Highlights from Colonel Lewis W. Bowker Jr.'s Military Career for Veteran's Day 2010
Col. (Ret.) Lewis Warren Bowker, Jr. entered the military on February 26, 1962 as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Air Defense Artillery Branch and attended the Officer Basic Course at Fort Bliss, Texas in El Paso, Texas. His assignments over the next 27 years were all challenging, unique, and rewarding, but some experiences particularly stand out.
His first posting after the Officer Basic Course was at Turner Air Force Base near Albany, Georgia, where he served with the 2nd Missile Battalion, 43rd Artillery in a Nike-Hercules Battery during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the fall of 1962. Nike Hercules Missiles were surface to air missiles used to destroy enemy bombers and to counter enemy ballistic missiles. They were both nuclear and conventionally armed. At one point, there were tense moments when the word came down to the battery that an enemy aircraft was approaching during the Crisis. Fortunately, with all of the safety protocol in place before a firing, no missiles were actually launched as further information confirmed that there was NOT an imminent attack.
After Turner Air Force Base and his promotion to Captain, it was off to postings near Pforzheim and Ludwigsburg, Germany where Captain Bowker commanded a Nike-Hercules Battery in the 3rd Missile Battalion, 71st Artillery. In order to keep the battery in top notch response condition, training was intense. Periodically, the entire battery would fly to El Paso, Texas for testing at Fort Bliss. Although the flights took forever in the mid-1960s, the battery passed with "flying colors". While assigned in Germany, Capt. Bowker took advantage of living in Europe and used his available leave (vacation) time to travel throughout Europe, as well as some of the Middle East and North Africa. He particularly enjoyed seeing the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Great Pyramids of Egypt.
From Germany, Capt. Bowker traveled to Asia, as he was assigned half-way around the world to the 5th Infantry Headquarters in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, where he was promoted to Major. His first night in the Army Camp in the Bien Hoa Province of South Vietnam, he and another soldier quickly sat up in their bunks, ready to take cover, when they heard the loud booming noise of artillery firing. Someone in a nearby bunk, said, "Relax, it's outgoing rounds!" Another day he learned that the officer that he had just shared breakfast with had been killed by a sniper before lunch. It was not a safe environment. Part of the reason for this was that Major Bowker served in Vietnam during 1968 which was the deadliest year of the war. He was there for the infamous Tet Offensive when the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army began surprise attacks on 100 towns and cities with over 80,000 soldiers on a national holiday that had originally been declared a cease-fire day by both North and South Vietnam. Although Major Bowker’s camp was fortified during the Tet Offensive, it suddenly seemed in the night that the compound might be overrun. Fortunately, they called in artillery from the First Infantry Division of the U.S. Army (known more commonly as the “Big Red One”) and air support from the air force to prevent their camp from being taken. On another occasion in Vietnam, Major Bowker and another soldier were traveling in a jeep. U.S. soldiers had formed a road blockade because of a sniper ahead. While they were waiting for the road to clear, Major Bowker and the other soldier were talking outside a shelter. Suddenly a shot whizzed into the shelter right between them. They both lost no time in getting inside the shelter! Only later did they realize that they had left their rifles OUTSIDE standing against the shelter wall!
After his tour in Vietnam, Major Bowker returned to his hometown of Starkville, Mississippi in time for Christmas and a December 27, 1968 wedding to his high school sweetheart, Dorothy Elinor Etheredge. Together, Major Bowker and Dorothy journeyed to Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas, where Major Bowker took the Advanced Course. A year later, with their first child, Melinda, in tow, Major Bowker and Dorothy traveled to their next posting with the 4th Battalion, 61st Air Defense Artillery at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in the shadow of Pikes Peak. At Fort Carson, Major Bowker established a training program for a new target system, the Ballistic Target System, implemented the training program, and oversaw the successful launching of the new targets. Also, he was the Safeguard Missile Project Officer and made a trip in January to the bitter cold of Grand Forks, North Dakota to assist with the planning for a Safeguard Missile Site. The Safeguard Missiles were to protect the Minute Men Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (“ICBMs”) at that time.
After Colorado Springs, Major Bowker had three approximately one-year tours of duty: Camp Stanley, South Korea, without the family; Fort Bliss, Texas, where the family welcomed baby Lewis, III; and Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama . The year at Air Command and Staff College was especially busy since Major Bowker studied for and received an MBA from Auburn University at Montgomery during the year.
The next assignment was for three years in Niagara Falls, New York, where Major Bowker served as the Executive Officer, second in command, for the Recruiting Battalion. Working with recruiting was challenging. A district would have Recruiting Stations in major towns and cities throughout the area. It was important to visit all of the stations on a regular basis. The winters in New York were a shock--especially the blizzard of 1976 that paralyzed Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Rochester, and much of the eastern Great Lakes Region. Major Bowker and his team were caught in the Rochester area. It was three or four days before he was able to return home to his family in Niagara Falls. There was so much snow that the city of Buffalo actually piled it onto railroad cars and shipped it South! While working with recruiting, Major Bowker was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.
From Niagara Falls, LTC Bowker was sent to the Pentagon, and the family was happy to live in warmer Springfield, Virginia. The tour at the Pentagon was short, because within 15 months, he was assigned to command the Air Defense Battalion of the 2nd Infantry Division, again, at Camp Stanley, South Korea, near the city of Uijeongbu, South Korea. His battalion was the only Chaparral/Vulcan Battalion in the Army at that time continually performing an Air Defense function. This was a challenging command, since the Division was the 1st line of defense against the North Koreans along the DMZ, the demilitarized zone, which separates North Korea from South Korea. Life was busy at Camp Stanley. LTC Bowker, along with the other battalion commanders, was up early to run with the troops. The last leg of the run was up a hill to the Camp. The slogan was, "Kill the Hill." For LTC Bowker, the main goal was keeping the Chaparral and Vulcan batteries prepared and ready for action. Occasionally, there would be a misfiring that would cause tension--such as a missile that went over a hill into the DMZ, but was retrieved. Fortunately, there were no major conflicts with North Korea during his year of command. Occasionally, the commanders would fly to Seoul to visit soldiers who were hospitalized there.
LTC Bowker's family remained in Springfield, Virginia while he was in Korea, and he returned to a position with the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the Africa Desk at the Pentagon. A highlight of this assignment was a two-week trip with a group of military to Somalia and Sudan in East Africa to advise and inspect conditions with the military units there in 1981. The first part of his return flight was on Somali Airlines. The flight turned out to be an unusual one. When he boarded the flight and sat down, the arm rest fell off into the aisle. Then, as the plane was taking off, he looked back and saw a passenger who did not have a seat, bracing himself against the back of the plane as the aircraft was tilted back for the take-off. The flight stopped at many different locations in the region.
On one occasion during LTC Bowker’s Pentagon assignment, he attended a service at The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. He and his wife entered one of the side doors and were waved to come in and seated near the front. When he saw the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State sitting nearby, he realized that they had been seated by mistake in the dignitary section. Suddenly, one of the shoulder boards on his dress-blue uniform popped up, causing him a bit of embarrassment among this distinguished group. He had a good laugh about it afterwards.
In the summer of 1982, LTC Bowker and his family headed south to the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area for his assignment to command the District Recruiting Battalion. This job involved a lot of travel to the different recruiting stations over this vast Texas district to inspect and to encourage those doing the recruiting. On one Veteran's Day during this two-year tour of duty, the City of Garland, Texas, near Dallas, invited LTC Bowker to be the Grand Marshall of their Veterans' Day Parade. It was on this assignment, also, that General Tom Jones promoted LTC Bowker to Colonel and pinned the eagles on his shoulders.
After Dallas, Colonel Bowker was assigned to the Corresponding Studies Department of the Army's Senior Service School, The Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, in 1984. Colonel Bowker was a graduate of the Corresponding Studies Department himself. This assignment involved the grading of essays written by the officers who were taking the course. During the summers, the correspondents would attend a two-week session of study at Carlisle Barracks during which time Colonel Bowker and others would teach the on-campus phase of the two-year course. After four years at the War College, Colonel Bowker decided to retire, having served as a U.S. Army Officer for twenty-seven years.
A few years later, he would decide to get his teaching certificate in Mathematics from Wilson College. Finally, in 2000, after several years of teaching assignments in the public schools of the area, he was hired for his "dream" teaching position, teaching Math at Trinity High School, the alma mater of both of his children.