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D-Day 70th Anniversary - A Tale of Twins During WWII


Thomas E. Bowles and his twin brother, Henry D. Bowles, were already seasoned combat veterans when they splashed ashore on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, 70 years ago.

 

They were members of the Army’s "Big Red One," the First Infantry Division. PFC Tom Bowles belonged to the 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry.

 

On that historic day 70 years ago, Bowles won the Bronze Star medal. The citation reads, "When communication lines were severed by hostile artillery, Private Bowles, despite heavy enemy fire, proceeded across vulnerable terrain and repaired the wires. His heroic action contributed materially to the success of the invasion."

 

His twin, Henry, had won the Silver Star for heroism in the North Africa campaign and was severely wounded in action on June 7, 1944.

 

The story of the Bowles brothers is similar to thousands of others in the Allied landing that day.

 

The future infantrymen and identical twins were born in Leighton, Alabama, in 1922, and spent their early lives in Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia, Sheffield, and Russellville. When they left school, job prospects looked so dim that both joined the regular army in March 1940.

 

They did their basic training together but were split up, with his brother being assigned to a rifle squad and him to mortars in the First Infantry Division, the Army’s famed "Big Red One."

 

With their Division, Tom and Henry Bowles took part in the massive Louisiana maneuvers in the summer of 1941. These maneuvers showed how unprepared the U.S. was for war. "The regular army had guns, but some of the others (National Guard) only had sticks," Bowles said all quotes are those of Thomas E. Bowles.

 

The Bowles brothers were home on furlough when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. A telegram from their commanding officer allowed them to continue the furlough.

 

The First Infantry Division continued its stateside training until August 1-2, 1942 when it shipped out for Tidworth Barracks in England. "We then underwent more training for the invasion of North Africa," Bowles said.

 

On November 8, 1942, his outfit landed at Arzew, Algiers and only met light opposition from elements of the French Army who halfheartedly carried out the orders of the collaborationist Vichy French Government. The French Foreign Legion surrendered on November 11, 1942. "That landing wasn’t bad. There was just scattered fire, but we ran into some opposition on the second day," Bowles said.

 

His division then took part in the Tunisian campaign which lasted for months. In the Battle of Kasserine Pass in February, 1943, the Americans were initially driven back by the crack German "Afrika Korps", but the First Division counterattacked and drove and retook the pass. It was in the Tunisian campaign that Henry Bowles won the Silver Star in an action March 23, 1943 at Djebel Berda.

 

"He was in a position on a hill relaying information to the artillery. He stayed up there until the Germans overran the position and then had to work his way back through the enemy to the Allied lines," Tom said.

 

Tom was also in what became known as the "last stand" of Company "G" about that time. "We were almost surrounded and the lieutenant said we’re going to have to surrender. But another man and I jumped down a cliff and escaped," he said.

 

The First Division then took part in the invasion of Sicily in July, 1943. "At the Battle of Troina we fired about 300 mortar shells just in that one battle," he said.

 

Following the collapse of enemy resistance on Sicily, the Division was sent back to England to prepare for Operation Overlord - the invasion of Europe. "We never took too much account about the invasion. We actually were having a good time in England. We were taking it in stride," Bowles said. The day before the invasion they were confined to quarters and then were ordered to board the troop ships. "At first, they didn’t tell us where the landing was going to be. But once we were on board they told us everything," he said. Each man was given about a dozen clips of ammunition for his rifle, as well as two canteens of water, two chocolate bars, and more ominously, morphine and sulphur tablets in case they were wounded. "But we shed our packs for the landing," he said.

 

When their ship arrived on the morning of June 6 off Omaha Beach, (Easy Red sector), the naval bombardment of the coast was well under way. "The weather was good that morning. I don’t remember being scared. It was just a matter of getting a job done," Bowles said. "My biggest fear was getting killed and no one knowing what happened to me," he added.

 

The infantrymen climbed down cargo nets from the troop ships into landing craft called Higgins boats.

 

They were in the second wave. The first wave had already been devastated by heavy resistance by the Germans. Bowles said no one was interested in looking over the side to see what was happening. "You just kept your head down. We didn’t do much looking until the landing craft door opened," he said.

 

But what greeted them in their first close-up view of the beach was like a nightmare scene. The beach was littered with German obstacles, barbed wire, dead bodies floating in the water and scattered over the beach, and a storm of fire coming from concrete German pill boxes. After splashing into the water about 10 a.m., he said, "We spread out and were anxious to get inland."

 

He said it took them about 30 minutes to get off the beach and regroup. "Our objective was Colleville-sur-Mer and we got there about dark," he said. But even after getting off that deadly beach, they found themselves up against another deadly natural obstacle - hedge rows.

 

They were being pounded by enemy artillery fire when Tom performed the action for which he was awarded the Bronze Star. But the modest Bowles feels he was just doing his job in braving the enemy fire to repair the line.

 

By the end of D-Day, the men had fought their way to the outskirts of Colleville, their objective, which was only about 1,000 yards inland. The First Infantry Division suffered 3,000 casualties - killed, wounded or missing - in getting there.

 

"The excitement of the whole thing impressed me," he said.

 

The next day, D-Day plus one, Bowles’ twin brother was seriously wounded. "My brother was on a patrol and he and another guy almost got to where they were going when they saw a hedge-row bush parting. A machine gun opened up on them and my brother was hit in the side, back, and arm. An officer came and told me Henry had been shot. I went to him but he didn’t make much of it, but it was serious," Bowles said.

 

Ironically, in spite of his brother’s wound, Tom said they didn’t have a lot of action on the day after the landing.

 

Henry Bowles recovered from his wound and returned to the unit just before Thanksgiving only to be wounded again in December at the Battle of the Bulge.

 

There was plenty more fighting to come in such places as St. Lô, Mons, Belgium, the Siegfried Line and Aachen, Germany.

 

The end of the war saw the First Infantry Division fighting in Czechoslovakia.

 

Both brothers came back to the U.S. in June, 1945 and were discharged at Fort McPherson, Georgia. After the war, Tom Bowles became an electrician. He and his wife, Joyce, now have five sons and six grandchildren.

Henry Bowles also became an electrician. He and his wife, Jean, have two daughters and two grandchildren.

With all their souvenirs, pictures and memories of one of the most historic days of the 20th Century, D-Day has become an integral part of the Bowles family history and heritage.

Reprinted from the 6 June 1994 issue of the Lake Charles American Press.

Thomas and Henry Bowles in England, 1944.

 Thomas and Henry Bowles in England, 1944.

 

Henry D. Bowles, 1922 - 2006

 

Written by Tim Bowles  
Dec 08, 2006 at 12:00 AM
Henry "Dee" Bowles passed away the afternoon of December 8, 2006.  Dee served with the 1st Infantry Division "Big Red One" 1940-1945 in North Africa, Sicily, Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge and on into Central Europe.  He was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart with Cluster for wounds received during the D-Day invasion and at the Battle of the Bulge, and numerous other awards and citations for his service.  He was the twin brother of Thomas E. Bowles.  They grew up together, joined the Army together, fought for freedom together and many years later, enjoyed retirement together.  Dee was a remarkable man and will be missed by all.
 
The Bowles Twins are featured in two books by James Holland, Together We Stand (ISBN: 1401352537) and Twenty-One (ISBN: 0007213808).  Earlier this year Henry and Thomas were interviewed for an episode of the History Channel series Shootout!   Please visit Bowlesusa.org for more about Henry and Thomas.


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