Boulder WWII hero Bill Bower dies at 93
By Amy Bounds Camera Staff Writer
Posted: 01/10/2011 10:23:28 PM MST
Boulder's Bill Bower, one of Doolittle's Raiders, shows off the crest used by the four units that participated in the 1942 air raid on Japan in this April 2009 photo. Bower died Monday at age 93. ( MARTY CAIVANO)
Col. William Marsh "Bill" Bower, the last surviving pilot of "Doolittle's Raiders" who bombed Japan in 1942, died Monday at his home in south Boulder.
He was 93 and "lived a completely full life," said his son Jim Bower.
"My dad was a hell of a guy," he said. "He was a brave soul, a warrior. He was everybody's friend. He did all kinds of volunteer work. He was an exceptional human being."
Bill Bower was hailed as a hero for his role in the United States' first air attack on Japan following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He volunteered and was chosen for the mission, which was planned and led by Lt. Col. James "Jimmy" Doolittle.
On April 18, 1942, 16 B25B Mitchell medium bombers took off from the decks of the U.S.S. Hornet in the western Pacific Ocean. Because landing planes of that size on the Hornet was impossible, the pilots continued toward China after bombing their targets in Japan.
All but one of the aircraft, which landed in the Soviet Union, crashed in China or were ditched at sea. Of the 80 crew members, 11 were either captured or killed; the rest returned to the United States.
On his return, Bower married Lorraine Amman in 1942.
Bower continued to serve during World War II, assuming command of the 428th Bombardment Squadron and joining Allied invasion forces in Africa. He remained there and in Italy until September 1945. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his role in the raids.
After the war, he worked as a planner and accident investigator for the U.S. Air Force and served in the Arctic as commander of a U.S. Air Force transport organization. He also served as commander at Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta, Ga.
In 1966, he retired and moved with his wife and four children to Boulder, where he was involved in the real estate and sporting goods businesses for many years. His family described him as deeply involved in the community, from volunteering with Second Harvest, Community Food Share and Meals on Wheels to founding the Central Optimist Club to serving on city of Boulder committees.
His family described him as "the best outdoorsman," saying he was a big-time fisherman who also enjoyed bird hunting and guiding hunters in the Colorado mountains. He also enjoyed annual "Raider" reunions. Five Raider crew members, including two co-pilots, survive him. But Bower was the last living pilot.
In 2008, he was recognized for his distinguished service to his country at the Bolder Boulder Memorial Day race.
But to the children in his neighborhood, he was simply a handyman and caretaker, his family said.
"All the kids on the block at the time gravitated to him," Jim Bower said. "He took care of all the kids."
Michael Carrigan, a University of Colorado regent whose family lived on the same cul-de-sac as the Bowers, said part of his daily routine as a child was to ring the bell at Bower's house for a Jolly Rancher.
"He would give us a Jolly Rancher," Carrigan said. "Every day was Halloween at Col. Bower's house."
It wasn't until he was in college that he learned that the man who helped with the neighborhood children's projects and passed out candy was a war hero.
"He never drew attention to himself," Carrigan said. "He was very humble, kind and generous. I'm grateful that my children will continue to enjoy the liberties and freedoms that he fought so hard for."
He is survived by his children, Jim Bower, of Arvada; Bill Bower, of Chapman, Kan.; Mary Brannaman, of Sheridan, Wyo.; and Mindy Bower, of Kiowa; and six grandchildren. His wife died in 2004.