IRCC Resident Member, George Bowdren, World War II veteran earns recognition 70 years later

BY MARK MIJUSKOVIC, Senior Life Newspaper – Mar 10, 2023

He’s a little bent over these days; his vision isn’t as clear as it once was; leaning on a cane beat grabbing a hand to get out of a chair. But, 95-year-old World War II veteran George Bowdren remains sharp of mind, and he has some stories to share.

One story details his recent receipt of the Atomic Veterans Commemorative Service Medal and Certificate, a recognition he earned nearly 70 years ago when he was chosen as part of a unit to attend Atomic Devices Training in the Nevada desert with the understanding that radiation exposure was a given.

Along with the soldiers, piglets and rabbits were there on May 25, 1953, but this macabre rendition of the Hundred Acre Wood did not include a lesson beyond perhaps the idea that people and other animals may be expendable in the name of science. The piglets had skin most closely resembling humans, and they were fitted with little uniforms of a fabric being tested. The rabbits, with their eyes being similar to humans, were positioned accordingly, and the soldiers were outfitted with meters to measure the level of radiation exposure from the close proximity detonation of an atomic artillery projectile. Operation-Knothole Grable shot its 15-kiloton bomb at 8:30 a.m.

The images of that day have remained vivid. Bowdren described a narrow bunker, about 5 foot in depth and, after shielding his eyes from the blast, he took in the shock waves that were displayed through the disturbed desert sand. As they reached the bunker, he recalled being thrown backward from the force.

“The thing I really remember from that mushroom cloud was the ice cascading from the top of it,” he said. “That was what made it white.”

Bowdren’s U.S. Army career spanned 26 years during which he attained the rank of major, and it found him seeing the world in places such as Germany, Italy and Korea. His earliest assignment was in Germany at the war’s end, where he served with the United States Army Constabulary helping bring order to the chaos associated with the defeated country and its influx of refugees and displaced persons. It was during this six-year stint, from 1946 to 1952, that he met and married his wife Elisabeth, who passed away in 2010.

By 1971, Bowdren retired, and the couple settled in Maryland where they began a life of volunteerism, first at a local community college, then continuing in Brevard County, where they moved in 1995. At different intervals, they provided a meals-on-wheels service. Bowdren volunteered at both Wuesthoff Hospital in Rockledge and Saint John the Evangelist Church in Viera for many years.

Bowdren’s selflessness finds him worrying that other veterans or their descendants might be eligible for the same recognition, but haven’t heard about it. Eligibility in this case means having been exposed to radiation through their service. It was another veteran who told him and prompted him to apply.

From the time he applied to the day he received his confirmation was eight days. Bowdren believes that the office in charge didn’t have anything to do.

“I’m probably the original applicant from the state of Florida,” he said while laughing.

There were different veterans’ organizations to which he belonged, but many of those involved have passed away. He attributes his longevity to beer. “From the end of the 40s until now.”

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