MILLERSVILLE, MD, USA U.S. Army SFC, INFANTRY BATTALION TRAINING TEAM 1, BALTIMORE, MD SAN ANTONIO 03/14/2008
It’s tempting when talking about Collin to focus on his brave and heroic death in the mountains of Afghanistan, fighting for his country. But the truth is, what made SFC Collin J. Bowen a Hero had little to do with the Bronze Star Medal he earned, or the countless awards and recognitions he proudly wore on his dress uniform as a highly-decorated soldier in the U.S. Army. What makes Collin a Hero is the way he lived his life…not the way he died.
In some ways Collin was a paradox of sorts – a conflicting set of ideals. He loved nothing more than out-working, out-hustling, out-smarting a worthy opponent until he had soundly defeated them. His level of competitiveness was legendary and second to none (just the way he liked it). Whether it was on the tennis court, the baseball field, the golf course, or even in the back yard, Collin was determined to win. And he was willing to work harder than anyone else out there to make sure he either won or literally gave it everything he had trying.
Yet despite his fiercely competitive spirit, Collin was also the one teaching those that weren’t on his level. His second grade teacher reported that Collin spent several days in a row of recess not showing off his own kickball skills winning game after game – no. Collin was on the side of the playground, teaching a fellow classmate who was too awkward and clumsy to get picked for a team- how to kick the ball. Finally, after several days of tutoring, he had the boy doing well enough to get his chance to play.
A similar incident took place a couple of years later when Collin was on a class fieldtrip to a local nature preserve. Someone among the group disturbed a hive of bees, which began to swarm and sting some of the children. The entire group did what most of us would do; they took off running for safety without a single concern for anyone else but themselves. But not Collin. A young girl classmate found herself on the bank of a slippery pond – with flat sandals on and unable to get any traction whatsoever to get up the hill to safety. Collin stayed behind…reached his hand out to the girl…and pulled her up the slick bank so that she could make her escape. The girl reported years later that Collin made it too, but as the very last one out, his arms and legs were covered in bee stings…having stayed behind to help his friend.
As he grew older, instead of teaching young children to play kickball, he was training young American soldiers to be leaders of men. Instead of pulling a young classmate to safety from a swarm of angry bees, he was mentoring inexperienced Afghan National Army troops in the ways of warfare. All the while he was constantly leading by example, and never asked anyone to do anything that he would not do himself. He did nothing for glory or recognition; he did it because it was the right thing to do.
In December of 2007, Collin’s vehicle was hit by an IED and he was instantly subjected to the unimaginable intensity of over 5,000 degrees of flame and smoke. Such was the raw and painful beginning of an amazing and powerful 72-day journey for Collin and his family, friends, and many, many others. Most of which was spent at a Burn Unit in San Antonio, Texas.
What followed from friends, family, and strangers alike was nothing short of amazing. Especially touching was the reception Collin’s hometown of Marion, Indiana gave the decorated war hero. His casket draped in an American Flag, over 100 emergency vehicles from Grant County came to escort the Hero through the streets… past Marion High School… on to the Matter Park tennis courts where Collin spent hours upon hours perfecting his craft.
Today, the list of “thank you’s” is endless. The people of Grant County opened up their hearts in ways never seen or expected by anyone ever before and we are left with hundreds, if not thousands of calls to return, letters to write, updates to give and cards to send. And it still won’t be enough to truly express how much we appreciate the people who stood by Collin during his life, his struggle to stay alive, and ultimately there for him after his death. You have touched us in a way that is truly indescribable.