BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - What George Bowman accomplished over 30-plus years in the United States Army is impressive on its own.
After graduating from South Carolina State University’s ROTC program, he retired at the rank of Major General in 1999. By that time he had led the 311th Signal Command, coordinating military communications across the Pacific.
When he retired, he’d been serving as a senior officer in the Pentagon, responsible for helping mobilize troops to report for assignment in places including Bosnia and Iraq.
But what some might find even more impressive is the extent to which service, especially military service is, as Bowman puts it, in his family’s “DNA”.
Bowman says his grandfather, Brooks Bowman, was a private in a machine gun unit during World War One. Segregation meant the African-American unit was fighting under a French commander when they were attacked with tear gas.
Brooks Bowman was awarded the Croix de Guerre or War Cross for bravery and returned home sick. He died of respiratory injuries when his son Leroy, was still a baby.
George Bowman says his grandmother used her husband’s $20 monthly death benefit from the War Department to sustain her family, with Leroy eventually becoming an original, decorated Tuskegee Airman.
His father’s example drew George and his brother James into military service as well. The family’s service commitment would be extraordinary if it stopped there. But roughly 100 years after Brooks Bowman crossed the Atlantic to fight in the conflict that ultimately took his life, the Bowman family continues to spread a web of service around the globe.
“My father, my brother, two of my stepbrothers, my son, my daughter-in-law who served in Afghanistan - she’s a commander in the navy,” says Bowman doing a mental roll call.
Bowman’s wife Yolanda teaches ROTC students at Birmingham’s Woodlawn High School. Her 2000 drill team won what her beaming husband describes as Birmingham’s only national championship.
Still there are uncles, stepchildren, in-laws and even a grandson steering a large ship through the Persian Gulf.
Asked about the impact of having so much military blood running through one family, Bowman says, " I think you pray for fervently, I think you appreciate the sanctity of life and how fragile life really is."
He adds, “we don’t know if we’ll see tomorrow or if we’ll see next week. We just got to do the best we can today.”