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'That's a nice rig': 100-year-old WWII vet tours Church Hill in 100-year-old fire truck

Jeff Bobo • Jun 9, 2020 at 8:00 AM

CHURCH HILL — World War II veteran Hiram Bowlin — or “H” as he's known to his friends — celebrated his 100th birthday on Sunday with a ride on an antique fire truck that was born the same year he was.

Fellow Church Hill resident Bill Killen owns a fully restored 1920 Model T Ford fire engine, which he discovered was built three months after Bowlin was born.

Killen and Bowlin have a mutual friend in Troy Alley, who had promised to give Bowlin a ride on a fire truck for his birthday and arranged Sunday's adventure.

“That's a nice rig,” Bowlin said of the fire truck. Killen joked that the police had given him permission to exceed the speed limit for Sunday’s ride, and Bowlin offered to drive.

But he found out riding shotgun was more fun because he got to turn the hand-cranked siren.

Alley, as well as Bowlin's son-in-law Chuck Culbertson, rode along on the back of the truck, with Killen driving.

They went from Bowlin's home on the west end of town to the First Baptist Church parking lot for a photo shoot, and then down to Patsy's Bakery and through the Church Hill Shopping Center parking lot.

“He had a really good time,” Killen said. “I think he really enjoyed that. He especially enjoyed cranking the siren. He made sure to crank it when we passed the police station.”

After his ride, Bowlin enjoyed a party with family and friends on his front porch; while members of his church drove by, honking, waving and wishing him happy birthday. By the time the party ended his head was covered with red lipstick from the many kisses he received. 

Bowlin is the first member of the Church Hill First Baptist Church to reach the age of 100.

His daughter Phyllis Murray said, “We just decided since he's going to be 100, that's a big, big deal. We just want to do fun things with him.”

Bowlin was married with two children and employed at Eastman when he was drafted into the United States Army during WWII.

He took his basic training at Camp Blanding, near Jacksonville, Florida, and was trained as a rifleman. He was sent to Europe and assigned to the 94th Infantry, a part of the 3rd Army commanded by Gen. George Patton.

The 94th Infantry arrived in Europe on Aug. 6, 1944, and saw 209 days of combat, participating in campaigns in Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe.

Of his war experience, Bowlin stated, “I was assigned to communications and I didn’t know anything about communications. I was on the ground stringing wire to CPs (Command Posts). We lost over half of the division and I remember going into Sinz. They gave me a Jeep, I don’t know why, but I drove it everywhere. I had a trailer on it and was constantly busy.”

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