The Suburbanite
  • WWII Then and Now: Ernest Bowser kept supply lines moving

  • Ernest Bowser of Nimishillen Township, who was living  in Maryland at the time, tried first to volunteer to fight in World War II.

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  • Ernest Bowser of Nimishillen Township, who was living in Maryland at the time, tried first to volunteer to fight in World War II.
    “My buddy and I went one month to enlist. We were feeling rambunctious. But the Army already had their quota. They sent us home. The next month, we were drafted.”
    After training, Bowser and his friend, Carl Miller, were sent overseas on Miller’s birthday.
    “Nice birthday present,” Bowser noted with a chuckle.
    They sailed on the Queen Elizabeth to the British Isles, and spent time in Scotland, Ireland and England. They met up at one point with his brother, Russell Bowser, who was serving in the Army Air Force.
    “I don’t remember how we made connections, but I met him at the YMCA,” said Bowser. “Woke him up at night.”
    When Bowser’s unit was sent to France, it landed at Normandy 36 days after D-Day.
    “They had a pretty good beachhead at Normandy,” said Bowser. “By the time we got there, they were ready to start their drive across Europe. From then on, we were on the move, depending on how fast the front moved.”
    Usually stationed a day to several days behind the fighting, Bowser said most of his job was “directing traffic.” It was vital traffic — supply lines that fed the front with necessities. And doing his duty earned Bowser a Bronze Star.
    “Through rare good judgment, common sense and initiative, he handled each problem that presented itself in noteworthy manner,” praised the citation for his medal. “Though at times exposed to artillery fire and aerial strafing, he courageously remained at his post in order that supplies might be kept moving.”
    The military police usually were within artillery range. On one occasion, Bowser and a fellow policeman were standing in a village near a bandstand when they were hit with a mortar attack, enemy fire that kept getting closer.
    “We finally decided to go across the street and get into a burned-out building. No sooner than we got there, a shell hit the bandstand. I was a little farther into the building than my buddy, but the concussion knocked him to his knees. That was the closest call we had. If we hadn’t moved, I probably wouldn’t be here.”
    Much of the supply line traffic moved at night, in vehicles that had their headlights blacked out, except for slits allowing a small amount of light to be seen on the ground but not from the air.
    “When the war was over, that was one of the most beautiful sights, when they could use their headlights again,” said Bowser.
    The military police of the 217th were in Erlangen, Germany, when news arrived about the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The soldiers continued through southern Germany — saw the horrors of Dachau concentration camp — as the war was winding down. The unit arrived in Austria at the time when the fighting in Europe ended.
    Page 2 of 2 - “We were supposed to go to the South Pacific,” said Bowser. “They had issued us equipment. But the war ended.
    “When we pulled into New York Harbor, everybody was on one side of the ship (to look at the Statue of Liberty) and the ship listed. It was a beautiful sight.”
    Bowser married his wife, Helen. They were married almost 63 years before she passed away in 2011. They raised a son, David Bowser of Ravenna, and daughter, Deb Carlile of Alliance. He has five grandchildren and one great-grandson.
    He worked as a bricklayer and as an electrician in Maryland for a time before coming to Canton in 1948, so both he and his wife could get jobs with the Timken Co. She later worked in the banking industry and soon he had gotten a job at Sugardale Foods in Canton. Bowser worked there 34 years, mostly in the shipping department, before retiring in 1983.
    Bowser has filled the last three decades with much volunteer work, such as delivering Meals on Wheels. He has served his church, Mount Pleasant Church of the Brethren.
    When thoughts are given time to return to the war, they are vague, he said, like a dream from decades ago.
    When reminded of his service — years of his life — Bowser will acknowledge the duration, but make no mention that it was a sacrifice. It was simply his duty, and many men answered the lengthy call.
    “In those days, unless you were wounded, they didn’t let you go home until they didn’t need you anymore.”

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