By Rob McDaniel
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — On Friday, Feb. 14, Troy Bowling, a Laurel County native and U.S. Marine veteran, was honored for his volunteer work, more than 73,000 hours worth accumulated over 63 years.
In 1951, Bowling began volunteering at the Lexington Veteran Affairs (VA) Medical Center and with the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) who had visited him while he was receiving treatment there.
During an awards presentation at the Lexington VA Medical Center, Bowling received a Challenge Medal from Director Emma Metcalf. The Challenge Medal is a symbol of excellence. It was stamped with the number “69,” marking the number of years since Bowling’s service at Iwo Jima.
Sunday marks the 69 year anniversary of the historic moment when five U.S. Marines and a U.S. Navy corpsman were photographed raising an American flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.
Bowling almost 19 at the time, was there that day, serving with Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 27th Marines, 5th Marine Division. He and his fellow Marines were among the first to land on Iwo Jima and were met with heavy resistance.
On the second day of fighting, Bowling’s unit sustained heavy casualties during an artillery strike. Most of the men in his unit were killed. As Bowling and his comrades continued to fight a well fortified enemy in hopes of taking control of Mount Suribachi, Bowling was shot in the chest and in the leg.
He was left for dead.
“I lost a lot of blood,” Bowling recalled. “I appeared lifeless. I remember looking up to heaven and telling God that if I survived, I would serve mankind for the rest of my life.”
Bowling did survive, thanks to a combat photographer who saw him raising his hand and then called for his evacuation.
As medics were treating his wounds aboard ship, Bowling recalls hearing shouts of joy.
“I knew right then we had accomplished our mission,” Bowling said. “I asked the captain to take me topside to see, and he did. At that moment, I knew we were going to take the island. It was a great moment.”
As a result of his wounds sustained on Mount Suribachi, Bowling was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation and a Purple Heart. He was sent home to Kentucky to recover.
He was sent to the Lexington VA Medical Center, Leestown Division and then to the Louisville VA Medical Center for treatment. During that time, members of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) visited him.
In keeping the promise he made to God, Bowling asked DAV members one thing, “How can I help?”
In 1949, by recommendation of the VA, Bowling began working for the United States Postal Service and, by 1951, was volunteering with the VA and the DAV.
Throughout the next 40 years, Bowling would go on to help countless veterans and their widows file claims for VA benefits.
During his time with the DAV and VA, Bowling has received numerous awards including the George H. Seal Award for Outstanding Volunteer work and the Lifetime Service Achievement Award from the Department of Veteran Affairs.
During the Feb. 14 awards presentation, Gov. Steve Beshear also named him as a Kentucky Colonel; both U.S. Rep. Andy Barr and Lexington Mayor Jim Barnes each presented him with a plaque for his volunteer service.
Bowling still volunteers with the VA, working on computers or making sure that there is always hot coffee for the disabled veterans that he has come to love during his many years of service.