CHURCH HILL — When Hiram Bowlin celebrated his 100th birthday in 2020 he told his good friend and fellow World War II veteran James “Edgar” Alley he’d be there in two years to celebrate Alley’s 100th birthday.
In early September Mr. Bowlin kept his word.
Alley became Church Hill’s newest centenarian on Sept. 4, and Bowlin, now 102, was able to make the ride across town to wish Alley a happy birthday.
For Alley’s 100 birthday party Congresswoman Diana Harshbarger sent him a birthday letter wishing him a happy 100th birthday, and a Plaque thanking him for his service during WWII. There is a link to the earlier Review story about Mr. Alley’s 100th birthday in the online version of this article at www.therogersvillereview.com
‘In recognition of service and valor’
Harshbarger learned during Alley’s 100th birthday, however, that there was another centenarian World War Two veteran in Church Hill who hadn’t received that same recognition.
Although Harshbarger was in Washington D.C., on Sept. 19 she sent her field representative Daryl Brady to visit Bowlin and rectify that oversight.
“We wanted you to have this certificate of special Congressional Recognition, Presented to Hiram H. Bowlin in recognition of service and valor in World War II,” Brady told Bowlin Monday.
Brady noted that Harshbarger launched a “pinning program” last year for recognizing Vietnam veterans.
“Certainly, when we find a World War II veteran, we want to do something extra special for you,” Brady said.
“That’s nice,” Bowlin said of his plaque.
‘We wanted to show our appreciation’
Brady was joined at the Bowlin residence on Sept. 19 by members of the Rogersville and Church Hill VFW.
Rogersville VFW commander Dave Evans presented Bowlin with a folded American flag.
Former Church Hill VFW commander James Vaughn presented Bowlin with a leather bound Bible in a decorative wooden case. Bowlin is the oldest member of the Church Hill First Baptist Church.
Rogersville VFW member Dennis Elkins presented Bowlin with a World War II veteran’s cap and a WWII veteran’s lapel pin.
“We wanted to show our appreciation to you as a World War II veteran and a 102-year-old veteran,” Elkins said. “I’m looking forward to seeing you next year at Mr. Alley’s birthday party. You’ll be 103 and he’ll be 101.”
Bowlin replied, “I was over there (at Alley’s house) when I hit 100, and I told him, when you hit 100 I’ll be over to see you. And, we went over when he was 100. He’s doing pretty good, I reckon.”
Bowlin added, “I guess I’m doing pretty good for 102. I can tell a lot of difference over the last year, though. My get-up-an-go is gone. I don’t know where it went.”
As for his secret to a long life Bowlin said, “When I was 100 a guy asked me that. I said, keep breathing.”
‘Never got a scratch’
Bowlin recalled serving under Patton in France during WWII.
“He was a good one. He got what he went after. He was pretty rough. I was in France waiting on a boat to come home when he got killed pretty close to me. There’s been everything said about it, but I don’t know what happened. It was a Jeep wreck of some kind.”
Bowlin said he was in communications and hung telephone wire connecting the front lines with the command posts.
Bowlin said he kept a positive outlook and he “never got a scratch”.
“I had a guy with me who was from New York, and he said, I’ll never go back home,” Bowlin said. “I said don’t look at it like that. I said look the other way. I said feel like you’ll go back. He got killed. He’d go out with me on the line and lay down, and I couldn’t get him up. I’d just tell him, you lay there if you want to. I’m going back to the C.P.”
Bowlin added, “It was a rough time. Day and night, 24/7. The only place I had to lay down was sometimes in the basement on a dirt floor and sleep maybe an hour. Maybe 10 minutes. It was rough going, and I thank the Lord.”
‘I appreciate you fellows so much’
Bowlin completed rifleman’s school prior to arriving in France and received a good score. When he arrived in Metz, France he was assigned to communications.
“I didn’t know whether to shoot myself or go AWOL,” Bowlin said. “I got with a good bunch who made it good. It was rough but that made it good. That was some experience. I thank the Good Lord I’m here. That’s about the size of it. But, I always thought I’d come back.”
Mr. Bowlin was delighted to have so many visitors and receive his gifts and recognition on Sept. 19.
“I never thought something like this would ever happen,” Bowlin said. “I appreciate you fellows so much. I just ain’t got it to tell you how much.”
Brady: “The honor is ours just to be around you. Just to be here with you is an incredible experience.”
Bowlin: “It’s something to me that I never thought would happen.”
This article was previously published in the Review on Sept. 24.