Monday, September 19, 2016

9. From Paris Island to MCB Camp Pendelton

The graduation from Paris Island and arrival at Camp Pendleton Infantry Training School

It all happened when we were on the rifle range. Someone took a set of my ear plugs and I reported it. Siganik had everyone beside me holding rifles on fingertips until the culprit surfaced and they were all suffering pretty badly. A recruit named Battle told me he had an extra set of ear plugs and to tell Siganik I found them on the floor. Out of feeling bad for the platoon’s sweat and pain I did just that and Siganik didn’t take kindly to the fact that I found them on the floor with no one to blame! He came from behind his desk and hit me with a horizontal butt stroke that dislocated my mandible. I spit blood and stayed at attention looking at him to see if another blow was coming!

I waited to see if another blow was coming and felt the blood filling up in my mouth. Nothing came instead he said, “Come on and swing and give me a reason to kill your ass”! I responded with the Marine Corps “Sir no sir” and spit a mouthful of blood from my mouth over my left shoulder and remained at attention until dismissed. When the Senior drill instructor returned to his shift he called me into his office and tried to persuade me to sweep the occurrence under the rug. He hinted that if I kept silent about it that I had honor man status pretty well in the bag. He further went on to say that if I brought Siganik up on charges that it would follow me wherever I went, and that life in the Marine Corps and beyond would be not so good for me.

I was an emotionally charged 17 year old boy in a world that was dishing out reality checks too fast for my mind to handle. It hadn’t even been a whole 24 hours since my incident with Siganik that he came into the squad bay and assaulted two more recruits. The thing that made his assaults stand out from the norm of the day was his level of brutality and the fact that all of his targets where black guys. Some of them where pretty big guys too most everyone was bigger in stature than he was anyway. He not only portrayed a “Small Man’s Complex” he exhibited racial bias without a second thought.

When the Doctor at sick bay called me back in for treatment I told the story just as it happened. I didn’t care about being graduated with honors at this point all I could really think about was revenge and making Siganik realize that he could also be dealt with by others and held responsible for his actions.

Graduation day was fast approaching and Siganik was relieved of duty awaiting a Summary Courts Martial. When MOS (job classifications) came out I was expecting the Marine Corps to honor their commitment to put me in aviation as guaranteed in the enlistment contract. Instead the contract was done away with and I was given an 0300 classification which is basic infantry (a grunt)! I wasn’t the only one of the recruits who got shafted there were many others as well.

Graduation came and went and we all got our 10 day leave for home before returning to duty for infantry training. I was ordered to MCB Camp Pendleton for I.T.S. (Infantry Training School) and reported two days late. To tell the truth I really didn’t want to go at all, but I was persuaded by my parents to do the “RIGHT THING”. My time in the Marine Corps was rattled with UA’s, drugs, and fights. I pretty much lived in legal platoons with other socially removed cases like myself although there were degrees of variance in the non-conformist types I nevertheless fit the mold. I had tried every company in the battalion and left everyone of them before graduation. There were still evacuation missions going on and two guys in a graduating company before my 1st one didn’t make it back. It took all but two weeks for their lives to be ended. I started seeing this USA in a very different light. Once again reality set in deeper than I could have imagined and even more than I understood at the time. At this point all I wanted was OUT!

Leonard W. Bowers Jr. USMC 1973

Next time: Traveling with hippies and soul searching with drugs and sex.

8. U.S.M.C. Honor, Pride, or just plain Stupid

When Uncle Charlie lived with us I developed some pretty bad habits. I learned that doing all the wrong things made me cool in the eyes of all the wrong people I thought I needed to impress. I don't put the blame for my actions on my uncle, after all he had a really rough childhood probably much worse that his other 8 siblings including my dad.

You see my dad's Mom (Alice Moss/Bowers) died when my dad was just 13 or so and uncle Charlie being the 3rd youngest could not have been more that about 4 years old when my dad's whole family was separated and placed into foster homes after the death  of their mom (my paternal grandmother). So yeah, he had it pretty rough and although I know allot about things that happened to them I can't and won't speak on it.

Needless to say I looked up to my uncle Charlie and was very proud of the many gifts he had. It just so happens one of them was being able to talk the skin off of an orange or anything else for that matter and I had developed some of those traits at an early age. From around age 12 to 15 I was always in and out of juvenile corrections and detention centers primarily because I was car happy and would take a joy ride in someone else's car lickity split.  This resulted in me ending up at F.S.B. at the age of 13. It was a very disciplinary institution and if you toed the line you got along pretty well. I used to wash my cottage parent (Mr. Coverse's) Black Mercury Cougar at least once a week. I had two separate stays at F.S.B. in Highland Cottage. After my bouts with he juvenile authorities and spending time away from home at Fairfield School for Boys (F.S.B.) I finally returned home to stay, so I thought!

Highland Cottage F.S.B.

Both times around I eventually was stair-guard monitor and played with the Bell Choir and sometimes went off campus with the group and Mr. Hearnst or director to do presentations. Only Highland Cottage had the Bell Choir.

F.S.B. Bell Choir

Back at home I had a girlfriend that had been in the picture ever since I was 11 years old. She was a cousin to some of my neighboring childhood friends the Holiday family. Her name was Sharon and all the kids called her grandma because she was a little fussy and bossy. She was 2 years older than I was and I would see her whenever she came from the North to the Westside to visit the Holiday’s. (Her cousins)

Needless to say when I finally got through with the juvenile crisis I was nearly 16 and shortly after my 16th birthday we moved into an apartment on the East side of Columbus in the heart of all street activity. I lived right on the corner of Linwood and Main St. which in the day was an area known for drugs and prostitution. As I mentioned earlier I had friends named Bobby Shelby and Daniel Ragland who were also band members, but with these two there was always something brewing. Dan loved to smoke “pot” and watch the seeds pop! Bobby was a womanizer and loved to chase the skirts. I was somewhere in the middle I guess, but I had Sharon (Grandma) looking over my shoulder watching my every move.

She ended up getting pregnant by the time I turned 17 years old and I would drive and take buses to West High School on the Westside I was still in high school.  One morning at about 7:30 there was a knock at the door of the apartment and it was Bobby all full of energy and ready to roll! He said, “Hey man this guy let me use his car until he gets off work and I thought we might take care of a little business while we have it”! I asked if the car was stolen and he said “No” and that he’d even take me to meet this guy on his job.  I got my coat and off we went to the Westside cruising in a metallic blue Barracuda with dual Thrush mufflers sounding off.

When we got to the guys job he came out and said “Yeah it’s my car”, and that he wanted us to be back by 4:00 P.M. when he got off work. So off we went to good old West High! Bobby asked me if I wanted to drive and I said “Yeah, why not”. So I got behind the wheel and we were circling the block at West High looking parking space when one of the mufflers came loose and was dragging the ground. A policeman noticed it and pulled us over. He asked for my license and I gave them to him then he went back to do the routine check. He came back and told us the car was stolen and placed us under arrest!

We took the police to where the guy worked at J. Ashburn Youth Center and the old women that he worked with covered for him by saying he did not work there. So Bobby and I got left with the ticket and the ticket was Auto Theft. On the way to lockup Bobby and I had a few choice words.

When we finally made it to Court we were given a choice of either Jail time as adults or enlistment into the U.S.M.C. It was December 1971 and we would be leaving for Paris Island South Carolina on April 13, 1972. I thought I had made the right choice, besides the Marines were respected for being top of the line braves, and now I’d get to rise up through the ranks and make my mark. Bobby had similar notions, but all he seemed to talk about was how many different types of women he was going to boink  along the way!

One night not long after our car incident Bobby, Daniel and I were out on the O.S.U. Campus partying when this guy comes up and asked us “You guys do acid man”? Being the big men and hipsters we thought we were we all said stuff like “yeah who doesn’t”, or “All the time”! We knew full well we had never experienced LSD, but what the heck tonight we were going to give it a try! The guy shows us these little orange pills no bigger than a BB and Daniel starts to laugh saying, “You’ve got to be kidding what are these supposed to do”! So he takes one and pops it in his mouth and now the other guy was doing the laughing saying, “You’ll see man you’ll see”! 

So then we all three took one and went into the BBF to drink pop and listen to the juke box. So were sitting there listening to Led Zeppelin “Black Dog” when all of a sudden Daniel rushes back from the restroom pointing at his tongue saying “Orange spots, Orange spots man”! So I said, “Chill out man be cool or we’ll all freak out”! Bobby was sitting across from me with the silliest looking grin on his face I’d ever seen!

Anyway these two girls walk up one was name Jill Edwards and the other was her cousin or friend or something. I remember Jill and that’s another story. Anyway we’re all sitting there getting acquainted when all of a sudden I’m looking at Jill and her face starts moving in weird ways! Daniel is cracking up laughing and Bobby still has this idiotic grin pasted on his face! So I’m trying to be serious and calm and I get up and start walking through the BBF corridors and bopping to the sounds coming off the juke box and look back and notice that almost everyone in the joint is following me in line bopping to the groove and tripping hard too! So I get to the door and break for it and here comes Daniel and Bobby right behind me. Then Jill comes running down the street and puts her hand in my pocket and kisses me in the mouth, turns around and runs back into the BBF!

The snow on the ground is showing names written in it of everyone who’s ever lived and yet to come, Daniel is saying “Da, la, la, la….” And Bobby is still grinning that sinister grin! Up comes a bus looking like slow motion and the doors open so we get on. We went all the way to the back of the bus and each took separate seats near each other when all of a sudden this chick takes out a comb and rakes it through her hair! Man that hair started crawling all over the bus and was changing colors, now I knew I was gone!

We all made it home and made weird phone calls throughout the night because none of us could sleep. It felt like this trip was never going to end and I remember thinking to myself that this is what hell must be like. Bobby and Daniel ended up in the hospital together because their parents didn’t know what was wrong with them. My mom on the other hand chose to pray over me and quote scripture and that took me somewhere I don’t think anyone would want to experience!

One day in late March Bobby wanted to go back on the campus to party but Daniel and I had enough of that and we were still in awe from the acid experience so we chose not to go. Well Bobby got into some trouble messing around in the girls dormitory at O.S.U. and got an attempted rape case that landed him in prison for 3 years. I went into the Marine Corps on April 13, 1972 as scheduled.

I arrived at Paris Island and was assigned to 3rd Battalion Platoon 342. Staff sergeant Castle, sergeant Siganik, and some other guy were our original drill instructors for the platoon. The Marine Corps was allot like what I experienced at Fairfield School for Boys back in 1969 and 70 with the exception of PT and rifle range. Everything else was spit and polish and the discipline was about the same as well until I had an encounter with Sgt. Siganik that would result in his Courts Martial.

It all happened when we were on the rifle range. Someone took a set of my ear plugs and I reported it. Siganik had everyone beside me holding rifles on fingertips until the culprit surfaced and they were all suffering pretty badly. A recruit named Pvt. Battle told me he had an extra set and to tell Siganik I found them on the floor. Out of feeling for the platoon’s sweat and pain I did just that and Siganik didn’t take kindly to the fact that I found them on the floor with no one to blame! He came from behind his desk and hit me with a horizontal butt stroke that dislocated my mandible. I spit blood and stayed at attention looking at him to see if another blow was coming! Nothing but embarrassment, but it wasn't over yet..!

7. Gangs, cigarettes, booze, fast girls and Detention

This chapter is dedicated to my Uncle Vernon who died 2004 resulting from complications of exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Viet Nam.

My dad hailed from a family of eight brothers and one sister. Uncle Harold was the eldest of the Bowers Brothers. Harold, Howard, Jerry, Leonard, Carol, Charlie, Vernon and Eddie summed up the living brothers although there was one who died shortly after birth. Aunt Nancy is the only sister in the bunch and she places between Carol and Charlie in age.

(Aunt Nancy 2007)

My uncle Charlie was a real character he passed on in 2012! I recall when he was released from prison in 1966 he was only about 23 years old. My dad who was much older let him live with us until he could get situated and find a place of his own. I had no idea what Uncle Charlie was imprisoned for until later and I had to find out the hard way. I think that letting him live with us was one of the mistakes my parents made that helped create the stage for deviant outlooks that where part of my childhood development, and I know I still have some of that stuff lingering in my character to date.

(Uncle Charlie 1975)

He came off like a real friend and an understanding figure because he knew just how to say the things you needed to hear. He was jovial and fun loving got into cars, girls, (or so it seemed), and was instantly popular with all the young teens due to his entertaining manner. I was first introduced to pot (marijuana) by good old Unc! He then taught me how to fight, lie and cheat like a pro.

Theft was not in his forte although BS was his prime MO! He was for lack of better words a Con man groomed and polished in his field, and he had one other queer aspect of character unmentioned but in essence when it came to rolling people Uncle Charlie was the best that ever did it!

Old uncle tried to make a move on me about 3 months after he came to live with us. It didn’t go so well for him though because he had already showed his hand in the confidence scenario and I was pretty quick to pick up on the spin game even at age 12. Yeah I flipped the script so to speak and blackmailed him into being compliant to my request after I had alerted my parents. Now I was beginning to think like a criminal as well.

I learned how to drive his cars, and dress the part of a little gigolo at a very early age. I had a girlfriend that was 3 years older giving me money and other things I should not have had at such a tender age. I went to parties, and became known to my peers as a flighty sort of character who had access to things well beyond his age group. I guess I became a part-time miniature con man of sorts but back then in the 1960’s everyone fancied the notion of being called a pimp!

 As I mentioned previously I had the bad luck of living smack dead center of being sent to Westmoor or Hilltonia where all my friends were. They call it Middle School now but back then we called it Jr. High! I was sent to Westmoor which housed predominantly white students, there were only 30 black students in the whole school of 1500 or more. The weird thing is that the black students there actually ran the school by a fear factor! (Militant mindsets) where the norm among the black students during the civil rghts movement and even then I fell somewhere in the middle! In fact I was dead center as I had friends on both sides of the culture clash.


I met a guy name Van Rosselle who was one of the blacks that was more the loner hippie type who kicked it with the white students too. He was into getting high on just about anything that would do the trick, booze, pot, acid, even sniffing glue! The strange thing was to me then and even now he was one of the most genuine human beings I’ve ever met! So at age 12 and 13 I was into all these things including sexual encounters with girls who were just about on my same level of thinking. That’s how I met yet 2 other good friends and running buddies; Daniel Ragland and Bobby Shelby.

Daniel played guitars but was willing to play bass behind me and Bobby had a talent for showmanship that really got people up on the floor dancing. Daniel was one bazaar cat that got into the music thing like nobody’s business but his own. We then landed an exceptional drummer named William Porter that had the biggest afro in the territory and played like a pro. We called ourselves UTOPIA and we were on a mission! All of them knew Uncle Charlie and by this time uncle would take a back seat in our mix which his ego simply would not allow so he moved on to fresher uncharted ground and only showed up every now and then to try to capitalize on our set.

William Porter 2010
Daniel Ragland 1972

We opened school gyms and played Coffee houses on the O.S.U. campus, did drugs, chased the girlies and partied heartily for nearly two years in-between my minor incarcerations in juvenile detention. I even spent 9 months in Fairfield School for boys for Auto theft. Fairfield used to be called B.I.S. back in the old days. Bob Hope was among some of the people B.I.S. housed. I was in the same cottage as Mr. Hope, it was called Highland Cottage. There were many others there who later went on to make a mark in society both good and not so good, I guess! (hint) Mr. Converse used to call out "Hall" and then he's say, "Arsenio...boy where'd you get a name like that!!

My friend Daniel turned out to be a lifer in the Coast Guard, made high rank, got married had kids, but somehow died in 2010 at age 55. But we shared time together in a really unique time.
This was an age that had the strongest impact on my development; it was an age of promiscuity, and experimentation/rebellion and associations of all sorts. All in all it was life in the late 60’s and early 70's and I was in it!

There’s so much about this time that took place I’ve yet to put into words, but I think many of you can just about imagine because after all some of you were there too, only under your own unique set of circumstances. Nevertheless, you were there, or you've heard stories from your parents or friends that may resemble or sound like what I’m telling you now.

The Viet Nam conflict was an ongoing endeavor for the States and things were getting to the point that they were actually taking 17 year old kids, thugs and dropouts to mold into soldiers to fight a battle that was unwinnable and for what? I would soon find myself in the ranks of the un-knowledgeable youth caught up in the political crossfire that truly was deeper than the common eye could see, or even begin to comprehend.

Uncle Vernon knew what I was up against the whole time. He just kept his cool and would always say "you’ll make it one way or another"! Then he would say; (YOU’RE A BOWERS) with that big smile revealing his polished teeth.

6. Motown Days and Grade School Talent Shows

Yeah, my uncle Vernon was one of a kind. He came to live with us for a while after his return from Vietnam in 1967. I was going on 12 years old and already interested in music and all the entertainers, but uncle Vernon helped bring it all to life for me. He was working at a steel plant here in Columbus OH, called Buckeye Steel Castings. He used to come in very dirty covered in iron ore, make his way to the bath, and come out transformed into a guy that looked like he was about to grab a mic, get on stage, and blow you away!

(Uncle Vernon 2003)

It was the day of the Motown craze, and the groups that were really hot were the Temptations, Smoky Robinson, the Supremes, and Aretha Franklin. Dennis Walker (from school) had become my best friend and was also infatuated with my uncle Vernon. Guy Monroe was now leaning away from sports and bullying and was fast becoming a party guy too. In fact he would shortly become one of my background singers and go on to become a darn good drummer!

My uncle had a few friends that he worked and grew up with that had formed a singing group. They were top of the world to me, they had these songs and harmonies that would make you want to get up and dance. One day my uncle was practicing with his group of guys and he asked me to bring my guitar into the front room and set it up. He then showed me a little riff to play that fit into what they were doing! Wow, I was one of the big boys now and playing guitar for this group of dancing singers! I just knew this was it! I was on top of the world! My friends would come by on Friday nights just to hear them practice and yep, I was playing the guitar as backup and hamming it up like nobody’s business!

Dennis Walkers mom made sure Dennis made popularity by letting him throw parties at least 3 a year! All the kids from school that made his scene seemed to be the most popular girls and guys from Highland Ave. Elementary. Dennis too, but of course (it was his party), Guy, Michael Garlington, Jerry Neil, and Mac Harris all ended up forming a group with me. I was asked by my sixth grade Teacher Mrs. Dean to put together a going away show for her. She was the first school teacher who ever showed any real interest in me and she made sure I knew that she believed in me! She let me know that this would be her last year at Highland Ave. School in our 6th grade class and she wanted us all to move on to be big 7th grader's having something to remember.

Guy, Jerry, Michael, and I formed the singing group. We then enlisted the aid of Austin Wailey, and a guy named Larry Daniels to play guitars with Mac Harris playing the drums. Up until now all the little shows at highland had been performed with groups singing over top of records and acting out the songs. This was the first all live performance to be held at Highland performed by it's students. Best of all the gym/auditorium was newly built and finished just in time!.

(Highland auditorium Google Earth)

The gym was full at show-time! Our first show was done for the 1st through 3rd grade students. The curtains were closed as Austin, Larry and Mac began the live sound, you could hear the restlessness of the audience outside! The curtains opened to reveal a group of 4 singers and the 3 piece band wailing out the groove as the group went through a carefully rehearsed dance routine. I was out front with the mic and my guys stayed in the groove dressed in blue boating shirts and dark trousers topped off by those little slim line sunglasses that looked something like futuristic robot lenses.

The song was “WILD THING’! And we did it in a way that made it bounce with a bottom end that made the kids stand up and groove right along with our movements. When the curtains opened up the kids all let out the biggest Whoooooooo, I’ve ever heard! It was as if they were totally caught by surprise that this was real! We also did a song by the Temptations called “I’M LOOSING YOU” and some wild song that was popular called the Boo-Boo song by King Coleman that Michael Garlington led. However, those were done and acted out from the records with the band acting out the music. We performed the same scenario in the afternoon for the 4th through 6th grade classes and the response was equally overwhelming! Mrs. Dean was so enthused she actually cried happy tears. I wish I could find her now, she has actual pictures of the event! Black and white of course, there weren’t too many color cameras around in 1966.

Needless to say we all left Highland Ave. Elementary with a bang that year and the summer was full of Dennis Walker’s party’s. We would inevitably split up to go to two different Jr. High Schools because of zoning issues over one street of difference. Most would go on to Hilltonia and others to Westmoor! I would be going to Westmoor and all of my party friends went to Hilltonia, what a drag. The summer of 1966 was a highlight in my life that led to everything good in music and entertainment I’ve come in contact with to date. However, being shipped to Westmoor in the fall would prove to be yet another turning point I wasn’t prepared to handle. Now entering the picture comes a different uncle, “uncle Charlie” straight out of prison!

5. Football, Basketball or Entertainer?

We finally moved to our own house at 212 South Wheatland Ave. in the spring of 1965.

(212 S. Wheatland Ave.)

My brother, little sisters and I were thrilled that at last we had our own back yard. There was even an apple tree in the back yard that the previous owner had mended different apple branches onto so the tree had 4 kinds of apples on it. I had a dog my uncle Howard brought up from St. Louis the previous winter that I named “Blacky”! He was a Blue Tick, I think that’s how you spell it. But anyway he was a good dog and followed me everywhere I went. He was very smart and to me he was like a close friend that understood me somehow even if he was a dog, he seemed to empathize with my emotional state where people could not or did not whichever the case may have been.

(Alice and Blacky)

One morning that spring me and my little brother Timmy were out playing in the front yard in our little furry coats my mom had gotten us and along comes this guy I had never seen in the neighborhood before. He was looking real mean as if he were going to say something crazy! He walks up to me and asked, “What would you do if I hit your little brother”? I responded like a total coward! I said, “I’m not allowed to fight guys bigger than me!” God, I’ve regretted that over and over throughout my life and I still to this day it can make me feel so worthless over that! Anyway, he get’s down on his knees and say’s, “I’m not bigger than you now!” I was at a complete loss, my little brother had just seen me cower in spite of a threat on him! I can’t quite remember how I got out of that one or how it ended except the guy whose name happened to be “Guy Monroe” walked off with a sneer and snicker knowing I would never be a threat to him and that he could pretty much have his way around my neck of the woods..

I was no more than 11 years old at the time, and I eventually ran into Guy again at school in September. We used to play this game with a football out in the field called, “Smear the queer!” The object of the game was to catch the ball from a guy who had made goal without being tackled in the mud! You guessed it, Guy Monroe was that un-tackled kid and everybody at school was trying him out to see how close they could get in the domination game. I was out in the field with the rest of the kids trying to find where I ranked and yelling Guy, Guy, with my hands in the air acting like I wanted to receive a pass that would make me the queer that got smeared or either a triumphant big dog goal maker! (Fat chance)! I was only trying to fit in and to tell the truth I was faking it! I never thought he’d throw me the stupid ball but he did! “Damn!”, “&*@#! I was holding the ball and about to be creamed by 20 or so kids! I’d never gotten the ball before, why now?

I made it a total of about two to three yards before I was piled upon like a solitary meatball in the bottom of a bowl of spaghetti! Ouch! Guy ended up being someone at the school everybody else in the male hormonal department either respected or were scared of. What’s really strange is how he chose to befriend me after all that intimidation and watching me make a complete idiot of myself! He came by the house one day when I was out in the front yard after school and asked, “Do you steal?” I had never stolen a thing in my life, but I was sure going to try to look as tough as I could in Guy’s eyes so I said, “Yeah, do you”?

(W. Broad St. Hilltop USA Google Earth)

So off to the store we went! I was now officially making my first move toward becoming a common thief! We went to a store on W. Broad St. that was called Gray’s Drug Store, they've since built a Family Dollar store on the spot. They had a candy Isle and my new gangster buddy and I took some candy! He must have filled his pockets with 10 or 12 candy bars! I on the other hand “stole” one solitary Milky way bar! I thought that would prove I could be a tough guy too, but instead it appealed to his humorous side because he laughed about it all the way home.

The worst part was when I got home I still had the candy bar and my mom asked me where I got it and where the money came from to buy it? I was no good at lying and my mom saw right through it! She made me take the candy bar back to the store and give it back! What’s so crazy is I actually did it! I went in and told on myself and gave the man behind the counter the candy bar and told him how sorry I was! What the hell? I was now a coward, and a unsuccessful thief and a liar all rolled into one disgusting little package! I really wasn't sorry and the next time I went into the store I did it again, was caught and asked never to come into the store again unless my parents were with me.

It seemed I was no good at anything and just did not fit in no matter how hard I tried. I was no good at football, I always sprained my ankles! I wasn’t very good at even catching the thing! Basketball wasn’t my cup of tea either, I looked good but the stupid ball just would not go into the bucket for me! I wasn’t very good at stealing so it seemed I was destined to play little silly games like building makeshift toy planes or running around in the yard acting like I was flying. I also did the “Fort building” thing I got into with a select group of nerds like me! We even went on to jump ramps with our bicycles until that also ended in injury for me. I was taking saxophone lessons, and sax was O.K. but it wasn’t real interesting to me, besides the horn was almost as big as I was!

My uncle Vernon (Dad’s youngest brother) came by one day and had a guitar. He put it in my hand, showed me how to hold the pick, put my fingers on the neck and in the frets to change tone and pitch. I knew then that this was the beginning of an affair that would not likely end any time soon. This first physical encounter with a real guitar came to me in a open E and chorded by barring across the frets. I would shortly learn from my Great-grandmother Carrey Newsom (Mother-Lady) how to produce chords in standard 440 tuning.

L to R 1st son Junie, Myself, Mom, Gran and Mother Lady

4. Slip, Dip or Trip?

Highland Ave. Elementary School

            So here I was in my very first fight in Columbus Ohio the City of my birth, on my very first day of school with Martin Fields. I was going through the motions, but my heart wasn’t in it by a long shot, in fact I was pretty scared to say the least! There was so much noise and yelling and what’s worse everyone seemed to be happy about it and having a good time! All of a sudden life made no sense, and I was lost in it. I was totally at a disadvantage to this sort of behavior, God how I longed for the safety and sanity of Brezolles France! I was scared, but couldn’t show it and I wondered if they could see it?

I did wonder why I was scared after all this kid was smaller than me how bad could it be? The chanting got louder and we bobbed around each other like carnival clowns and all of a sudden BAM! A hit! Dead-Square in the right eye! MY RIGHT EYE! I didn’t cry, I was too embarrassed and ashamed of the fact that I knew I was not going to fight this kid under these insane conditions and as far as I was concerned it was over! I really didn’t want to fight at all! How did I get into this mess? I thought to myself, “I know, it was my parents entire fault”! Why did they bring me to a place like this? They must have known I wouldn’t fit in! How could they not know? I missed Madam and Annie Claude, I missed France.

The red X marks the exact location of the scrimmage. In the midst of my embarrassment and pain Dennis Walker stepped up to help things end out by saying, “Hey man he ain’t trying to fight nobody, he ain’t even from around here”! Eventually we started walking hearing all the slurs and taunts along the way. I was  making the best exit I could under the circumstances. Dennis walked with me all the way to my grandparent’s home where we were staying and there was a trail of little girls following, giggling, and making sport the whole way! I didn’t know it then, but I found out later they only give you that sort of attention when they like you or something! How backwards! I did not equate that with liking at all, I really thought they were just being mean! Well most of them anyway except for one little girl named Gail Weaver. She looked like she could be one of my sisters or cousins. I noticed that she maintained a sort of sadness while the others seemed to be having the time of their little lives at my expense.

84 S. Oakley rear view

The closer we got to my grandparents home the more I started to think about how my mom was going to react. Then I really started worrying about what was going to happen when my father got a load of me and my big black eye! Yeah, I had a bloody nose once from getting punched in Rantoul Illinois and I acted my way around that one, but I had never had a black eye before! And by a little guy at that!

We reached my grandparent’s house and everyone separated silently and let me maintain at least a small degree of dignity! I guess they could have been loud and ribbed me all the way until I got to the door, but they gave me a break of sorts and I was relieved that they did! Now when my mother came to the door and opened it I saw the look on her face change from her average to a look of panic! “Oh my God boy what have you gotten yourself into”? She grabbed me by the shoulder part of my jacket and pulled me into the house to give me the third degree.

In the process of being drilled by my mother on how to be more Christ-like and thereby avoid the pitfalls and vices of society, my Grandmother went about her usual routine of cooking and setting things up for dinner as if nothing were out of the ordinary. My younger brother Timmy however took a totally different approach to the situation and seized the opportunity to rub my nose in the fact he knew I got beat up! He watched as my mother was questioning and preaching with a look on his face that almost screamed, “You got your butt kicked”. Then he let out a loud laugh and sang, “You got your butt kicked, you got your butt kicked”! “What a little prick”, I thought to myself.
“He’s in with them, and he’s supposed to be my little brother”! I reasoned later down the road that maybe that was his way of getting around the embarrassment for me.


Fortunate for me it had all died down by the time my dad got home. I stayed upstairs in my room to avoid him.
I knew then that I was in a world of crap and I reasoned as best I could that I was going to have to live with it and make a comeback somehow! I had big dreams about how I’d be a big deal at my new school and in these United States. But obviously I slipped in my thinking, failed to dip when the punch came, and inevitably tripped over the leg of ego to my own disadvantage at least for the time at hand! Things were about to get really hot and busy on the Hilltop of Columbus, OH and I never thought I’d turn out to do some of the things I did, but I did! Some good, but many not so good.

3. It's On..!


When we returned to Columbus OH. From Rantoul Illinois we lived temporarily at my Grandparents house at 84 South Oakley Ave. My grandfather was from a farmers type environment in North Carolina and maintained large gardens on the outskirts of the County as well as the one he had at the residence. He had this work ethic thing instilled in him and he was going to make sure we, as grandchildren applied it to our own perspective logic.

The yard was big, and full of fruit trees, well there were 3 pear, 2 cherry and an apple tree on the property along with the garden. Then too there were all the trucks and tools he used in his trade which happened to be “The Jack of All” according to my dad’s description. My dad was an accountant in the Air Force and maintained that in order for one to be proficient at a vocation one must master it by devoting the majority of ones time to the practice of (1) chosen profession above all other interest. These two conflicting mandates from two of the most admired men in my life painted a picture of rivalry in my mind at the time and would in later years affect the relationships between siblings and parents alike!

84 S. Oakley 2016

Over the years it seemed to have fostered the individual attitudes amongst family members that, “My perspective view and outlook is more adequate and socially acceptable than yours”, so to speak! In time I would learn what the word “dysfunction” meant and how it would play its part in my life. It took many years to come to terms with the realization and that understanding came at cost!

(ENTER) Highland Avenue Elementary School

It was time for me to get back into the school system after a long winter absence and summer vacation. I had envisioned that my dad would take me and walk into the classroom to introduce me to the teacher to set some sort of psychological precedent that might make other students admire or respect me! As it turns out that was only a child’s day dream or fantasy! The fact is I walked into a classroom like I had never seen before!

Remember I came from almost (5) years in France to live in "back water" Rantoul Illinois! In Rantoul the racial balance was the typical few air force black children and in 1963 Hispanics were very sparse and where mostly Mexican. No need to say there was a  much larger proportion of white children by comparison almost 9:1. The truth of the matter is I was never conditioned to see anything other than what I saw and when I walked into that classroom at Highland Ave.  everyone was black accept for the teacher herself, and a wee little tiny withdrawn white girl who had eye problems and was dressed in what seemed to be 1940's type attire!

She was really out of place and so was I! I came to school wearing short pants, a smock top and beetle type boots, but what makes it so much worse was that I had on long checkerboard socks! Needless to say, all the kids got a big laugh off on me, but it really didn’t bother me at the time because I had no idea what the heck they were laughing about other than maybe the way I wore my hair, or more importantly the fact that I was laughing along right with them!

When the laughter was over Mrs. McCarley (the teacher) asked me to find a seat. The only two seats available were about in the middle of the classroom.
No one was laughing anymore, instead they seemed to all look very mean and sinister to me! I had to walk through a narrow corridor of seats occupied by very mean looking kids and felt surrounded in the center of the room. On the way to my seat I was asked by three different boys if I thought I could beat them? Dugh! They were talking about fighting and I just got there! My answer was to the first, second and third a resounding NO! After all, they were to me pretty scary looking characters!

Then, they turned and pointed at this little small skinny black kid named Martin Fields and asked almost in unison, “Think you can beat him”? Well I had already eaten crow to the tune of three bigger scarier looking kids so I felt I had to be able to “beat” somebody! This kid was so small but he had his lips pursed and nose flared open as if to suggest I better say no. Silly me! I said, “Well yeah”!  The next thing I hear is the classroom burst out into a sound that went something like this; Whooooooooooooooo”! What had I done?

Now I was scheduled for a fight with this kid after school and didn’t even understand why, or how! I reasoned that I had watched every Elvis movie made to date and I could take him, after all we really weren’t going to fight it would all just be an act and we’d just go through the motions and put on a good show, at least I would not have to fight a big kid!

School let out and everyone made sure to remind me about my appointment with Martin Fields especially Dennis Walker the main instigator who was supposedly also on my side to hear him tell it! We walked out to the fight tree a half block from the school in front of a big old Baptist church and Martin dropped his books to the ground, lowered his head, poked out his bottom lip and raised his dukes! All of a sudden he didn’t look so small anymore! There had to be about 15 to 20 kids gathered around and more were coming, good God what the heck? This just couldn’t be happening! What’s worse is there was not one single white person anywhere to be seen! I was the whitest spot in the picture, and I wasn’t even white!

Kids were yelling, “fight, fight, fight…” Martins fist were bobbing up and down to the rhythm of the shouts in perfect sync, and I was petrified! I reasoned I’d better do my Elvis routine and salvage what social dignity I might, so I slid out of my jacket and went into my act, I tried to talk my way out of it and that showed no results other than to get me in deeper, so up went the dukes to defend myself from this little skinny kid who thought he was going to best me! Dennis Walker was trying to encourage me by saying “don’t worry about it man, you can beat him”!

2. The Return To America


We left France in December of 1962 just after Christmas. All of the Christmas decorations were up in the village and in the village square. My father got the news of the transfer just days before Christmas so Madam and her family were taken by surprise. They had come to regard me as their own and rightfully so from their perspective. I basically lived with Madam Lebudec, and Annie Claude was like a sister to me. When they got the news we were leaving for the States Madam was devastated. Crying and sobbing she asked my mother if I could stay with them in France. Needless to say my mom couldn’t do that and told her that she would make sure I wrote often and that Annie Claude could come to the states to visit from time to time, also that there could be provisions made for the whole family to come on visits. That didn't happen.

We got back to the U.S. in late1962 just before the New Year and were picked up at port Columbus by my mom’s dad (my grandfather) who I will always know as and refer to as Poppy! He took us to his house on the Hilltop in Columbus Ohio where we would stay until my father received his orders to report to his new duty station in Rantoul Illinois. Which by the way is the exact house I'm writing this biography from now in 2016. My office/studio now occupies the room my Mom and 2 Aunts shared as little girls and young ladies.

(Poppy 1969)

Aside from myself my mother and father had 3 other children I was the first and eldest, then came Timothy (1957), Tina (1960), and Alice (1962). Tina and Alice were born in France and to this day still have the option of invoking French citizenship, or a dual citizenship if they choose. I was born in Columbus OH. And my younger brother Tim was born in St. Louis MO. just before my dad was stationed in France in that we got the short end of the stick!

(Timmy 1965)
(Tina 1968)
    (Alice 1965)
I had never really been in a fight until I came back stateside and I was somewhat at a loss when it came to communicating in English being that French had become my basic language and culture. I really felt out of place and a little dense even though I was academically advanced by the standards of the American school system I was still a little Frenchie and not adjusting to the American way of life as rapidly as was required by my teachers and peers.

                                             (Me, Timmy and Tina 1962 Brezolles France)

I recall my first bloody nose! it happened while stationed stateside in Rantoul Illinois. A boy was over in the field across from my house at the mud hole pond where I usually played alone and was standing on a little makeshift bridge I put together a few days previously. I went over to say hello and I was in the process of telling him how I made the bridge when he socked me right square in the nose! It really hurt something awful and the blood just kept coming and drenched my shirt! He just walked away in his beetle type boots combing his hair like Elvis and I scampered across the street trying to look like I had a big fight and it didn’t bother me! I felt like I had to at least act strong and courageous and hold my shoulders up or people might think I was weak and timid! This happened in about August of 1963 and would be the starting point of forming my new attitude toward life along with my fall into prejudicial views based on the fault finding characters of others in my surroundings. In other words I would come to learn backwardly that violence created respect by fear and intimidation.

I became more aware of the jealousies peers exhibited over things as minute as the belongings of others. Even if I shared my things with them in most cases that wasn’t enough! I was seeing the American way through the eyes of a socially displaced child. Even though my parents should have seen they did not because here unlike France there was very little time left to notice these things especially by my young parents. Besides, they had three other small children to deal with. I was the oldest and it seemed I was going to get into things and just have to deal with them on my own the best way I could. Now by comparison Rantoul, Illinois was heaven compared to Columbus, Ohio. I was going on 9 years of age, in the 3rd grade and on my way to a new set of circumstances in a culture on the verge of racial explosions.

Hello, Highland Ave. Elementary in Columbus OH. Now had come the time that would prove me to be a “punk” or a “man” in the day of racially militant attitudes, Yeah me, a little mixed hi yellow almost white but not quite person! Highland Ave. Elementary and our house at 212 Wheatland Ave. was dead center of one of the largest all Black communities of the 1960’s! My nickname was white boy!

1963 Me!

1. Moving to France

Moving to France

 (84 S. Oakley 1958)                    

(Rue de Tillieres 1959)  
I was born in Columbus Ohio in 1954 to Edith G. Bowers and Leonard W. Bowers. I was named after my father so that makes me Jr! My father was in the Air Force when I was born and stationed somewhere near St. Louis Missouri because we live there around some of his brothers (my uncles) and their families from shortly after I was born until about 1958 when my baby brother Timmy was born. I can remember events as far back as my second year of life and have very vivid memories of my third year on this planet. Although I love my parents very dearly I must say that I wasn’t fortunate enough as to hail from a family that was vise free partially because my parents married young and still had a degree of party spirit going on! I heard words in slang and profanity from my father's friends that could make a sailor cringe and I was employing them in conversation as early as my third year of life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not doing the victim thing here I’m just saying that when you’re in certain circles things of the nature of your placement are bound to happen sooner or later and the choices we make are sometimes affected by the stimuli we encounter in our early development as children. Some good, some not so good, but you got what you got and you did what you did
(so to speak)!

My brother was born in August of 1957  in St. Louis and named (Timothy Leon Bowers). Well now things begin to spin! My dad was then transferred to Brezolles’ France and based at Druex Air Base in France. My mom, brother and I moved there shortly afterward. The small village of Brezolles’ was nothing like back in the States and people there never used vile language instead it was quite the contrary. Everyone as I can recall showed immense love and exemplary common courtesies not so common in our society even back in the 1950’s.

Dreux -Louvilliers Airf Force Base by M.M.Minderhoud or Wikipedia/Michiel1972

(Courtesy of Google Earth)

We lived at 15 Rue de Tillieres pictured above. This is the actual physical location of where I lived from 1958 to 1963.  I was placed in base schooling, but I didn’t get along well with the other American kids because I could out cuss them without even trying. My mom came up with the bright idea that I may do well in French Catholic School so that’s exactly what happened. I learned the language really fast and I had a lot of help from the Madam Lebudec and family because that’s who I was with five days a week being that my mom was working on the base in the Affex. So in essence I became a little French boy and since no one understood my vulgarities in my native tongue I soon lost interest in using fowl language and began the more eloquent approach to interacting in my new social environment. I must say the French were excellent teachers and for them that was just part of a basic service to mankind in general.

American GI’s from the base would sometimes find their way to the village and scare people with their drunken behaviors and womanizing predatory type actions. It’s safe to assume that the political minded French wanted them gone despite the economy and dollar exchange of the day. They tolerated and endured this sort of behavior largely due to the liberation by American troops during the Second World War.

I started in French schools at the age of four in 1958. By the time I was seven years old in 1961 I had the equivalent of an American 7th grade education. School hours were different there, and there was no summer vacation instead we had occasional breaks so we never got to far off track and had very little time for mischief. There wasn’t a lot of jealousy over belongings or clothing because everybody whore the same thing. We wore grey or light blue smock type uniforms. The girls wore skirts and the boys wore shorts. Can you imagine wearing shorts in mid winter?

(Courtesy of Google Earth)

This is the physical location of entrance to the courtyard of the Catholic school I was placed in shortly after my arrival in 1954. I would attend French public school from 1959 to 1963. It was here in the Christmas of 1958 I would meet a Santa so unique in character the memory would last a lifetime.

Christmas was a really special time of year in France, Santa Clause there is called “Father Christmas” or “Pare Noel” in the French language. Madam had two daughters; Soline the eldest, and Annie Claude who was a year older than me and was also my best friend. Much like Forrest, Forrest Gump we were like peas and carrots. I had pictures of Annie Claude and Soline that were sent back with me by Madam, however after my Mother's departure from this plain of existence my sisters laid claim to all memorabilia and it would do me very little good to ask for cooperation at this phase of life. The picture as to why my lack of relationship with my sisters exists I think may be painted at some point in this story.  There is so much about my time in France to reflect on in memories, and in the overall view it was all good to me.