During his military service at the height of the Vietnam War, retired Air Force Col. Irving “Bob” Boswell had the unenviable job of trying to spot the enemy while flying a single-passenger plane.
As a combat forward air controller, Boswell was in the business of alerting artillery and aircraft of enemy strongholds that needed eradication. The problem was that Boswell would have to avoid an enemy well fitted with heat-seeking missiles and radar-directed weaponry that could hit a target as high as 7,000 feet at a time when Boswell’s plane was flying at 5,000 feet.
“Our motto was “we’re all alone and not afraid,” but it was really “we’re all alone and very afraid,” he joked.
Boswell knew early on his life would be focused on military service. His father, one of the elite Flying Tigers during World War II, also flew in Korea and Vietnam.
“He enrolled me in just about every quasi-military organization there was,” Boswell said.
Boswell followed his father to Vietnam, although the elder Boswell had completed his tour of duty there by the time his son appeared on the scene in 1970. During his service in Vietnam, the younger Boswell directed more than 3,000 strike sorties, 500 air-to-air intercepts and 20 search-and-rescue missions. On January 28, 1973, the cease fire date for the Vietnam War, Boswell flew the last combat sortie in Vietnam.
Like his father, Boswell also harnessed “tigers.” In the younger Boswell’s case, young Tiger missions were involved in the rescue of the Mayaguez, the U.S. container ship seized by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and in the evacuation of Saigon and South Vietnam. His duties included flying aerial tankers to support fighting aircraft.
“We were young and bulletproof,” Boswell said.
His Air Force career encompassed more than 6,000 flying hours in 30-plus types of aircraft, 600 combat hours, 24 decorations, deputy base commander and assistant deputy commander of operations positions and plenty of time serving as a flight instructor.
Following military retirement, Boswell began a second career as consultant for an international aviation company in New York. Twenty-one years ago, he followed his dad again, this time to Florida.
“My dad was living at Indian River Colony Club,” said Boswell, who moved to Suntree at that time. He would later purchase a light sport aircraft manufacturing facility that provided amphibian and float plane kits and flight training. His second, and final, retirement was in 2015.
Each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, you now can find Boswell at the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum in Titusville, where he is the volunteer director of the air show. He is not taking it easy.
“I work more now than when I worked for a living,” he said with a laugh.