"Red" Bowman

by Two Friends

Marvin Bowman, Group Intelligence Office, probably was better known than most Commanding Officers. His briefing and interrogation of crews brought him close to them and he was widely known and admired by ground personnel. He remained a 100th Grouper until the end of his life, rarely missing a Group gathering.

Marvin ("Red") Bowman, consummate New Englander, Harvard graduate, newspaper reporter and editor, accomplished musician, World War I Air Corps pilot, and 100th Group S-2 (Intelligence) Officer, became a legend in his own time.

The 100th first came to know Red when, from the days in Kearney till he was promoted in England, he was the Group Public Relations Officer, his job being to send news through channels and out to our home towns. Most military releases were barren: "Private Tom Smith was recently promoted to Private First Class. He is stationed at Wendover, Utah." Not so with those that Red Bowman sent out. Since he told what we were doing, most of his stories did not get printed. One story, for instance, told about a crew gunner who, when flying over his hometown of Minneapolis, decided to send a note for his parents. He tied it to a monkey wrench and dropped it into the heart of the city. Military censors returned it to the 100th, commenting frostily that the United States would be safer when our bombing crews were in Europe.

No one could tell a story as well as Red did, and from his wild accounts we came to know that he was the son of a New Hampshire Congregational minister. Once, when he was very small, Red’s mother sent him out of the house to keep him out of the way of the Ladies’ Aid Society. Red strolled around town for a while until, suddenly besieged by what he called "Summer Complaint," he made an unscheduled deposit in his training pants. Undisturbed, he took off his pants and headed for home where, arrayed along his front porch, he saw the nice ladies in their broad brimmed hats and white starched fronts. At this point he did become embarrassed and nervously began to twirl his besmirched pants around over his head, at ever-increasing speed. Thinking back, with a gleeful smile on his face, he would conclude, "you know, I got every one of them!"

At nineteen he graduated from Harvard, being released early to join the fledgling Army Air Corps. He earned his wings as a pilot and was sent to join the Eddie Rickenbacker Squadron, just as the war ended. After the war he returned to San Antonio, Texas, where he had taken flight training, and accepted a position as a newspaper reporter. When Army brass tried to suppress what was happening to Billy Mitchell, Red would have none of it. His articles about Mitchell’s convictions about heavy bombardment and the subsequent court martial attracted nation-wide attention and started Red up the ladder of a journalistic career which made him the editor of the largest Sunday newspaper in the United States, the "Boston Sunday Advertiser."

When World War II started, Red put on his rusty old pilot’s wings and returned to the service. He graduated from Intelligence School at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and was assigned to the 100th, first as 350th S-2, and then, when his newspaper experience became know, as Group Public Relations Officer. In England one of his jobs was placating Thorpe Abbotts neighbors, irate about the loss of chickens to a Husky Dog, "requisitioned" during an Icelandic stay by a 418th bombardier. Red grimly accepted the importance of the dog, Meatball, as a squadron mascot, and admired the dog’s impeccable taste. "Meatball," he said, "never eats just an ordinary chicken. Every farmer who comes to us with a claim always demands top price because, once again, Meatball has eaten only prize poultry."

During his forays as Public Relations Officer, Red learned that one of the most serious disruptions of the surrounding countryside was the absence of male voices for local singing groups. He was the conductor of the Base Octet and began recruiting basses and tenors for church choirs and musical groups. He himself sang at Dickelburgh Church and at the Corn Hall. On one occasion in Diss Red agreed to direct an abbreviated version in of Handel’s "Messiah." On the night of the event, the lead soprano was ill. Interested in good music, many of the 100th attended the performance, and were amazed to hear Red singing the soprano part in falsetto.

When he became Group Intelligence Officer in charge of briefing flight crews before missions, his sense of the dramatic made the early morning sessions into real productions. He turned the curtain so it opened in England and slowly revealed the route and destination. As he opened it slowly the crews whistled as they followed the red line into Germany. On the first Poland mission, Red drew the curtain aside so slowly and theatrically that the whistlers ran out of breath before Red got to the remote target.

Interested in seeing what the air war was like, Red flew five missions, including the Russian shuttle, and earned the Air Medal.

During his briefings Red always came up with a quip or a salty observations that brought uproarious laughter from the taut airmen. His suggestions about how to act if shot down usually included advice about how to get along with frauleins or madammoiselles, advice deeply valued . Speaking French and German fluently, Red could explain how to ask girls certain questions.

After the war, Red returned to the newspaper business and with his wife, Masha, kept close track of his 100th friends. When Bucky Cleven attended Harvard Business School he found at the Bowman’s his home away from home. During frequent reunions, Red’s stories grew and grew. He would hear one story and at the next meeting tell his version of the story, usually with an enlarged cast of characters, and a saltier punch line. Instead of asking, "What time is the party?" he would inquire, "What time do the revels begin?" His memories of the war included many people whom he did not admire. Knowing what to expect, 100th Groupers would ask, "I wonder what happened to old__________?" and Red always replied, with a joyful gleam in his eyes, "Maybe the old son of a bitch is dead!"

During his last year in Boston, Red spent much of his time in the hospital. A 100th friend, seeing him apparently in a coma, connected to life with oxygen hoses, intravenous tubes, and electronic checking devices, tried to be cheerful. "Red," he said, "I bet this is something you would not wish even on an enemy." One eye came open, and it had the old Red Bowman gleam. His lips moved, and his friend barely heard, "On some of the bastards I would."

Red loved the language with a passion. He could recite volumes of Shakespeare and Milton. When the Revised Standard Version of the Bible was published, Red was almost made ill by the loss of some of the grand old passages. He heaped contempt upon a modern writer with, "He doesn’t even understand the sequence of tenses."

In his last years, to avoid the Massachusetts winters, to be near his children, and return to the scene of his early newspaper triumphs, Red and Masha moved to San Antonio. When word went out that Red was failing, his many friends realized that soon an era would pass. When he died some of the richness went out of our lives.