Flagman, May 29, 2010

“My dad’s my hero—pure and simple.  He’s an airman, a soldier, and a father—he’s always been there for me.”

With these words, Michael Bowen gives his father a kiss on the cheek, then makes a frank and painful admission: that his father is suffering from degenerative heart disease—an issue that may shorten the World War II hero’s life. 

As the Visionalist crew films the veterans of both the Vietnam War and World War II, we continue to be saddened by the passing of our heroes from both conflicts.  The opportunity to see veteran fathers and sons together has formed a core that we believe will be part of the legacy of Our Vietnam Generation.

Now 87, Bob Bowen flew 30 missions as a part of the 351st Bomb Squadron,  He enlisted at the age of 19, a time when the Air Force was referred to as the Army Air Corps.  As a side note, the 351st was the unit to which Captain Clark Gable was assigned.

“During World War II, my Dad went through hell,” says Mike.  “He saw buddies  fall out of the of  bottom of planes.  He was in the thick of things.  He saw action that many vets only imagine.  He is to me, and to America, a true example of the men and women who make our country as great as it is today.”

Hero status appears to a have come down through the generations.  Mike Bowen is a member of the Patriot Guard Riders, a group that rides motorcycles without requiring that they are vets, but has a special attachment to vets. 

Bowen says, “They are an awesome group of people; my second family.  I like the fact that they do not require members to be veterans, but can offer the support and respect of the entire group, regardless of military service…”

However, Mike Bowen himself is very much a veteran.  Having enlisted during the Vietnam War, he served in Germany  in 1968 – 1970, and to this day speaks with the utmost respect of those who served in country as well as the hundreds of thousands of support troops that served with distinction all over the world..

Of course, from the beginning of the Visionalist Production experience filming Vietnam War veterans, it became obvious that men like Bowen are equally deserving of the undying respect of all Americans for their service.  And not only because of what they’ve done for us on various fields of duty, but because they’ve accepted and embraced the role of caretaker for the last generation of World War II warriors as well as the next one, currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, whom they are making certain are receiving a proper welcome home.

This is something that Vietnam vets frequently did not receive.

Of his father, Bowen says,   “I am lucky that he is still alive.  He joined up at 19, became a ball-turret gunner, flew thirty missions.  At the time, the Nazis said we weren’t going to put big bombers over Berlin, and we ended up doing exactly that.   My dad was among the airmen that flew them.”

Since then, Bowen has been running for the veteran cause.  Having put behind him more than 54,000 miles all over Michigan in support of Vietnam  prisoners of war and MIAs, all of which he accomplished  while carrying the familiar black and white POW flag, he has adopted the nickname ‘Flagman’. 

He has become a familiar sight as he runs, and frequently repeats his motto:  “The Flagman never forgets…”

In the early 1980’s, Mike admits to being a smoker—a habit he gave up prior to beginning his running journey.  He says that it was an experience at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington DC that started him on the pathway.  “I met a woman there who was looking at a specific name on ‘The Wall’, and when I asked her if her son had died in Vietnam, she replied, ‘I don’t think he’s dead’.  That gave me plenty to think about, and I have been thinking about all those missing soldiers as I put the miles behind me.  I will run a mile for each of the 58,226 men and women who died in Vietnam, and then I may continue in honor of the men and women currently giving up their lives in conflicts in the Middle East.”

Still, as much as Flagman respects these soldiers, he holds an inevitable and special place in his heart for his father.  On Memorial Day weekend, 2010, he arrived early to spend time with him, and to make sure that Bob Bowen knows how much his middle son appreciates him.  

“My Dad is my hero; my best friend,” says Bowen, “So what better place to be on Memorial Day than here with him?  There are plenty of places I guess I could be.  But this is where I want to be, sharing time with my Dad.”

Bowen adds a comment which is reflected on his t-shirt and sums up his feelings for his father:

“We are the land of the free… because of the brave.”



Contact Us