“Your Dads ran the barber shops and worked at the post office and delivered the packages on time and sold the cars, while our dads were blowing up fuel depots near Seoul, were providing extraordinarily courageous close air support to the beleaguered Marines at the Chosin Reservoir, and who once turned the Naktong River red with the blood of a retreating North Korean battalion. We tell of men who made widows of the wives of our nations' enemies and who made orphans out of all their children.” – Pat Conroy.
We realize this kind of information is not normally associated with eulogies or obituaries. But Mr. Conroy got it exactly right. Because there was nothing normal or usual about our father Boyd L. Van Horn.
His sometimes-hardscrabble life growing up combined with his extraordinary life on the battlefield permeated everything about him. All of it, both good and bad, imbued every encounter with every opportunity or person or thing or animal that he ever came into contact with.
We knew, when we began the work on our father’s obituary, that reducing this man to writing would be nearly impossible. So, with a lot of time on the phone sharing memories with my brother and sister, we have done the best we could to memorialize the acts of the man who gave us not only our eyes and our noses, but also our characters. Characters that not only allowed us to be driven and aggressive in our life pursuits, but also forced us to bravely face the more human results of living with, loving and sometimes fighting it out with “The World’s Greatest Fighter Pilot”.
Our father, Boyd Lodell Van Horn, 89, was born in a tiny tar-paper shack in Garwin, Iowa November 18th, 1931 to his mother, Violet Ankrum Van Horn and his dad Orell Van Horn. Dad passed in his home in Rosston, Oklahoma at 10:30 p.m. on November 4th, 2021 with his faithful little Schipperke dog Suzy laying right beside him.
In the days and hours immediately preceding his death, he was surrounded by us children, Victoria Van Horn Caldwell, Mark Van Horn and me, Rachael Van Horn as well as his loyal and gracious caretakers Dora Lujan, Kathrine White and Laura Sanchez and his ministers Pastor Stephen Hale and Father Cristobal.
All our lives, everywhere that our father went, people noticed when he walked into the room. Even as an 89-year-old retired civilian, he had worshipers who popped out of the woodwork when he would come around. Still today, when us kids go somewhere and happen to mention our last names or that our father was a fighter pilot, people inevitably say, “Oh! I know your dad!” Just the other day, a neighbor stopped me and told me how much they enjoyed him at his doctor’s office.
Our dad brought with him an invisible, swirling type of energy that carried the scent of clouds mixed with burnt jet fuel. My brother and sister and I figure this must be what it smells like to punch holes in the sound barrier in an F-4 Phantom jet.
Dad was at the same time complicated and simple. He could be the picture of calm and just as quickly, a raging storm of emotion if someone was bold or stupid enough to cross him.
Our dad served his country in the United States Air Force for 28 years. He was a fighter pilot who went up through the ranks to the rank of Colonel (0-6), a rank which to which he was promoted earlier than all his peers.
Dad began his career though, as an enlisted man in 1952 as an airplane mechanic. Already though, he had soloed in a J-2 Cub as a civilian and had 1,200 hours of flying time when he enlisted. Dad told us he gained his passion for flight when he got the chance to ride in a local farmers crop-duster at the tender age of 3-years-old. He was hooked. And so, shortly after enlisting in the Air Force, he was chosen among his peers by leadership to be a good fit for becoming a pilot.
He entered Cadets where he trained in the North American T-6 Texan. He graduated from Victoria, Texas with Class 54G. About 11 years after he graduated, he was sent to Vietnam in 1965 where he piloted the F-105, flying missions north Hanoi. In 1967 he returned to Vietnam and flew with the Wild Weasels, destroying Surface-to-Air missile sites belonging to the enemy, where he also flew the F-105. Ultimately, he retired in late 1979 with more than 6,000 hours of flight time in fighters and many hours of civilian flight time.
Dad’s final assignment as a full “bird” colonel was to the Tactical Air Command in Langley, Virginia as Director of Maintenance in 1975, where he was responsible for the maintenance planning for the F-15 and F-16 fighters, and the AWACS surveillance aircraft.
Our lives though, were ancillary to all of that. There was a ton we did not know. All we kids knew was that dad was gone “fighting the war” and then he would magically appear again.
Then, before the new had even worn off his return from the war, he’d pack his mysterious OD flight bag and leave for numerous other sorties - missions flown over conflicts us kids and our mom, Tonya Van Horn, were not privileged enough to know about.
But always, Dad came back to us the picture of health and somehow larger and more indomitable than he was when he left.
Our dad won just about every Air Force medal there was, including the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, Six Air Medals for acts of heroism and the Bronze Star. The proof of all of this was on his “I Love Me Wall” that entertained as guests walked down his long hallway of fame in his home in Edmond.
He flew just about everything there was with wings including theT-6, A-7, F-80, F-84C, "D," "E," "G" and "F”, the F-100, F-101A and "C” and finally the F-105 and F-4.
Because of our dad, we kids were bounced on the knees of, and enjoyed dinner conversation with some amazing and famous men.
Those included Medal of honor recipient Colonel Leo Thorseness, who endured seven long years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Dad was close friends with Lt. Col. Thomas D. (T.D.) Smith, as well as World War II fighter pilot Daniel “Chappie” James.
And finally, Dad was selected to lead the 38-ship, stacked-down fly-by for President Harry S. Truman on December 28th, 1972.
Our father rode hell-bent on a Harley Davidson motorcycle. He once tried to start the wood stove in he and our mother’s London home with gasoline and made the stove jump in the air when it exploded.
Our father drove everything fast and hard, including his last tractor. His F-105 fighter was hit by a Surface to Air missile in Vietnam and he managed to limp his badly damaged plane back south of the Mekong River, avoiding capture. He flew more than 100 combat missions over the Red River Valley and once “dead-sticked” a landing when he lost his engine.
One time, our dad rode my horse bareback for five hours in searing heat, helping a local rancher find his cattle in the Arizona mountains. He and our brother built the most elaborate and expansive landscaped yard together, the likes of which most of us have never seen.
When my sister needed him most after a significant trauma in her own life, he took her fishing in the most remote parts of Montana and helped her heal. He had a life-long love affair with Ham Radios. His call-sign WoBUW is the one he’s had since he got his Ham Ticket in 1949.
Somewhat recently, our father, who liked his martinis, drove fearlessly into flood waters that covered a dangerous road near his home and against all odds and at an amazingly old age, walked through nearly hip-high water in deadly currents. He miraculously found a stop sign and hung on until our brother and several firemen could help him. It would have killed anyone else.
Most recently, when he crawled upon his roof of his large home in Edmond to fix a Ham Radio antenna, his ladder blew down in the gusty Oklahoma wind and he was forced to jump off his roof at 88-years-old.
Dad was the Commander of the Air Force Flyers Club and was a member of the Red River Rat Society, and a member of the Super Sabre Society. He founded an oil company from which he retired in 2010.
Until three months before he died, our father was tearing down an old barn on his Rosston property and daringly cutting down trees with chainsaws. Every single day, he woke up and asked his caretakers, “What’s the Dow doing?” If you just wanted to sit around and rest, he said, “Get up! We’ve got things to do!” Everyone knew, if you were with dad, you were moving and doing. He just was not himself unless he was going Mach II with his hair on fire.
Us kids want to express our thanks to the many people in our dad’s life who made it better and who loved him, sometimes for his unique qualities and sometimes despite them. There will be no lack of memories with our dad upon which we will ponder, giggle about and learn from for the rest of our lives.
But for us, we see him fully restored to health with his new body, perched in the cockpit of his favorite fighter jet, the F-105.
The two of them are soaring near that burning wheel that is the sun. And we know, as the splendid poet John Gillespie Magee Jr. wrote so eloquently, that our dad has finally “…slipped the surly bonds of earth” and he’s dancing “the skies on laughter-silvered wings.”
Our father was preceded in death by his mother, Violet Ankrum Van Horn, His father, Orell Van Horn, his sister Jean Van Horn Tannatt and his nephew Douglas Tannatt.
He is survived by his children, Victoria Van Horn Caldwell of Edmond, Oklahoma, Mark Van Horn and wife Lana Van Horn of Warr Acres, Oklahoma and Rachael Van Horn of Rosston, Oklahoma; his grandchildren Christopher Van Horn of Warr Acres, Oklahoma and Johnna Weary and husband Jason Weary of Los Angeles, California; his great-grandchildren Gabe Van Horn, Eva Nicole Weary, Gwendolyn Joel Weary and Myles Theodore Weary; his former wife and our mother Tonya Van Horn of Edmond and his niece Sharman Tannatt Kahn and Husband Rick of Ocala, Florida.
The family has planned a memorial service at the Rosston Methodist Church on November 20th at 6 p.m. There will be a wake in his memory at noon on Sunday, November 21st at the Brandin’ Iron in Laverne.
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