News: 54th ARS honors late boom operator
ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – What began as an average spring vacation quickly turned into what seemed like a family reunion when members assigned to the 54th Air Refueling Squadron met with the family of late KC-135 Stratotanker boom operator, Airman 1st Class Bruce Klaverkamp, at the Boom Memorial, March 3, 2013.
Bruce was assigned to the 7th Air Refueling Squadron when he died in a plane crash, March 13, 1972, during a routine training mission which included touch and go landings at Carswell AFB, Texas. Bruce was 19 years old.
Bruce’s mother, Luella Klaverkamp, had always wished to visit Texas to see where her son served before he died. Luella’s wish came true when her daughter, Lisa Pollreis, and son-in-law, Jeff Pollreis, offered to take her with them on a vacation there.
“The day before we left, I called them and told them ‘I don’t think I can make it’,” Luella said. “I had such a cold, and I didn’t want to make the trip miserable for them.”
Jeff decided he couldn’t keep the surprise from Luella at that point, so he told her the real reason why they wanted to take her with them—to visit the memorial at Altus AFB where her son’s name is etched in stone, a testament to his service.
“I started bawling,” Luella said. “I guess I just had to go and make the best of it.”
The trio then made their 18-hour drive from Clear Water, Minn., to Altus AFB.
Members from the 54th ARS greeted the family at the gate and escorted them to the Boom Memorial where more members from the 54th ARS and boom operator students from the 97th Training Squadron stood in formation to support the family.
When they first spotted Bruce’s name, the family was overcome with emotion.
“There was Bruce,” Luella said. “Right where I looked. Something just went right through me.”
The 54th ARS then presented Luella a boom operator coin with Bruce’s boom number on it. The family reflected on the memorial before they explored the rest of base, including a tour of a KC-135, where they got the chance to crawl into the boom pod.
“It was great,” Luella said. “He really did this.”
After the static display, the family was escorted to the 54th ARS Holsey Auditorium. Luella was given the honor to sign the Altus AFB Legacy Book, which is signed by every boom operator and pilot who worked on KC-135 aircraft.
Luella could not express how thankful she and her family were for everything Altus AFB did for them that day.
“They were all so great,” Luella said. “I couldn’t believe that all those guys came out for me.”
Chief Master Sgt. Daniel Smith, 54th ARS superintendent, expressed that the boom family is a unique and tight-knit group that Luella, Lisa and Jeff are now a part of.
“We did what we could to make those few hours of their visit special,” Smith said. “There are only about 1,200 boom operators in the entire Air Force. We take care of each other and our families.”