Update, March 9, 2014: I just received word from his daughter, pictured below, that Gerald Bowman Passed away peacefully this past Saturday night, March 8th. In his honor I am republishing this story.
God looked around His garden, And found an empty place. He then looked down upon the earth, And saw your tired face. He put His arms around you, And lifted you to rest. God’s garden must be beautiful, He always takes the best. He knew that you were suffering, He knew that you were in pain. He knew that you would never, Get well on earth again. He saw the road was getting rough, And the hills were hard to climb. So He closed your weary eyelids, And whispered “Peace be thine. It broke our hearts to lose you, But you didn’t go alone. For part of us went with you, The day God called you home.
Originally published: March 7, 2013
Korean War veteran Gerald Bowman gamely walked up the gangplank to board the ship he had not seen in almost six decades. The 82-year-old is suffering from congestive heart failure with only about a year to live and his dying wish was to walk the decks of the USS Laffey on which he served four years, including three tours off Korea. Wearing a USS Laffey hat, he led reporters through the ship at the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum on Charleston Harbor Friday, stopping by his old bunk and then into the engine room where as a machinist mate he worked, sometimes in sweltering temperatures of more than 120 degrees.
Gerald Bowman boards the USS Laffey for the first time in 60 years
The Laffey gained a reputation as being unsinkable after surviving major skirmishes at sea during the Korean War
Bowman said he accepted dangerous missions while serving on the destroyer simply because he was young and didn’t stop to think about being afraid
He choked up and paused when asked how it felt to be back. ‘I just wanted to come back and see actually what happened to me in my early 20s,’ the Elkins, Ark., man said. ‘I think the bottom line was the four years changed me. I was a different person when I left.’ His Navy experiences included a 28-day stretch when, from off the Korean coast, the Laffey poured shells at targets onto the mainland. He described how the ship would roll from side to side when the guns were fired and how he would go out with a couple other sailors in small wooden boats to clear mines. It had to be done at night, with no lights and no weapons except for knives. The metal from the guns might have exploded the floating mines, he said.
Bowman remembered how the ship would roll from side to side when the guns were fired, and how he would go out with a couple other sailors in small wooden boats to clear mines
Bowman, who will die in a year of terminal heart disease, said he wanted to see the place that molded him into a man
‘I asked him why he volunteered to do something so dangerous. He said it was because he was 20 years old,’ his daughter Kim Bowman Billings said. Father and daughter were watching television coverage of the Laffey being brought back to the museum just over a year ago after undergoing $9 million in repairs. ‘It just came on and he said that’s my ship.
Bowman and daughter, Kim Bowman Billings, laugh at seeing a picture of Bowman as a young serviceman
He said how he wished he could walk her one more time and he could even show me the bunk where he slept,’ Billings said. Bowman said he didn’t know what had become of the ship until he saw the TV coverage. The Laffey got its nickname ‘The Ship That Would not Die’ in World War II when it was attacked in 1945 off Japan. It suffered 103 casualties when hit by four bombs and five kamikaze planes.
While in his early 20s Bowman served three tours on the ship through the Korean War
The vessel and was mothballed after the war but reactivated for Korea. Bowman’s trip was arranged after Billings contacted the Dream Foundation, a California-based organization granting wishes for adults and their families facing life-threatening illnesses. Hardees also help arrange the trip. ‘This is my gift to him,’ Billings said. ‘I think it’s the most wonderful thing in the world.’
THE USS LAFFEY WAS ‘THE SHIP THAT WOULD NOT DIE’
Named for seaman Bartlett Laffey, who was awarded the medal of honor for the fight against Confederate forces in 1864, the USS Laffey is an Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer that launched to fight in World War II in 1944. The unsinkable ship came under heavy attacks at both the D-Day invasion and the battle of Okinawa, where it endured four bombs, six kamikaze attacks, and strafing fire. The Okinawa attacks were so brutal that 32 of the crew were killed and 71 wounded, but the Laffey survived. The Laffey’s exploits earned the the nickname ‘The Ship That Would Not Die.’ The Laffey was launched into the Korean War a decade later, helping to support the Naval blockade of the east coast of Korea and participating in antisubmarine exercises. In 1986, the Laffey was declared a National Historic Landmark, and it is now docked as a museum ship in South Carolina’s Patriots Point along with the aircraft carrier Yorktown and submarine Clamagore.
Attribution: Daily Mail, AP