For most service members in World War II, the weapons of choice were rifles, machine guns and bombs. David Bowman preferred different weapons — things like hammers, nails, screws and saws.
Born in 1920, the Indianapolis native worked for his father who owned the Home Lumber and Supply Company Corps, which was near downtown. Little did he realize as he started working for his father that he would soon be using wood for supporting the war effort in North Africa.
Bowman was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Corps in October of 1943. Following his training as a utilities technician, he departed in May of 1944 for the China-Burma-India theater of war and was assigned to the 319th Troop Carrier Squadron, which came under the 1st Air Commando Unit. Bowman spent most of his duty time serving at Hay Army Airfield in French Morocco, Africa.
A master craftsman, Bowman was soon building portable latrine boxes, mess tables and other support items for forward operating bases. He even built wheelchairs for injured service members.
The construction was often done with the most rudimentary of equipment and materials. He remembers building bamboo huts for officer quarters.
“We had to use crowbars to dig holes for setting the posts”, he told his son, Matt.
There were other challenges as well. Most of the building blueprints used inches and feet measurements. But the materials he received were in metric units.
His most important creation was the design of communication control towers used in setting up advance bases in combat zones. Bowman designed the towers to be erected by four men in just 1.5 hours.
Especially noteworthy was Bowman’s ability to salvage parts from wrecked gliders to fully assemble and outfit the control towers. Once built, the towers were used to support the sophisticated high frequency direction finder equipment that guided planes to airfields.
His design for the pre-fabricated towers earned him the first of his three bronze stars and was even forwarded up to higher command for replication in other combat zones.
Not all of his time was spent on the ground building. Bowman also got to experience flying over the “hump” — a term referring to the Himalayan Mountain Range.
“I was scared to death”, he recalled.
During more pleasant travel, Bowman was able to see the Taj Mahal in Angra, India, and attend an event in which Mahatma Ghandi spoke.
When the war ended, Bowman was at an airfield in which a Japanese Zero had been parked. Recognizing a trophy opportunity, he quickly climbed into the cockpit and, with his tiny pocket knife, cut out the artificial horizon scope, bomb gauge, schematic and joystick to take home as spoils.
Bowman arrived back in the U.S. in late December of 1945, after having served 21 months overseas.
He was reunited with his wife and quickly set to work building that which would become most important to him —his family. Bowman and his first wife, Norma, raised three children: Lynn, Michael and Marilee. With his second wife, Kathleen, Bowman raised another son, Matt.
Bowman was reactivated and served stateside another eight months in 1951 in support of the Korean War.
He spent his civilian career working at his father’s lumber company in Indianapolis, eventually taking over the business along with his brother. Ever the craftsman, Bowman built a sturdy home for his family on Graceland Avenue in Indianapolis.
He operated the business until 1994 when it was destroyed by fire. He and son, Matt, then started another lumber company, from which Bowman retired in 2005 at the age of 85.
Summarizing his father’s lasting contribution, son Michael said, “He has been a hardworking, honest man who has always taken care of his family.”
Today, the 93-year-old enjoys his easy chair, spending time with his family — which now includes grandchildren and great-grandchildren — and stopping in at the American Legion Post 145 in Avon, of which he is a member.
— Ronald P. May, USN (Ret.), is Founder of “Your Life-Your Story.” He helps veterans share and preserve the stories of their military service. For more information or to tell your story, contact May at 435-7636 or by email at email@example.com.