For many, a global pandemic, divisive elections and civil unrest have crowded out the reminder that 2020 is the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. That is not true, however, for Bowdre McDowell, a resident of The Claiborne assisted living center in McComb.
McDowell, who turns 97 on Oct. 18, grew up in the Mars Hill community of Amite County and spent his service during the war translating Morse code for the Navy.
He also spent five years volunteering at The National World War II Museum in New Orleans, which encourages veteran volunteers to speak with guests, working to bring the history of the war into the present day.
“There’s nothing like it,” McDowell said. “I met people from all over the world. It’s a great place.”
His responsibilities ranged from welcoming guests into the museum to answering questions.
“I also sing, sometimes,” he quipped.
McDowell was well received by the museum visitors.
“One young couple I had talked to bought me a brick,” he said, referring to the plaza outside of the museum, where donors can place a brick inscribed with a custom message or name. “I met a couple from Vermont and when they returned home, I received maple candy, maple syrup, cheese, sausage.”
McDowell has also received several other recognitions for his service, and was honored at a New Orleans Saints Game in 2016 as a Peoples Health Champion.
His photo is featured on a mural on the second floor of the museum.
McDowell recently received a package from another fan, The Gary Sinise Foundation.
Normally, the foundation’s Soaring Valor Program, partnered with American Airlines, the National World War II Museum and the Sheraton hotel of New Orleans, flies World War II veterans, as well as a handful of selected students, to the Big Easy for a three-day experience. There, veterans are honored and students are given an opportunity to learn more about World War II.
Due to COVID-19, however, they were forced to find alternative ways to honor veterans on the 75th anniversary of the war’s end.
“There was so much we had planned that just got scrapped,” said Tom Gibbs, a project manager at the museum, “but we wanted to fulfill our mission and honor our veterans.”
To make up for a lack of physical presence, the Soaring Valor Program has sent out 250 care packages, filled with goodies like patriotic socks, a DVD collection of Bob Hope’s comedy acts, and a personalized letter from Gary Sinise and Gordon Mueller, CEO of The National WWII Museum.
“I was shocked,” McDowell said. “When I started taking things out of the package, I was shocked and, of course, honored to find such a great gift for a 96-year-old man like me.”
Gibbs said the program sent the first packages to volunteers and veterans who have previously participated in the Soaring Valor program, but he is hopeful that they will be able to honor more veterans as time moves on.
“It’s just a way to bring some cheer to these veterans, who are already adversely affected by (the coronavirus).”
McDowell, who cruises around the Claiborne with a walker, another gift that he calls his “Cadillac,” is saddened but undaunted by the virus.
“I can adjust to most any situation I’ve ever been in,” he said, showing more concern for younger generations facing challenges brought on by the virus. “Young people have a rough road ahead of them.”
As someone who lived through World War II, the Great Depression and challenging times since, McDowell offered this advice for today’s youth: “Get an education. Then find your stream of life and go with it.”