Longtime Morgan Hill resident Eddie Bowers still thinks about the carnage he experienced, and the young men he served next to who never made it home during his two years of combat service in Vietnam in the late 1960s.
Bowers, a U.S. Army veteran, thinks about his new crew chief for their Huey gunship who opted to extend his assignment in Vietnam, and had just returned from a 30-day leave back home in the states. The day after the new chief’s return (the man’s name escapes Bowers today), they took off on a mission to back up troops who were taking heavy casualties in a nearby village.
While hovering over the combat zone, Bowers felt the craft jolt as it took enemy fire. He looked behind him and saw that the Huey was ablaze and his crew chief had fallen to the floor. Bowers opened the man’s shirt and immediately knew he was dead as blood was pouring from his wounds.
Amid the confusion and exposure to enemy bombardment, after the disabled helicopter crashed onto a rice paddy Bowers looked over and saw his pilot exit the craft and then collapse lifelessly with gruesome wounds. After helping move the dead and wounded to a second helicopter, Bowers said he and another crew member then took cover as well as they could. They were safely extracted by their fellow Americans a short time later—and his memories of that day are vivid.
“When I think of them and I think about that day, this guy (the new crew chief) just came back (to Vietnam), and now he’s going back home again, dead,” Bowers said. “The next day, his parents are going to pick him up, dead. This guy could have lived.”
Bowers recounted these and other memories to illustrate how and why he came up with the idea to create the city’s Veterans Memorial at First Street and Monterey Road, which displays the names of all Morgan Hill veterans who have died in combat. And it’s why he continues to lead remembrance ceremonies in honor of veterans every Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
“I served over two years in Vietnam and I’ve seen a lot of people go and pass away (from) getting shot and stuff,” Bowers said. “Then I come home, and what are you going to do when you come home from doing something like that all the time? Then I started thinking about all the guys that didn’t come home that I served with and went to school with. I said, you know what—I’d like to put those guys’ names up” on a permanent display.
Bowers, now a retired barber, raised the funds, designed and helped build the Veterans Memorial, which was completed and installed at its current location by 1990.
This Saturday’s Veterans Day ceremony—at 9am on Nov. 11—will be the 64th such event he has organized in Morgan Hill.
The ceremony in the Monterey Road median at First Street, in downtown Morgan Hill, will consist of a reading of the names on the memorial; the raising of a local veteran’s flag; a prayer and wreath laying; patriotic songs performed by local students; and a playing of “Taps.” The city’s police and public works crews typically close Monterey Road at First Street to vehicle traffic during the brief ceremony.
“We can’t forget who these people were who fought for us,” Bowers added. “We’ve got to be thankful that we’re in America, where we can be free and pretty much do what we want to do. It isn’t like that in other countries. If it wasn’t for them dying for us, we would be in the same mess you see other countries are in. I didn’t want anybody to be forgotten.”
Morgan Hill thanks veterans all weekend
The downtown Veterans Day ceremony is bookended by additional events this weekend to thank and remember the community’s and nation’s veterans in Morgan Hill.
On Nov. 10—recognized this year at the official Veterans Day holiday—Ladera Grill will offer complimentary lunch to all veterans from 11am-3pm. Ladera Grill is located at 17305 Monterey Road (at the corner of West Third Street).
“Military service has been a responsibility of citizenship for Americans from our early founding days,” said Ladera Grill owner Dan McCranie. “We are both proud and indebted to those citizens who assumed that responsibility on behalf of our country. (This) program is one small way for us to show our gratitude to those men and women who have given so much.”
On Sunday, Nov. 12 is the annual Morgan Hill Veterans Day Run, a road race that raises funds for numerous nonprofit organizations that offer a variety of services for veterans. To register for the 5K, 10K or children’s 1-mile events, or for more information about the Veterans Day Run, visit morganhillveteransdayrun.com.