Michelle Ann Kratts

An American Soldier; the story of Private Jonathan Bowen

In LaSalle, Off to War on July 23, 2013 at 9:42 pm
Margaret, Jon and Brendan

Margaret, Jon and Brendan.  Jon is wearing his Purple Heart.

According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, 16,112,566 individuals were members of the United States armed forces during World War II. In November 2012, it was estimated that approximately 1,462,809 American veterans from this war were still living. Most are in their 80’s and 90’s. This past week my son, Brendan, and I had the privilege of meeting with a veteran from World War II, Jonathan Bowen, and his wife, Margaret. Brendan has a great deal of interest in World War II and often surprises us with his knowledge of historical events of this period. He plans on joining the military one day himself. He was especially delighted to meet with Mr. Bowen and to hear what it was really like to be a private during World War II.

Jonathan Bowen 2

The back of this photograph reads simply:  Love Jonnie Bowen (1945, Germany)

Mr. Bowen, like my son, lived in the village of LaSalle, and attended local schools. In 1942, while a student at Niagara University, he received a notice to sign for a draft card for military service. This was just the beginning. For this notice would change his life. By April of 1943, he was officially inducted into the Army but was granted a continuation in order to allow him to finish his sophomore year of college. In June, he reported to Fort Niagara and trained for several weeks. Uniforms were issued at Fort Niagara. From there he was sent on a New York Central train to Camp Fannin, Texas, for 12 weeks of basic training. It was the middle of the night when he first arrived. The men slept on cots–some double decker. They were given their guns at Camp Fannin. They learned how to shoot and how to clean them. They marched. They crawled around on the ground while live rounds and grenades passed over their heads. They trained this way both in the day time and at night. They always carried their rifles. Training was rough for this boy from Niagara Falls. And hot. He especially recalls the stifling Texas heat and being thirsty all of the time.

Jonathan Bowen 1

Jonathan in his army uniform (possibly outside of his home in La Salle)

Scoring exceptionally well on the entrance tests for the military, Mr. Bowen was accepted into the Army’s Specialized Training Program (ASTP). Following basic training at Camp Fannin, he was sent to Philadelphia for eight weeks of study at the Drexel Institute of Technology. About five of the men were housed together at Hotel Philadelphia during this time period. Mr. Bowen remembers this as a pleasant experience—much more akin to how he had envisioned his life. He studied chemistry and physics. Unfortunately, the Drexel Institute of Technology was short lived. The war was at a critical crossroads and there was a great need for more troops. He was suddenly pulled from the training program and sent to another camp in Louisiana with the 84th Division, Company E, and then shipped off to the European Theater. Louisiana, during the summer, was also extremely hot and humid.

Following training in Louisiana, Jonathan went by troop train to New York and embarked on the sister ship to the luxury liner, Morrow Castle, to England. The ships filled with soldiers sailed in formation with convoy ships in the center, tankers next and destroyers on the outside. On the boat the men slept on hammocks. They landed in South Hampton, England, and stayed at Winchester Barracks, until they were summoned to Europe.

It was actually a beautiful Fall day when Jonathan and about 1,000 men landed upon Utah Beach. There was quite a bit of fighting ahead as many had come before them. He did not know what to expect however he was prepared for anything. They were sent on to Belgium where they lived in foxholes. There were no tents. Under constant shelling, his company (E Company) had three days on the frontlines, followed by two days of relief. It was during this time, about November of 1944, that Jonathan was wounded in an attack against the Germans. Not even realizing that he had been shot, another soldier noticed his foot was bleeding. He remembers that it had felt as if he had been hit with a stone. He was in the hospital tent for 7 to 10 days. Medics extracted the shrapnel from his left heel while buzz bombs whizzed overhead. After a brief recuperation, he was released and sent back to the 84th Infantry Division.

Jonathan 4

jonathan 5

Some Niagara Men wounded and missing listed in the Niagara Gazette. 

Back with his company, he was immediately loaded into a truck and brought to the front lines and to the Battle of the Bulge. Lodged in foxholes on a hillside, he and the other men suffered terrible hardship. As weather conditions deteriorated, the Germans had decided to advance. They awaited the Germans in their foxholes. He recalls a time that he was on patrol and he and his group had noticed a lone German tank. They were afraid it may have been booby-trapped. The men dispersed and were shot at as they left. Upon returning with armor piercing weapons, it was determined that there were no Germans in the tank, nor was it booby-trapped. It was merely abandoned.

Another incident took place where three Germans were taken prisoner. The Americans were going through a pass, in single file, all the while Germans shot at them. These Germans were overcome and taken as prisoners.

Life was not easy for the privates. The artillery was neverending. They were in constant fear for their lives. They stayed in the same foxholes for long periods. In the field the men went weeks without showers and “trench foot” was a real concern as their feet were always wet. They had only K-rations for food. They included cans of cheese, instant coffee, chocolate bars, lemonade. Jonathan saw the Army, and the war, as a job that he needed to get done. He chose not to make close friends. Perhaps, it frightened him to become close to anyone, as he had witnessed so much sadness and death. However, as strange as it sounds, Jonathan did run into a classmate while serving overseas. A private named, Nick Napolitano, was also with the 84th Division.

Jonathan and the guys

“Hunsinger, Ackman, Cowan, Rico, Epley…Jon Bowen and Friends, Europe”

Jon is standing on the far right with mess kit.

As the Germans continued to withdraw, Jonathan’s company moved forward. The Americans rented houses in Belgium. He shared a couple of rooms with four or five other privates. They slept anywhere there was space. Soon they found themselves in Hanover, Germany. They were told not to fraternize with the Germans. Their motto was always: “kill or be killed.” However, they did speak with the Germans. He had a friend who spoke German well and he learned to speak German, too. Although he found Germany pretty and filled with beautiful trees, it was also a mess of tanks, equipment and bombed out villages. They were never sure when the war actually ended. At one point, they had been told it was over, but were strafed by a couple of airplanes. Some men were even wounded and possibly killed.

When the war had officially ended, Jonathan was sent to Reims, France. He worked as an agent on the railroad and had a nice place to stay where a German POW cleaned the rooms. He and the other men walked daily to the train station waiting for word that they would be going home. He lived comfortably in Reims and was able to spend some time in Paris and London. It may be during this time that he was able to see President Truman and General Eisenhower in person. He remembers that the soldiers had all of their bullets taken from their rifles during the visit of these two very important men—just in case.

Eventually, Jonathan was sent by train to Le Havre. During the stormy season on the North Sea they boarded boats and embarked upon a 12-day trip to New York City. While in New York City, he saw his girlfriend, Eleanor (they had met at Drexel), and then finally returned to Niagara Falls. Margaret was at Buffalo State College when the war ended. They were friends for some time and actually wrote letters back and forth during the war.

Following the war, Jonathan was intent on being a civilian once again. He left the Army as soon as possible and although he refused to wear civilian clothes (and wore his uniform until it wore thin) he had a difficult time adjusting to home life. His parents thought he was “funny.” All of his friends were getting back into their life, or had chosen to stay in the Army for some time. His parents had hoped he would return immediately to school—but he just was not ready at the time. Eventually he did return to school under the GI Bill and he pursued the career in science that he had originally set out to pursue before the war ripped him away. He and Margaret were married and lived happily ever after. They have two children: Jonathan, Jr., and Glenn; four grandchildren: Heather, Melanie, Nathan and Joshua; and two great grandchildren: Chloe and Anastasia One of their grandsons, Joshua, is serving in the Army and has spent time in Afghanistan.Margaret

Jon and Margaret’s Engagement notice in the Niagara Falls Gazette

March 29, 1947

Mr. Bowen has left the war behind him for now. It was over 60 years ago that he was a young private landing on a beach in France. I think my son and I were startled at how much he does remember of that strange adventure in Europe. And he doesn’t recall it with sadness or regret. He knew he had a job to do and he followed through without complaint. And, yes, he was lucky enough to come home and to live a full life and to meet on a hot day in July in the library with another young boy from LaSalle.

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  1. Sadly my Dad passed away in Syracuse on 4/27/17 but I shared this story from July 23rd,2013 with my friends and family

    • Glenn,

      I am so sorry to hear this! It was such an honor to meet with him and to talk about his time in the service. Please give your mother my condolences.

      Michelle

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