ARMY: Vietnam Vet Bill Cowger is an ‘Army Man’

Published 10:23 am Friday, November 11, 2016


Bill Cowger is a smiling man, probably unassuming to many in Bainbridge. His camouflage “Vietnam Veteran” hat will tell you he’s an Army man, sure. But it says nothing of just how much he’s done to support this country and its military.

At 19, Cowger enlisted in the Army. It was 1966, three years before the draft for the Vietnam War started, so the Illinois teenager had no qualms with joining like many others his age would shortly have thereafter.

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The real reason he enlisted is because he was expected to. An uncle who had retired from the Navy always pushed him that direction.

“That’s what you did,” Cowger said. “That’s the way it was around my family.”

Optimistic and eager, he went to basic training and was shortly sent to Munich, Germany. A year later, he was flown to Vietnam as part of the 24th Infantry Division. He spent six months in the bush with 100 other men, armed with an M60 machine gun.

That’s when disaster struck.

At about 3:30 a.m. one morning, drenched in thick fog, the Vietnamese attacked Cowger’s company. By daylight, most of the enemy were gone, but around 80 of his comrades were wiped out. Cowger was alive, yet wounded, and still fighting off Vietnamese that were trying to overrun what was left of his company. Medic choppers couldn’t get close enough to help the American troops retreat.

Except for one.

“The (pilot) said if you have him out there, I will come down,” Cowger said. “I’m not going to land, you can throw him on the chopper and I’ll get him out of there. And that’s what happened. That was me.”

Cowger was saved, but leaving his company gave him tremendous guilt. Wounded and shaken, he was flown to a hospital in Okayama, Japan, before returning stateside. From there he received additional medical treatment and was then sent to Fort Carson, Colorado, in 1968.

But even suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder didn’t keep Cowger from celebrating his return to the U.S. in style.

“All my money that I didn’t get in Vietnam had come to me,” Cowger said. “Being young and crazy, I went out immediately and bought me a Pontiac GTO.”

Cowger was soon swept off into the Fifth Army Color Guard in Chicago, Illisnois, where he performed military funerals and presented the colors at various events. From there he joined the Military Police at Fort Riley, Kansas, before leaving the military in 1970. He was given a Purple Heart and an honorable discharge.

Cowger was brought to Decatur County because of family. He’s been here for five years, and has helped create projects and events for veterans in the area, including the local Veterans Center that’s in development.

Veterans Day is an important time of the year for Cowger, and he always look forward to the annual ceremony at Willis Park.

“They put their life on the line for the country and the people that live here,” Cowger said. “You have to show some kind of respect for that. They deserve that.”