landed at the base, where Vern and his crew had the honor of servicing and refueling the plane.
Vern says that England (London) was a great place to be in the 60’s, especially with popularity of the Beatles. In fact, one of the people they knew had walked Paul McCartney’s dog. Since Mildenhall was close to London, Vern and his friends often visited nightclubs and enjoyed the night life of the city.
At one point a number of reserve troops from the states were assigned Mildenhall. One of them received a “Dear John” letter while at the base. The guy, impersonating an officer, called Vern requesting that his plane be refueled. Vern sent one of the younger less-experienced men which was a mistake. The inexperienced man did not realize that something was amiss. After being refueled, the impersonator took off in the plane and made it as far as Czechoslovakian air space (not a wise move), but apparently headed back to Mildenall where he went down in the English Channel. No one knows for sure, but 2 F-4’s returned to base minus their heat-seeking missiles.
Asked about best memories, Vern said it had to be living in England during the 60’s and the popularity of the Beatles, and enjoying London’s night life. But he also said the Philippines were interesting and that he remembers himself and a friend renting an outrigger canoe and visiting another island even smaller than MacTan. Vern is also proud of the fact that one of his grandfather’s served in the Spanish-American War.
One bad memory came during the short stint in Vietnam. C-130’s would fly low into an outlying base and shove out huge fuel bladders which could sustain the low altitude drop. On one occasion there was a delay in closing the rear door and Vern nearly slipped out of the plane, a drop he would not have survived.
Following the military Vern attended nuclear Med School and Radiology at Research Hospital in Kansas City. He worked as an X-ray technician at Research, North Kansas City Hospital, and Lakeside Hospital before moving to Cameron. He finished his career as the Radiology Department Manager at Cameron Regional Hospital. Vern and his wife live in a farm home east of Cameron where he enjoys retirement.