DONNA — Noe Caceres Boghs, Donna High class of 1955, has, potentially, touched more lives at his old school than any other individual.
Boghs did not touch all those lives as a teacher at the school, nor as an administrator or a parent or a board member. He didn’t touch them through his professional accomplishments as an adult, or through philanthropy after he retired.
Noe Boghs became, in a way, the most sung unsung alum of the school by a fluke: He won a songwriting competition in his senior year, writing the alma mater that’s been sung by students and staff at the school ever since.
At its meeting earlier this month, 64 years after writing the anthem, the Donna ISD Board of Trustees honored Boghs for writing the song, lauding him for his contribution to the school and presenting him with a Donna Redskins football helmet.
Previously, the only recognition Boghs received for writing the song was a $50 prize he received in 1955. His name isn’t even printed on the sheet music for the alma mater.
“To be honest, I didn’t even know who wrote it,” Matias Rivera III, Donna High Band director, said. “I feel bad that I didn’t know before. He wrote a part of history. It’s part of the school. It’s unique, it’s special.”
Matias, whose band performed the alma mater in recognition of Boghs at the meeting, said when the sheet music is reprinted, it will finally attribute the song to Boghs. He also invited the songsmith back to the school to slightly modify the piece and visit with students.
“We worked for a couple of hours, he was giving me ideas on some changes he’d thought of,” Matias said. “I wanted him to share with our kids about how many things he was able to accomplish after graduating from this school, I wanted them to know it doesn’t matter where you come from; it matters where you end up.”
Boghs, 83, certainly did manage to lead an interesting life; a fan of linguistics, he joined the Air Force and enrolled in language school, learning to speak Russian from a White Russian émigré. Ultimately he would become a full-fledged polyglot, learning Russian, Spanish, German, French and a smattering of Italian.
“Once I hear a language, it’s stuck, I got it,” Boghs said.
After graduating from language school, Boghs was sent to the relative backwater of St. Lawrence Island in Alaska to serve a stint monitoring Russian cargo plane communications.
“It was a boring life, and we knew backwards and forwards what they were going to say before they even said it,” Boghs said.
Traveling to Alaska in the 1960s was significantly less boring. Three out of the four flights it took Boghs to get to St. Lawrence and back ended in emergency landings, complete with praying chaplains and screaming women. The fourth, Boghs said, was pleasantly different.
“As luck would have it, the United States government and Alaskan Airlines signed a contract to fly personnel from Seattle to the lower 48, and we were the first group. We got to fly civilian, first class, upstairs with lobster and steak and our own stewardess,” he said. “When I got down to Seattle, I got down to the ground and said, ‘Thank you, Lord, for bringing me back.’”
Boghs’ next post was on the West German-East German border, where relations were significantly more heated than in Alaska. Boghs remembers one
“Our job was to monitor the Russian pilots, and that’s what we did,” he said. “We had a building of our own; we had our own radar, recording machines, and we picked up the frequencies of the German, Czech and Russian air force.”
Serving during the Cold War, Boghs was at the front line of the struggle between America and the U.S.S.R. In July of 1963, Boghs said he almost witnessed the Cold War thaw.
“In July of ’63 they had what they called the communist war games,” he recalled. “This Russian pilot came on and he was so excited, he said: ‘I see him, I see him.’ He says, all in Russian, ‘Twin fuselage-American Army U.S.A., number so and so, and I got him locked in with my rocket.’”
A U.S. plane had crossed into Soviet airspace. Boghs said he immediately began relaying the information through the chain of command all the way to Washington.
“We had a little button, a red button, and once that button is pushed a red light comes on and everybody had to get out of the way, I don’t care what rank you got,” Boghs said.
Boghs pushed the button and heard the Russian air traffic controller begin to berate the fighter pilot.
“I forbid you,” the Russian said. “No, no, no, we don’t want a war started.”
Ultimately, Boghs said, the American pilot made it back before any missiles could be launched.
“He made a turn around, and came back,” he said. “It lasted 45 minutes. After it was over the shakes started, because I realized what had happened. World War III could have started over a stupid thing like that.”
Most of Boghs’ service was less tense, but it was hardly less eventful. He traveled extensively, making friends easily with his mastery of European languages. He made acquaintances in Vienna, Paris and Copenhagen, where he saw a Danish princess and was adopted by an old Danish couple.
Boghs was in Germany the day JFK was assassinated and listened to emotional radio broadcasts on the president from across Europe.
“The Germans closed all their beer joints for a whole month,” Boghs said.
Exactly four years after joining the Air Force, Boghs left the military, devoting the rest of his life to teaching and spreading his love of languages to his students.
Boghs said that the recognition from the district and the chance to perfect the alma mater have been the cherry on top of a life filled with fulfilling experiences.
“I never got a recognition from the district, not a certificate or a plaque — nothing, and that was a sore spot,” he said. “I’m the happiest person right now at this moment.”
Boghs has been invited to listen to the revised version of his alma mater at Donna High’s Christmas program this December.