Veterans Day, Friday, November 11, 2005
Marilyn Bowers Jensen makes the South Idaho Press.
By SARAH M. BLASIUS
The stories of the "Unsung Heroes" have all been told directly and recorded as told by persons who experienced combat, or combat-related assignments during World War II. Each of these narrators went to war, and many were engaged in combat on land, on sea, and in the air. These stories, all told after a 60-year hiatus between the experiences and the telling of them, are compelling. The miraculous survival of these combatants, almost always under horrendous circumstances, allowed them to return from war as heroes to their communities – to be reunited with their families and friends. Each of these men survived to tell their stories, to share their laughter and their tears with those of us who live in this area of Idaho, so far away from those unfamiliar places where their stories played out in the annals of history.
Many WWII heroes did not survive their battles and are either buried where they fell or were brought back to their homes to be buried with military honors, often beside other members of their families who had preceded them to the grave. We sing about them, and tell their stories for them. In the case of Rex Bowers who left his young family in Burley to answer the call to serve in the U.S. Army and to die on January 25, 1945, in the drifted snow which covered a battlefield in the Ardennes, near Weiswampach, Luxembourg, we have to find his voice in the letters he left behind.
Rex’s oldest child, Marilyn Bowers Jensen, describes her dad's departure for Ft. Meade, Maryland, the last time she saw him alive. At the age of 5, it was difficult for Marilyn to fully understand the circumstances which took her beloved father so far away from home. She describes the experience, shared universally by thousands of other families, in her memoirs.
"All of us were there to see him off. I remember going to the train station and I remember the steam coming from under the wheels. I remember the loud whistles. My father boarded the train, looked out the window at us, covered his face with his hands, and then turned away. He had confided to his father and his close friends that he did not believe he would make it home."
Marilyn goes on to write that her grandfather promised her dad that he would look after his kids.
"Grandpa and Grandma Bowers kept their promise to their son. They looked after us, but they never got over the death of their son. They couldn’t talk about him, and whenever we asked things like, ‘How tall was my dad?’ they answered quickly and then left the room. It was too painful for them. When Grandpa Bowers died in 1992, at the age of 94, I found a shoe box of my dad’s letters in his closet. It was the first time that I had seen my dad’s handwriting or heard his voice through his writings."
Marilyn always thought her birthday was the day that Rex died. "December 22, 1944, was my fifth birthday. I’ll always remember my fifth birthday, as that was the day I lost my dad. That is not exactly so, as my dad was killed in January, but childhood memories are not made up of facts alone, and that is how I remember it. My dad was killed when I was five. I don’t remember if I had a birthday party. My baby book offers no clues, but I must have had a birthday party. I always did."
As Marilyn read her father’s letters, the hiatus which had separated her from him since her childhood closed. "I have always missed my dad. But in the Fall of 1992 following the death of Grandpa Bowers and the discovery of the shoe box full of letters, I felt for the first time the agony of his death. His words revealed a young man full of strength and courage."
Here are Rex’s letters, transcribed exactly as he wrote them.
United States Army
Somewhere at Sea
December 24, 1944
Well, I’m on my way . To where, I don’t know. No one seems to know. We hear rumors but you know how you can depend on them. I feel OK so far. I thought I’d get seasick but no soap. We only eat 2 meals a day. I thought I’d starve to death on that but I manage. The food isn’t the best but I have eaten worse. We get to the PX once in a while and get candies etc. so it isn’t so bad. We also bought some candy bars the first day on ship.
Schaeffer (John Schaeffer from Paul) and I sat on the deck watching the waves. They sure are beautiful if you like water.
All the fellows seem pretty happy tonite. Well here’s one kid that’s not. I wish I were home to help the children enjoy their Christmas. Maybe next year. Well, I’ll call this good for now. I’ll write tomorrow. Merry Christmas & Happy New Year. Rex
No date (probably December 28)
Well, I’m still at sea. I’m well but unhappy. We don’t have much to do only eat and sleep and a few details. I sure hope we see land pretty soon. I’m getting sick and tired of this water. We saw some boats today so I guess we’re close to land. I haven’t the slightest idea where I’m at. We hear plenty of rumors where we’re going. I won’t believe any of them till I am on good old mother earth again.
I see a lot of the fellows that I know. The four of us from Idaho are together in the same sleeping quarters. It makes it pretty nice. We also have been winning prizes for the best sleeping quarters. I brought a New Testament with me. I’ve been reading it a little each day. In the past I never was able to understand it. I do now.
I sure miss Myrtle and the children. God only knows. I sure hope this whole mess is over soon and we can all come home. Have you heard from Neal (Rex’s oldest brother) lately? The last letter I got from him he told me to wait till I heard from him again before I wrote. I haven’t received any mail from anyone for a couple of weeks now. I sure miss it. Well, try and take care of yourselves and I’ll try and do the same. Write often.
January 19, 1945 (This is Rex’s last letter, written 6 days before he died.)
Belgium (Co. C of the 134 Infantry Regiment, 35th Division was in reserve at Michamps. They had just gone through 10 days of heavy fighting and living in foxholes in two feet of snow at subzero temperatures.)
Dearest Darling Folks:
I’ll try and write a letter while I have a chance. We don’t get a chance very often. I am still OK. I hope I keep up the good luck.
How is everything at home? I haven’t received any from home yet so I don’t know how you are. If I don’t get some pretty soon, I’ll go buggy.
How are Myrtle (Rex’s wife) and the children making out? I sure hope they make out OK. They’ll make it OK. I just hope I’ll be one of the lucky ones that get to come home. It’s not how good a guy is over here, but whether your number is on that bullet.
Has Neal shipped yet? I sure hope he never has to come over here. It’s really rough and I don’t mean maybe. A lot of the time a guy goes on sheer guts.
Does Alice (Rex’s sister) ever hear from Max? How’s he doing? I suppose that he’s drawing that extra $10 combat money. We have no use for money over here so I’m going to send all mine home to Myrtle. She can use it a lot better than I can. If she saves any of it I hope I can come back and help her spend it. I will though so don’t worry about me.
Well, it’s time for chow so I’ll call this good for now. Write every chance and I’ll do the same. See you someday.
The bullet which had his number on it left Rex’s questions unanswered. They died with him in the snows of the Ardennes on the final day of the Battle of the Bulge, not to be brought to light until Marilyn read her father’s letters.
The KIA report was filed on January 29, 1945. In a personnel report which Marilyn received in1996 after extensive inquiry into the circumstances of her father’s death, one poignant, and revealing item was listed among Rex’s personal effects. Almost unnoticeable among the usual items – wristwatch, fountain pen, leather billfold, and the French Francs which made up the pocket change – was a money order receipt for $20, the combat pay which he had promised to send home. A promise made – a promise kept – a testimony to the loyalty of a husband and father who would not be coming home to the welcoming embrace of his family.
Three years after his death, Rex did come home again. Marilyn’s words document the efforts made by her grandfather. Elias Bowers (the Grandpa Bowers mentioned in Rex’s first letter) requested that his son’s body be sent home for burial in the family plot in Burley.
According to his request the body was disinterred at the Grand Failly Military Cemetery in Luxembourg and shipped to Ft. Douglas, Utah for return to his family in Idaho.
"When the remains of PFC Rex M. Bowers arrived on Union Pacific Train #49 at 6:13 a.m. on December 4, 1948, Grandpa, Neal and Clyde were there to receive the casket. His body was accompanied by a military escort, SPF James H. Robinson."
Another unsung hero, one of the Band of Brothers, had come home to stay.
For more information about the battle that claimed Rex Bowers’ life and the monument established by his daughter or to contact Marilyn Jensen about her father, write: firstname.lastname@example.org
Also visit: http://www.awon.org/awbowers.html
in memory of PFC Rex M. Bowers