This column is part of a longer history submitted by Robert Bowman, a former Echo resident, about his father, Asa Mitchell Bowman Jr., who was killed in action in World War II on Oct. 4, 1944, in Hongen, Germany, after growing up in Eastern Oregon. It is republished here in honor of the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII.
My father joined the Army in January of 1944, entering the service at Fort MacArthur, California, where he was sworn in, and then sent to Fort McClellan, Alabama, for 13 weeks of infantry basic training. Upon completion of basic training, he returned home to California for a one-week leave, and then was assigned to join the 29th Division training in southern England, and continued daily training until D-Day.
My father and his company landed in Normandy, France, during the D-Day invasion, but his platoon was in D-Day reserve on June 6 and did not go ashore and engage in combat until June 7, 1944, just one day after the initial invasion of Europe by the allied armies. This was the first time the division had been involved in direct WWII military combat action against the enemy. He and his unit fought hedgerow warfare from the beachfront to the St. Lo area until the town was finally liberated on July 20, 1944. They faced heavy hedgerow combat for months after.
On Oct. 4 my father’s company was ordered into the area of Hastenrath-Hongen and Breberen. My father, as a member of Company I, a rifle platoon, was ordered to move across the German border and assess the enemy strength. The platoon moved across open terrain and into wooded areas with little resistance until they reach the village of Hongen, where they encountered “serious resistance” followed by a night German counterattack. It was determined later that the Germans had launched an offensive that ran head on into Company I.
My father was killed in the late evening of Oct. 4 just inside the small German town of Hongen. His unit was completely wiped out by the German offensive; all the members were either taken prisoner or killed. Exact details of his death are unknown. What is known is that on Oct. 5 his body was behind enemy lines so there were no members of the allied armies who could recover his body or confirm his death. The only official U.S. Military report listed him as missing in action from 4 October 1944. Official city hall records in Hongen recorded that his body was found in the town, which was in German-held territory, and buried Oct. 5 by two elderly German residents of Hongen.
In May 1945, the Allies liberated the area and found a record of the two local German residents having found and buried three American GIs. The U.S. Military then located and recovered my father’s remains and shipped them to the nearest cemetery, which was The American Military Netherlands Cemetery, Margraten.
It took the Army until Sept. 20, 1945, to officially confirm identity and status, and to finally notify Mom that my father had been confirmed killed in action.
On May 30, 1993, I had the privilege of attending the Memorial Day services at the American Cemetery at Margraten, the Netherlands. There were approximately 2,500 persons in attendance. Some were American military active duty and retired personnel, but mostly Dutch war veterans. It was clear that the people present appreciated the dedication and sacrifice made by the Americans during WWII. I was very proud to be there and to know that my father’s efforts are appreciated to this day.
In 1994, I attended the 50th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion on Omaha Beach as a guest of the 29 Division. On June 6, we attended the official 50th anniversary ceremony on Omaha Beach. President Bill Clinton gave the keynote address, but Walter Cronkite got the bigger hand. We had front and center seats with the 29th group, just behind the VIPs.
I was very proud of my father and to have been included in the 50th anniversary ceremonies. Although my father never returned from his service with the 29th, I had never felt so close to him as I did during my time with the veterans of the 29th. I also know that he would have been very proud of the accomplishments of the 29th and the kindness and generosity of the French citizens who hosted our stay.