(Steven Lane/The Columbian)
Dale Bowlin’s POW story might not exactly be typical, but the Vancouver veteran certainly was qualified to speak for all those saluted Wednesday during POW/MIA Recognition Day.
The observance at Vancouver’s Veterans Affairs campus honored those who lost their freedom as prisoners of war, as well as those who were reported as MIA — missing in action.
During the closing stages of World War II in Europe, Bowlin fit both categories.
Bowlin was one of the few POWs at Wednesday’s event, along with fellow Vancouver WWII veteran Eugene Liggett.
Bowlin said his POW experiences pale when compared with prisoners captured in Asia or to Liggett, who weighed about 100 pounds when he escaped.
Bowlin described his own story as “unique.” For one thing, “I never got to a POW camp,” Bowlin said.
That’s not the only distinction. A radio operator in an artillery battery, Bowlin was wounded on Feb. 21, 1945. However, Bowlin was hit by American artillery while in German custody.
“Blood was filling my left pant leg,” he recalled. “I took my belt and tried to stop the blood flow. A German soldier tried to help, but the belt buckle broke and he moved on.”
Bowlin crawled toward a German bunker and saw two German soldiers near him before losing consciousness.
“When I woke up, I was in a German field hospital,” Bowlin said. “A German soldier saved my life — a soldier I’d been shooting artillery at 10 minutes earlier. He risked his life instead of staying in that bunker.”
A German surgeon eventually amputated the leg above the knee.
After two months in German hospitals, Bowlin was able to send a telegram home, letting his family know he was alive.
“For the first two months, I was MIA,” Bowlin said.
Wednesday’s master of ceremonies, retired Army Col. Larry Smith, noted that his college roommate is still missing in action.
“His helicopter went down,” said Smith, a Vietnam veteran and member of the Vancouver city council.
Another speaker said that military officials continue trying to bring closure to family members of MIAs.
“There still are almost 10,000 military personnel listed as missing in action,” said Hank Kwiatkowski, chef de fer (national president) of the Forty & Eight veterans group.
About 600 members of the society are holding their national convention in Vancouver this week, and several attended the POW/MIA event.
“In 2011, more than 20 MIAs have been located and accounted for,” Kwiatkowski said. “The quest continues.”
Military officials are ready to start their 118th recovery activity in Laos, Kwiatkowski said.