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Fort Wayne Navy veteran recalls kamikaze attacks in Pacific

While recuperating in a military hospital in the Philippines from a chemical spill over much of his body, Bowman was given a drawing of his face done by a Filipino friend. He has kept the drawing for more than 70 years.
While recuperating in a military hospital in the Philippines from a chemical spill over much of his body, Bowman was given a drawing of his face done by a Filipino friend. He has kept the drawing for more than 70 years.
Louis Bowman served in the US Navy during World War II aboard the USS Jobb, a destroyer escort.
Louis Bowman served in the US Navy during World War II aboard the USS Jobb, a destroyer escort.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Louis Bowman served aboard a destroyer escort during World War II.

Monday, May 01, 2017 12:01 am

“I never thought I'd make it home from the war,” said Louis Bowman of Fort Wayne. During World War II, he was stationed aboard the USS Jobb DE-707. It was a destroyer escort responsible for patrolling the waters of the South Pacific for Japanese submarines.

During much of 1944 through 1945, Bowman witnessed another threat – kamikazes. “One day I saw three come at us and other ships," he said. “Thankfully, we shot them down.” Kamikazes are Japanese pilots who deliberately crash into enemy targets, usually ships.

Bowman was born in Lawrenceville, Ill. in 1920. His stepfather had been a soldier with the Scottish regulars from Scotland's Queen's Army during WWI. Bowman keeps a photo of his stepfather in uniform on his mantle of his home.

After graduating from Hammond Tech High School in 1938, he became a 'gandy dancer' for the Chicago and Eastern Railroad. “I hit spikes that helped build the railroad," he said. He also worked at International Harvester in Fort Wayne before being drafted into the Navy in October 1943.

Bowman completed basic training and rode trains to the East Coast where he was assigned to the Jobb.

During general quarters, Bowman, who was nicknamed “Red” due to his coppery hair, was assigned to the engine room. “I was trained as an electrician, so I stayed near the electronics," he said.

The Jobb was equipped with 5-inch and 20mm guns, torpedoes, anti-submarine mortars and depth charges. This weaponry was helpful with conflicts at Borneo, Leyte and other locations around the Philippines. The Jobb also picked up survivors of other ships that had come under attack.

Other dangers at sea included mines planted in the waters by the Japanese. “The mines were to prevent ships from gaining access to coasts,” said Bowman. “We almost hit a mine in the water one time. I was scared, but thankfully we managed to go around it.”

Another time he was not so lucky at avoiding mishap. On May 13, 1945, the Jobb was floating in dry dock for repairs on the small island of Moretai, located in the Netherlands East Indies (NEI). An Allied battle to gain control of Moretai had begun in fall 1944 and extended through the end of the war as the Allies needed the area as a base to support the liberation of the Philippines. Allied Army and Marines had helped secure the area there as well.

On that warm spring day Bowman was aboard ship handling glass bottles of sulfuric acid, a dangerous chemical he needed for routine tasks. Suddenly, he tripped and the bottles broke. The toxic acid spilled, covering much of Bowman's body. He writhed in pain and fell to the floor.

When the chief electrician found Bowman, he followed correct procedure by attempting to wash the sailor's injuries with water. Bowman was carried to the ship's sick bay where medical staff covered his 3rd degree burns with Vaseline. Bowman was sedated to relieve the pain. “They didn't expect me to survive the first night, but I did," he said.

He was evacuated to a hospital in the Philippines where medical personnel treated him, especially trying to keep his tonsils from bleeding. “It hurt to breathe for a long time," he said. A small bright spot for Bowman was when a friendly Filipino made a drawing of his face when he was in the hospital and gave it to Bowman. He still has the drawing today.

Bowman's pain-wracked body was placed on a ship which took 18 days to get to the United States. He was sedated by morphine much of the time. From the west coast Bowman rode a Pullman train to Chicago where he spent many months in a hospital. At times his skin came off and he had to be careful while bathing.

Bowman's wife, whom he had married in 1941 prior to his military service, had received news of his injury. “Patricia was notified that I had been hurt via telegram but it did not tell her how I had been hurt," he said.

When Patricia traveled from her home in Adams County in Indiana to visit her husband, she left the couple's son, Louis Albert, born in 1942 and the future owner of Bowman Aviation in Fort Wayne, with family.

Other times when Patricia could not travel to Chicago, Louis went 'over the hill'—an idiom indicating he left the hospital on his own. “I hitchhiked to Decatur to see my wife for an overnight visit," he said. “A nurse at the hospital signed my name in at night so no one would realize I was missing.”

Receiving burns to his body was not the only difficult time for Bowman during his military service. “My mother died while I was at sea in 1944," he said. “I was handed a cablegram about her death and knew I could not get home. That was tough.”

Bowman was discharged from the hospital and the Navy on the same date – January 31, 1946. He held the rank of Electrician's Mate 3rd class. He worked as a plant engineer at Harvester until retiring in 1974. He and Patricia became parents to three children.

Louis Bowman has participated in Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana.

Despite his hardships, Bowman said he was glad to serve in World War II. “I saw a lot of the world," he said. “It was not all good, but it was a great experience.”

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