By Donald K. Bowling Junior; the youngest son of an American Hero.
Dad was born in rural Indiana in 1926. He and his three brothers and one sister lived an austere life during the Great Depression. Dad and his family scratched out a life in rustic poverty. His mother would make him his school lunch which usually consisted of two pancakes to take the place of bread. Dad would eat his lunch, hunched over to hide the pancakes so the other kids wouldn’t notice his family could not afford bread. At an early age, dad worked for his father in construction along with his brothers. The Bowling clan often hunted and fished, but not for sport, they did it to eat. He and his brothers were known as “rounders”. In more modern times, the term rounders would be defined best as hell raisers. Dad and his brother Jackie would often visit a local roadhouse called the "Red Duck". It was a rowdy place full of good times and a “few fights”. Jackie said that dad would fight anyone at any time. The Red Duck was the scene of some serious trouble for the Bowling boys; but as long as Dad and older brother Jackie were together, they were a force to be reckoned with. Although they were poor, the Bowling’s were a proud, hard working, tight knit clan.
World War Two came along and Jackie joined the Army. Dad was too young to enlist initially, but when Jackie came home on leave, dad was captivated by the stories told and the uniform. Dad quit high school and enlisted as soon as he could get his Aunt Darcy to sign the paperwork saying he was of age (he wasn’t). He initially volunteered for the Marine Corps, but was hoodwinked by Army recruiters at the large inter-service depot he was housed in prior to shipping out to basic training. He wound up a private in the United States Army Infantry.
He was assigned the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) because he was the runt of the unit and his superiors felt lugging the cumbersome weapon around would build him up a little. He was only 5 foot 6 inches when he enlisted. His unit was involved in several battles and clean up operations in the Pacific Theater against the Japanese Army. Dad was an outstanding soldier and quickly made rank. He was recommended for and years later awarded the Bronze Star for his actions during a Japanese ambush; his platoon went on a patrol at night. Dad and some of his comrades entered a gully during the patrol. Dad heard someone utter a challenge in Japanese and the sound of a machine gun being charged. Dad leaned backwards as a volley of machine gun rounds cut his friends down. This began a week long standoff between dad’s platoon and a company of Japanese soldiers. Dad was tasked to take the forward most position in the platoon’s hasty defensive perimeter. He held off several attacks by a determined enemy force using his BAR and hand grenades. At one point an American cargo plane flew overhead in an effort to drop supplies to his battered platoon. A Japanese anti-aircraft gun fired on the plane and it quickly turned and retreated. Dad did not take this retreat kindly and added some BAR rounds in the plane’s direction in protest. The platoon held the superior force off and was ultimately relieved. Only ten soldiers survived the ambush and siege. Dad was wounded during this battle, but Army records keeping wasn’t the best so the scars he earned in battle wasn’t rewarded with a Purple Heart. Dad fought and survived over several months and on several islands. Thanks to the decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan’s home islands, he took part in the peaceful occupation of Japan. After a time of tense patrolling to ensure that there were no pockets of resistance to the American occupation, Dad’s military life became peaceful while worked to in the post office and drilled to remain sharp. He loved the pomp and circumstance of the Army of Occupation. There were regular parades in front of the Emperor’s Palace, which he loved to take part in. Dad loved company, battalion and regimental drill in full battle dress with spit shined boots clicking in unison on the pavement. That was, I think, dad’s favorite part of the Army. “The parades were grand".
After his discharge, dad returned home to Indiana 6 inches taller than when he left. The state passed a law allowing those who quit high school to enlist to receive their diplomas without returning to class. Dad marched in the county clerk’s office to receive his diploma and was promptly told by the county clerk that he didn’t care about what the state of Indiana said, if dad wanted a diploma he was going back to school and earn it. He did and after graduation, enrolled in Hanover College to make something of himself. His college experience was very similar to other combat veterans. The upperclassmen, who were never in the service, attempted in vain to indoctrinate the warrior freshmen through a series of hazing procedures which never quite worked out as planned. Simply put, the combat hardened freshmen took umbrage to the pitiful attempts at intimidation and let their displeasure be known by very direct means. After the upperclassmen recovered from their wounds, they decided not to mess with dad and his cadre of underclassmen.
Dad fell in love with a beautiful young lady from Madison Indiana, married and settled down to live the American Dream. The North Koreans had other plans for dad. After the North Korean invasion of the south, dad received an invitation to the party from the United States Army. Dad was not pleased with the thought of leaving his domestic bliss. He wrote on the invitation notice to active duty “I was screwed” and pinned it to the front door of his house. That note remained there until he was discharged.
Dad’s initial assignment was Drill Sergeant. Sergeant First Class Bowling was a firm but fair task master who took his assignment seriously. He was then given a commission as 2nd Lieutenant U.S. Army Infantry. He volunteered for duty in Korea; however the Army needed experienced troops in the arctic, fearing an invasion from the Soviet Army via the Bering Straits. He was sent to mountain warfare training (which he loved), jump school, and Arctic Warfare training. He arrived in Alaska during a blinding blizzard to lead a platoon of soldiers who were very cold, but also very grateful not to be in Korea. Dad was subsequently assigned to intelligence. His primary job was to keep an eye on the Russians. He and his comrades played cat and mouse with Russian ground troops and aerial reconnaissance for the remainder of his tour.
Dad came home and found a good job with General Motors Acceptance Corporation. He was a loyal, devoted and extremely talented employee in a time when those attributes were recognized and rewarded in the business world. Dad moved up the ladder, transferring to several offices with each promotion until he settled down as Control Branch Manager in Tampa Florida. He oversaw a billion dollar enterprise. I was a teenager at this time and in my zeal to make dad make more money so he had more money to give, I suggested that he forgo his salary in lieu of 1 percent of the gross he earned for GMAC. One percent of a billion dollars, do the math. Throughout his life, particularly the period where he raised four kids, dad personified traits which are very elusive and difficult to live up to for most. He had honor, integrity and he was devoted to his family. He was still a rounder despite his best efforts to subdue that trait. He saw things as either right or wrong, there was no compromise. One day, when we lived in Cleveland, dad was downtown by the stadium to pick me up from some function I was involved in. Dad parked his company car in a legal parking spot and, along with mom, came looking for me. For some reason he returned to his company car (the company part of the car is important to this story). He saw a larger and much younger tow truck driver putting his car on the hook. The fact that the car in question belonged to his revered employer made this act even more despicable to dad. Dad immediately saw this as the scam it was; tow legally parked cars and charge the owners a fee to get them back. Dad told the much larger and much younger tow truck driver to release his car or he (dad) would punch him (the burley tow truck driver). The tow truck driver made the same mistake many upperclassmen at Hanover College did and ignored the admonition. The tow truck driver, minus a tooth, released the car and left to find a dentist. Later that day, dad found me and proudly displayed his bloodied knuckles. This is but one example of what I believe illustrates a common thread of all combat veterans of the WW2 era. There is no bluffing them, they will not stand down or compromise their beliefs, they are loyal to a fault, and honor is a way of life.
Dad retired earlier than he would have liked to (he loved his job) in order to take care of his aging parents. His retirement was viewed by many in GMAC as the end of an era for the company, a prophecy that current events has shown to be true. Retirement gave dad more time to spend with his family, travel with his lovely wife and be with his grandchildren. Dad loved his grand babies. He doted on them, bragged about them and spoiled them rotten. They, in turn saw their grandad not as a rounder, a war hero or a successful business man, but as a big benevolent teddy bear. His grand babies brought dad true joy and unconditional love. It was a side of dad that would, perhaps baffle those young recruits he trained in the early days of the Korean War.
Dad grew old, and fought a long, losing battle with cancer. Even in his worst day during what was literally the fight of his life, dad never betrayed his dignity, honor or loyalty to his family. His last words to me, as he slipped away was a plea to take care of mom and to be an honorable man.
I believe dad’s extraordinary life would not have been complete without his experiences in the Army. Dad loved the Army. Dad loved the ethics of military life. But most of all, dad loved the parades.