Wednesday, dozens of veterans gathered at a memorial service for a man saved from possibly freezing to death. They lined the graveside with American flags, and handled the 21-gun salute, and wept for a man many had never met.
“Today we are Mr. Bowers’ family,” said Vietnam War wounded combat veteran Loyd Comer, who runs the VFW honor guard. “This man served his country. So we serve him. Period.”
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Veterans and vets groups raised almost $9,000 to help Bowers after The Herald reported he was among people being evicted from an Eden Terrace residence. He was saved from homelessness by Rock Hill police and later, state Department of Social Services workers. Bowers lived his last months in safety and warmth, said Amber Clark, commander of the VFW Post 2889 and a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Donations also helped with the funeral.
“This community came together like never before. Donations came from veterans and so many others, and it shows the love for veterans and America that York County and Rock Hill have,” Clark said.
Melinda Woodhurst, veterans services officer for York County and a combat soldier herself, described the outpouring of donations and other kind acts ars “the best of America.”
The remaining money will be used for other veterans in similar circumstances, Clark and Woodhurst said.
Bowers served four years in the Navy during the Korean War. The difficulties of his later life pushed veterans to not just help then, but to see Bowers’ life through to the end.
Veterans and veteran supporters with the Patriot Guard Riders, VFW, American Legion, Veterans Affairs Office of York County, Rolling Thunder and others stood to support Bowers’ extended family. Bowers had no children. He had retired from a maintenance job, and generally kept to himself, family said. Nobody even had a picture of him more recent than decades ago.
It made no difference Wednesday.
Hard men and strong women lined the graveside Wednesday, wearing leather motorcycle gear and the grim and strong faces of a love of country that cannot be denied. They came from Charlotte and throughout South Carolina and other states after reading The Herald’s coverage. Some limped from war wounds in faraway lands. Their uniforms covered shrapnel scars and bullet holes stitched up and hearts that so love their country and the military who fight for it.
The family of Bowers was stunned, shocked, to see so many people, almost all of them strangers, standing so proudly for Bobby Bowers.
“I will never forget this show of love – it is so appreciated,” said Bowers’ brother Tom Bowers.
A sister, Jeanne Bowers, called the people at the funeral “wonderful” as she thanked each one personally.
Bowers’ niece, Donna West Bowers, was overcome with emotion – not just for the death of her uncle.
“To see all these people here who care so much, is it is incredible,” West Bowers said as she cried and hugged those who attended.
Comer, the wounded vet, presented an American flag to Bowers’ sister Jeanne. She thanked him and he whispered: “No ma’am – I thank your brother. We all do. His country thanks him.”
Guns were fired, Taps was played, nice words were spoken. The veterans and supporters stood through it all, in the heat, and did not flinch. Ramrod straight, these veterans didn’t even wipe the rivers of sweat from their faces to their polished boots.
“No way was this man not going to have the best of our support,” said Gene McDaniel of the Patriot Guard Riders. “Today we are family for this man. Today we as a country thank him.”
When it was over, the flags were furled and the riders mounted up. The veterans walked or limped to their vehicles.
And on a day filled with brilliant, even brutal sunshine that honored a veteran who faced homelessness after serving his country, the dignity of America somehow shone even brighter.