Echoes of Valor: Oscar Hampton “Buddy” Bowers, heroic veteran of WWI

Published: 20 February 2024

By Joseph Bowers
Special to the Doughboy Foundation web site

Bowers in WWI uniform, and in post-war portrait

Oscar Hampton "Buddy" Bowers in his World War I Doughboy uniform (left) and in a post-war portrait.

To preclude those now faint echoes from receding entirely and probably forevermore, I would like to introduce my father (Dad), Oscar Hampton “Buddy” Bowers 1879-1978, heroic veteran of WWI (The Great War).

I am his youngest of two sons, now 82 years of age, an Air Force pilot (fixed wing – C141 Starlifter; helicopter-HH3E Jolly Green Giant), veteran of Vietnam, and retired Supervisory Special Agent of the FBI. This is my long-overdue effort to pay homage and tribute to Dad.

As most battle scarred veterans across the ages in all wars, Dad was reluctant to talk about his wartime experiences. In that regard, I am profoundly ashamed for not knowing more and that I hadn’t elicited his reminisces when I had the opportunity.

Maybe a reasonable starting point would be to present a bit of Dad’s impressive DNA.

  • Father-Jackson Polk Bowers – 1873-1941; gentleman farmer, equestrian and Master of Foxhounds (MFH); my grandfather also took great pleasure in good whiskey and “riding to hounds” in Tennessee.
  • Grandfather-Patrick Henry Bowers-1843-1878; Private 4th Regiment Tennessee Infantry CSA; 1861 wounded in the Battle of Shiloh; 1862 rejoined Co. F, 16th Regiment, Logwood’s Tennessee Calvary, as a 1st Lt.
  • Great-grandfather- Major George Bowers- 1792-1850; served in 3rd and 4th Edgecombe County, NC Volunteers, War of 1812.

Post-WWI family photo of Oscar “Buddy” Bowers (left) and his three brothers (left to right: Harry, Jack, and Joe) with their mother Bessie Bowers. All four brothers volunteered for service in WWI.

Dad was the oldest of four brothers. Three served on active duty with the fourth brother, the youngest, having applied for Officers’ Training and was waiting to be called up. All the brothers predeceased Dad. The Bowers lineage reflects a long and steadfast line of brave patriots.

Oscar Hampton “Buddy” Bowers, 1897-1978

Dad apparently felt compelled to relate one wartime occurrence when he presented, for my safekeeping, an artillery German luger with all matching production numbers including the magazine (an apparent rarity). While on a one-man reconnaissance mission, he came upon a German captain taking a smoke break outside a concrete machine gun bunker in the Argonne Forest.

The German Luger pistol that Sgt. Buddy Bowers liberated from a German army officer in a firefight during World War I.

Dispassionately, Dad said, “I really only wanted his cigarettes.” Apparently, the captain was reluctant to give up his smokes and was dispatched along with his two bunker mates. The captain no longer needed his pistol…or cigarettes. This action occurred on September 26, 1918 as carved on the luger’s wooden grips during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive aka, the Battle of the Argonne Forest.

The French Croix de Guerre medal with bronze star awarded to Sgt. Buddy Bowers for heroism during World War I.

Dad subsequently was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with bronze star for his bravery in this action as well as taking out, single-handed, four other machine gun emplacements. This recognition was listed in the May 9, 1919 edition of the St. Louis Star.

Over The Top With The 35th Division

We started in the morning
And though it was very dark,.
We knew that we were at no picnic
At good old Forrest park.

The boys from old Missouri,
And from Kansas just as well
Waited for the opening chorus
Just to give the Jerrys hell.

When F.A. Botteger said to us
Now boys its up to you
Don’t weaken here in No Man’s Land
Show the Dutch what you can do.

We galloped o’er that shell torn field
And sure were doing fine
Till the smoke and fog had lifted
And the sun began to shine.

That’s when the big show started
Over near the Vanguois hills,
And lots of boys went West
Eating dirty German pills.

But it only made us study,
To see the boys go one by one
For we had done what Frenchie couldn’t do
Had Jerry on the run.

We took everything in sight
And looked around for more
For the boys from old Mo- Kan
Were getting fairly sore.

Then we started up the road,
To a town not far away
Where the squareheads used machine guns
For nearly half a day.

But we took the town of Cheppy,
And stopped there awhile to rest
And to drink his Kimmel whiskey
Of which he had the best.

At 4 A. M. bright and early
We started again to dance
And pushed ahead with confidence
To meet a counter advance.

But Jerry was well beaten
And failed to show much fight
So we took on new courage
For our relief had hove in sight.

We came back out of Charpentry
Well worn with fight and work
But a member of the 1 – 3 – 8
Don’t know how to shirk.

We staggered back to Cheppy
Worn out but light of heart
For in the Argonne Forrest
We surely had done our part.

We slept that night in the open
Our bed was cold wet grass
And Jerry kept on shelling
With his dammed infernal gas.

We got up before light next A.M.
Our bodies were sore and lame
And started to hike before breakfast
Oh! boys she’s a hell of a game.

We hiked many miles before dinner
Which consisted of the usual chow
But we can look back with gladness
It happened in warm weather, not now.

Then we lived for a week in pup tents
On the outskirts of a shell riddled town
And there drew an issue of clothing
Not half enough to go around.

We had put up with oodles of hardship
With never a kick or a wail,
For from over the sea and the ones we love
There were gobs and stacks of mail.

We drank our black coffee without quaking,
Choked down our monkey meat and hardtack
And bet each other a month’s wages
That soon we would start back.

But our work was just beginning,
We were told that there was more to do
And lest I forget let me mention
The bunch was beginning to feel blue.

We were louzy, dirty and disgusted
With the war and all time spent
But we were told to move forward
And back to the trenches we went.

It was up to the Verdun ditches,
We hiked thru the mud and cold
But it wasn’t for us to crab or kick
For at this game we were getting old.

They ran us into the front lines,
To relieve the French that were there
And they were surely glad to see us
For in those ditches they had had their share.

We stayed up that time for 21 days
Fighting the Boche, rats, lice, and lies
And for every boy that Jerry got
He paid the price with five.

It was the so-called wild cats
That were slated to take next whack
And we were surely happy
To think that we’re going back.

We figured on going to rest billets,
Back from the big guns noise
But it was only another hike party
For the Mo- Kan boys.

They hiked us straight for the wood again
To take our place on the Metz line
They were about to start the big drive
That would take us over the Rhine.

But the armistice it stopped us,
The Kaiser had gotten his fill
We had a time getting him doctored
But in the end he took his pill.

And now that the war is over,
With America dictating terms of peace
“The dough-boys are dreaming of home and Mother.”
Fall out! “There’s a village to police.”

–O.H. Bowers.

Announcement in the St. Louis Star newspaper of then-Corporal Bowers being awarded a medal for valor in 1919.

Dad served as a sergeant in Company M, 138 Infantry, 35th Division, entering as a private. Being “over there” and the Great War ended in November 1918 and the Missouri-Kansas boys came home. In reflection, it seems Dad lived an entire lifetime before I was born in 1941.

As a parent he was hard working, skilled as a carpenter, farmer, entrepreneur and frequently, generous to a fault with his time and money. These qualities, talents, Christian beliefs and lifestyle garnered the respect of the entire Polk County, western North Carolina community.

An additional intention of this writing is to record, for Dad and posterity, a poem he composed chronicling his and his band of brothers of the 35th Division’s war fighting actions. This eight page poem, typewritten on fading hotel stationery, was discovered several years after Dad’s passing, in an old weathered box which also contained an equally aged family bible. Had this prize writing been uncovered during his lifetime, I’m confident it would have spurred me to a more expansive request for his wartime experiences and heroics. The poem is entitled “Over The Top With The 35th Division” and is found elsewhere on this page.

With this publication, a record and enduring legacy will be preserved for Dad as a father, a patriot, a valorous soldier and a hero of mine and our country.

Joseph and Susan Bowers live in Mount Pleasant, SC.

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