OKEECHOBEE — Veteran Jack Boon was born in Oklahoma about 40 miles north of the Texas border. When he was young, his family moved to Bakersfield, Calif., and later to San Jose. Boon’s father was in oil, and there are a lot of oilfields in that part of California. His mother worked for a school district, and that’s how they ended up in San Jose.
He graduated from high school in San Jose. He had joined the Navy during his senior year and then went to boot camp in San Diego in 1980.
After boot camp, he was sent to sub school in Groton, Conn. As soon as he completed his training, he was sent back to San Diego, where he was put in electronics school, a wide variety of electronics schools. His rating was sonar technician, but they put him back on surface ships, rather than subs. “That was an interesting time for me,” he said. “My very first ship, I didn’t even get to work my rate.”
He was sent to the USS Frederick, LST 1184, an amphibious assault ship. He was the only sonar tech on the ship, and he didn’t really have a job on board. He worked 3rd Division, part of the deck crew, which meant they did a lot of painting, scraping rust, working with the Marines, things like that, he explained.
After he left that ship, he was sent to another sonar school. Then he was sent to the USS Stein, which was a destroyer escort (DE-1065). There, he was finally able to use his training and worked as a sonar tech. His primary job was to maintain, operate and repair variable-depth sonar on the back of the ship. “Basically, it looks like a giant fishing lure,” he said. It is lowered by crane down into the water. “It’s kind of like a giant fish finder, only it’s looking for submarines. It was a lot of fun!”
While he was on the Stein, the rescue swimmer for the helicopter attachment died of a heart attack. He was only 25 years old. “We were friends, because I was the ship’s rescue swimmer,” he said. After his friend died, they transferred Boon to the helicopter which was still on the same ship. He became the rescue swimmer for the helicopter on his own ship which was unique, because he was not part of an air crew even though he flew with the air crew. He spent six years doing this and loved every minute of it. He drew flight deck pay and got to jump out of helicopters. “What more could you ask for? It was quite exhilarating.”
When his time was up on the Stein, he was sent to recruiting duty, where he worked as a Navy recruiter for four years. He was sent to Lawton, Okla., the home of Fort Sill Army Base.
When he finished up recruiting duty, he was sent to another ship, the USS Marvin Shields DE-1066. This was during the Gulf War, so they flew him to Bahrain to pick up his ship. He spent Desert Storm and Desert Shield doing mine sweeper duty and boarding parties on ships in the Arabian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. He spent four years on the Marvin Shields, and the ship was decommissioned and sold to the Turkish Navy.
His next assignment was with the Afloat Training Group (ATG). They are a mobile training unit. Boon was teaching ship to ship warfare and small arms for boarding parties, anti-piracy and things like that. He also taught anti-submarine warfare to ships that still specialized in that. “Anti-piracy was a lot more fun than the anti-submarine stuff,” he said. “Most people are not aware that the Navy still engages in anti-piracy tactics. When most people hear the word pirates, they automatically think Somalia, because that’s what’s in the news. They don’t think about the South Pacific, but they have Malaysian pirates there.” He went on to explain the Philippine chain has more than 10,000 islands, not including the Samoans or any of the Australian islands. “There are pirates all through there, and they constantly prey on small trawlers and civilian craft. The U.S. Navy and Australian Navy are the ones who police that area and go after the pirates down there.” Sometimes the pirates give up, but sometimes they have to engage them. “We don’t want to kill them,” he said. “We would much rather they gave up, but you do what you have to do.” He did this for about two and a half years before he was transferred to the FTG (Fleet Training Group).
He spent the next six months doing maintenance inspections. “I actually spent more time at sea doing ATG and FTG than I did when I was on a ship,” he said. This was because on a ship, he had a schedule and knew when he was going and where. With ATG and FTG, he never knew what he would be doing on his next assignment. He might show up for work and be told to pack his bags to go to Japan for three weeks. “I would go to work thinking I would be home for dinner and then not come home for three weeks.”
After FTG, he wrote computer programs at a training center in San Diego.”The Navy is famous for hiring you to do one thing but having you do other things,” he said. “The smaller the command, the more hats you wear.” He did this right up until he started his retirement tour, when he was assigned to the Physical Readiness and Training department. His job consisted of running, swimming and working out. “That’s all I did for almost three years. They would send us people out of boot camp, who were deemed too heavy or out of shape. Our job was to get them in shape and make sure the rest of the command was doing what they had to do to stay in shape.”
He enjoyed his time in the service and credits the fact that he had so many different jobs while he was in there with making it more fun. “I would have stayed until they literally kicked me out, but injuries prevented me from staying.”
He retired after 20 years in the service. While in the service, he earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies. He spent the first few years after retirement teaching school, two years in California and three in Florida, but eventually decided it was not for him.
He and his wife, Kris, ended up in Okeechobee because when he retired, Kris told him she really wanted to move closer to her sister. She really wanted to homestead someplace. Her sister lived in Palm City, and they found a place they fell in love with in Okeechobee. They moved there about 18 years ago. “This is the longest I’ve ever lived in one place in my life. It became my home, and I love it.”
He went into law enforcement and worked at the Okeechobee City Police Department for about 15 years until June 2019, when he retired again.
In addition to his work with the police department, he was also a coach. He coached the Shock Wave Summer Swim Team and the high school swim team.