After graduating from the University of South Dakota in 1951 with a degree in math and an ROTC commission as a 2nd lieutenant, Jim Bowden was sent to Korea in ’52.
“I was the commander of Company B, 2nd Battalion, 31st Regiment, 7th Infantry Division,” the 86-year-old retired officer explained. “Our company was located along a ridge line in the middle of Korea near Hill 1062, the tallest hill in the country.
“We were ordered to attack ‘Jane Russell Hill,’ next to 1062. It was two humps of ground controlled by the Chinese. It was sheer stupidity,” Bowden recalled more than 60 years later.
“We were horribly exposed to enemy fire during the attack. Out of my company of 120 men, I lost eight killed and 76 wounded,” he said. “I was shot in the leg with a .30 caliber machine-gun bullet. My left leg was completely paralyzed from my knee down.
“I managed to get down off that hill to a nearby aide station. From there I was sent to a MASH hospital near the front, then on to a hospital in Japan and finally to Percy Jones Army Hospital in Battle Creek, Mich. I spent the next nine months recuperating.
“When I got out of the hospital I requested to go back to active duty. I went right back over to Korea in 1953, but by this time the war was over. Somewhere along the way I had put down in my records I would like to get into military intelligence.
“About a year later I was sent to the Military Intelligence School in Baltimore, Md. After graduation I was attached to the 2nd Armored Division in Germany as its military intelligence officer,” Bowden explained.
He became a Russian intelligence expert. At that point in his career his task was to keep our military secrets away from the Soviets.
When he returned from his assignment in Germany, he went to the Army’s Foreign Language School in Monterey, Calif. to learn Russian. After taking a year of Russian in California, he went back to Germany for more Russian language training.
“I joined the Forward Area Language Training Program. I spent the next two years speaking pretty much nothing but Russian. All our instructors spoke Russian. That’s all we heard all day long and after six months I could speak Russian almost as well as I spoke English,” Bowden said.
“From there I went back to the States and got a Master’s degree in International Relations from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. After that I was sent to the Defense Intelligence Agency in Arlington, Va.
“I headed the Soviet Logistics Desk at Defense Intelligence. It was my job to determine what the Soviet’s military capabilities were. By this time I was a major,” he said.
“I went back to Heidelberg, Germany and headed to the USSR Desk for U.S. Army Europe. I was in my 30s at the time and had just been promoted to lieutenant colonel,” Bowden recalled.
“Conditions at that time in Europe between the U.S. and the Soviet Union were very tense. They had 20 divisions in Germany alone; 10 divisions of armor and 10- divisions of infantry.
“They could overrun us with their conventional weapons. But we had nuclear weapons superior to their’s,” he said.
Bowden came back to the U.S. and attended Command General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kans. Then he became an interpreter back in Germany during conferences held between U.S. and the Russians generals.
“We had an interesting thing happen during one of those conferences. We were meeting with the Russians in Heidelberg on a small parade ground. A 16 gun salute had been set up for the Russian general. Unfortunately, the Russian flag was on a flagpole right in front of the artillery pieces. About the third volley the Russian flag was shot off the pole and fluttered to the ground,” he said.
“Immediately an American lieutenant colonel in full dress went over and picked up the Russian off the ground and gently folded it up. The Russian general never said anything about the incident.
“When I returned to D.C. I was selected to go to the National Intelligence Emergency Command Post. This is a KC-135, four engine transport converted to flying offices,” Bowden said. “It’s known as the ‘Doomsday Aircraft.’ It’s the airborne command post for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It’s filled with all the war plans needed to carry on a war in the air away from Washington. I was one of the two Soviet experts that flew aboard that plane.”
“One of the most interesting things I did while aboard had nothing to do with a ‘Dooms Day’ Flight’ and the Soviets.
“No president had ever flown on the airborne military command post,” he said. “We decided to pick up President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at Homestead Air Force Base in South Florida in 1968 and fly them to Washington. It was my job to brief the president about the Soviet’s military capabilities on their flight to Washington.
“While I was briefing the president, Kissinger, who was sitting at his elbow, would take a note or two about what I was telling him. Kissinger never asked any questions or said anything to me.
“As for Nixon he couldn’t have been nicer. It was like having a guest in your house,” Bowden said. “Later the president sent a letter through channels thanking me for my briefing.”
His last three years in the military was spent at West Point teaching Russian to the young cadets.
“It was up at West Point while I was teaching during the last couple of years of my 25 year service career I was promoted to full colonel.
“Our living accommodations at West Point were beautiful. We lived in a three story apartment built around 1900. It had high ceilings, six bedrooms, five fireplaces and was very nice,” he said.
When he completed his three years of teaching at West Point, Bowden retired from the Army in 1972.
“What is more improbable than a farm boy from South Dakota teaching Russian at West Point?” Bowden asked with a grin.
He spent the next 18 years working for an insurance company in the Chicago area. He and his wife, Virginia, have five children: Scott, Lori, Marty, Kristen an Steve.
The couple retired and moved to Punta Gorda Isles, south of Punta Gorda in 1990.
Name: James Clark Bowden, Jr.
D.O.B: 27 April 1927
Hometown: Humboldt, SD
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: 1 July 1951
Discharged: 30 June 1972
Commendations: Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with “V” Device, Purple Heart with First Oak Leaf Cluster, American Defense Service Medal, World War II Victory Medal, National Defense Service Medal with First Oak Leaf Cluster, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Combat Infantryman’s Badge,One Overseas Bar
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on 23, 2013 and is republished with permission.
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