Tears filled the eyes of Robert Mowery as his emotions got the best of him. He wanted to make it perfectly clear there is no glory in war, only sacrifice.
Sitting beside him was Keith Bolyard, who seconded the motion.
Mowery is 97 years old; Bolyard is 99. The two Allen County men are among the dwindling number of World War II veterans in America. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, only 2 percent of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are still alive today. As those numbers shrink, a portion of the nation’s memory of World War II disappears.
To keep some of those memories alive, Mowery and Bolyard sat down with The Lima News last week and shared their experiences during World War II as part of a Veterans Day tribute to honor those who served.
“We were called to duty and did what needed to be done. But the fact I’m here today and some of those who served beside me didn’t make it home … I cannot explain. So many good men, too many graves,” Mowery said, the words choking his throat as he spoke.
To this day, seven decades removed from the war, Bolyard said he still cannot fully talk about the things he saw and experienced in the Pacific Theater.
“There are a lot of things that I just needed to forget so I could get on with life,” Bolyard said.
All of us, Americans
Mowery grew up on farm in eastern Bath Township during the middle of the Depression. He was one of Burlin and Alice Mowery’s five children. They worked hard and they also knew hardship. A sister, Wanda, died from strep throat at the age of 7.
“Back then, there wasn’t the medicine that we have today. It tore at my mother when she passed,” Mowery recalled.
Things wouldn’t get easier. When America was drawn into the war following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Alice Mowery saw another one of her children leave the farm. Fresh out of high school, Robert was drafted into the Army. As he headed south for basic training, Alice headed to her knees to pray.
It was in basic training in Alabama, Tennessee and Arizona that Robert Mowery learned there not only was a right and wrong way of doing things, there was also Uncle Sam’s way.
In the Arizona desert, soldiers would deal with 100-plus degree temperatures during the day, then freeze at night. In Tennessee, they would be sent on week-long maneuvers, typically to a different area. “We often didn’t have enough food and always seemed hungry,” he said. That’s when Mowery said he experienced the might of the American people.
“Times were tough with the Depression and all, yet a family saw us bunking down outside in the cold and invited us into their home to get warm and they fed us, too,” he said. “Another time a family shared a bucket of boiled eggs and biscuits with us. Oh, man did we have a good meal that day.The people were so kind. We were all Americans, and we knew together we had a job to do.”
Away from home
The loneliness for home would never go away. One time Mowery’s mother and brother traveled to Tennessee to see him when he had a free weekend, but a communication snafu kept them from hooking up. “Mom had kidney stone trouble, but she came anyway. She wanted to see me before I went overseas. … She and my brother looked all over and never found me. My brother finally said they needed to go home, and when they got home, there in the mail was all the information they needed to know how to meet me. Boy, did that hurt not seeing them.”
Eventually Mowery was sent to Yuma, Arizona, where he worked in a warehouse. “That was something. We had all the food we could eat and showers. I thought I was in heaven.”
If that was heaven, he would soon find hell. In a few months Mowery would be in the South Pacific, fighting the Japanese on island beaches and mountains. Twice he was almost killed: the first time when a mortar shell landed at the spot where he stood a minute earlier, leaving him with a bleeding arm full of shrapnel. The second came when he felt a bullet whiz by his ear and kill the sergeant who stood behind him. That one left Mowery saying his prayers.
Married to Army
As for Bolyard, he received his draft notice from the Army while working with the Civilian Conservation Corp, a work relief program established by President Franklin Roosevelt. It provided young men with jobs working on environmental projects during the Great Depression. Bolyard was mechanically inclined, having worked at his father’s service station in Aurora, West Virginia. The Army ended up sending him to school to learn more about diesel engines.
Bolyard would end up in the Army Transport Service, where soldiers and seaman would hop around the islands, moving equipment and supplies into the battle zones. At one point Bolyard was aboard a ship that was made out of cement. “There was only three of them like that,” he said.
Bolyard was in the Aleutian Island preparing for the invasion of Japan when America dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima in August of 1945. Days later another atomic bomb flattened Nagasaki. “I knew then the war would soon be over, and sure enough, it wasn’t that much longer we were on a ship heading for California. … finally going home,” Bolyard said. “Had that not happened, many of us would not be here today.”
He married after returning home and he and his wife Meredith have celebrated 73 years together. They have four children: Keith Jr., of Columbus Grove; Gary, of Bellefontaine; Robert, of Burlington, Vermont; and Ruth, of Lima. Ironically, Ruth is married to Bob Mowery, who is Robert Mowery’s son.
Despite all that happened during the war, Bolyard said time can heal all wounds. He harbors no ill will toward the Japanese and admires their skill in building things as well as their work ethic.
For Robert Mowery, the end of the war was bittersweet.
He remembers all the troops going to the cemetery to pay their last respects. Soldiers were to dress in full uniform, but in Mowery’s case, much of his uniform was shredded or missing from the shrapnel that nearly killed him.
“A lieutenant, a regular smart aleck, looked us over before we left for the funeral and said, ‘you and you, grab a pick and shovel and star digging … I want a six-foot deep by six-foot wide hole,’” Mowery said. “Then he changed his mind and told us we were to dig it at night while everyone else was at the movies. When we were done, he ordered us to put the dirt back in the hole.”
After that, Mowery couldn’t get back to the States fast enough. He married and he and his wife Virginia have three children: Vickie Gibreath, Mary Adcock and Bob Mowery. As for his mother, she was never able to escape the clutches of her illness, and at age 49, passed away.
Bolyard, Mowery and the tens of thousands of others soldiers who fought in World War II would go on to rebuild America into the great nation it is today. During their lifetime they would see a boy who just lived down the road in Wapakoneta become the first man to walk on the moon, and today, they now have a front row seat to the technological revolution.
The lesson here?
It’s really rather simple.
As Keith Bolyard would say, sometimes you have to put things behind you so you can move forward.
ROSES AND THORNS: It’s a red, white and blue day in the rose garden.
Rose: To Jon Frueh Jr., whose Eagle Scout project saw him lead the efforts to restore the memorial for William E. Metzger Jr. at Metzger Lake Reservoir in Lima. Metzger was a U.S. Air Forces officer and a recipient of the United States military’s highest decoration—the Medal of Honor—for his actions in World War II.
Rose: To Susie Bergman, marketing director of the Maria Stein Shrine. She put together a program called “Baseball and blessings” that featured faith statements from some of that area’s top athletes. One of the presenters was women’s professional baseball player and Minster graduate Katie Horstman, who played for the Fort Wayne Daisies during World War II. She recalled her mother agreeing she could play professionally, at the age of 16, if she attended Mass every Sunday.
Rose: To the Lima Art Study Club, which celebrated its 100th anniversary Friday at the Shawnee Country Club. The club is still going strong with 45 members, according to president Jaye McCain.
Rose: To Greater Lima Region Inc., which donated $250,000 to the downtown Rotary amphitheater project.
Thorn: To Lima 6th Ward Councilman Derry Glenn. At a time when he and other council members are talking about the need to clean up Lima’s housing stock, it turns out that a rental property Glenn has owned for more than 12 years has deteriorated to the point that it faces demolition by the city.
Thorn: Normally, jay-walking might be considered a big crime in Columbus Grove. That changed when Addie Kiene went to the Dollar General story to return a DVD, only to become the victim of a scary car-jacking. A man, later identified as James M. Phillips, reportedly forced her to drive him north on state Route 65 before holding a gun to her head and telling her to get out of the vehicle.
PARTING SHOT: “Bravery is the capacity to perform properly even when scared half to death.” — U.S. General Omar Bradley.
Jim Krumel is the editor of The Lima News. Contact him at 567-242-0391 or at The Lima News, 3515 Elida Road, Lima, Ohio 45807.