I met Bill Bowman for the first time last week, during our school vacation. We met at a coffee shop in his hometown, Dedham. My dad also came. We sat and talked for about an hour and a half. He explained what he did and described some important events that he went through in World War II. We had a real nice time, and it was a pleasure being able to talk to such a great man that fought in World War II.
THE EARLY YEARS
William J. Bowman was born in 1924. He was born into a family with three brothers and two sisters. His family first arrived in America when his grandfather got kicked out of Ireland. When Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan in 1941, Bill was still in high school. He lived in Hyde Park and Mattapan, both in Massachusetts. He soon signed up for the war at age seventeen. "All I wanted to do was go get the Japs." Bill explained. He signed up to be in the Navy on the submarines. All his brothers went off to war too and they all made it home after the war. William was the only one that signed up for the submarines though. He went to New London, Connecticut, where his training began.
LIFE IN THE NAVY
For a couple of weeks the men had to practice on World War I submarines which looked ancient to them. The crew on the Flying Fish had to practice a lot. They even had to practice finding other American ships to make sure they would be able to do it in battle. They practiced in the south Pacific. Bill became the Navigator on the submarine. He was good in math and he was also good at "shooting the stars" which meant he was able to find out where his ship was by using the stars in the sky, but in bad weather you just had to pray that you were in the right spot. Six months after training Bill saw his first action. Since working in the submarines was one of the hardest jobs in the navy to do, and sometimes the most dangerous, the men got paid 50% more plus 20% sea pay. This wasn't such a bad thing, Bill said. Bill remembers being scared a lot during the war. He says "the worst part is after all the fighting, because then you have time to think about it." His submarine had twenty-two to twenty-four torpedoes on it, which he sadly had to use a lot. After thirty days out at sea, Bill and the rest of the crew would come back into their home port which was Pearl Harbor. There you would get more supplies and fix up the ship, then ten days later you were back out at sea. This wasn't the case all the time, and if you were lucky you could come back in thirty days. But sometimes they would be out there for a lot longer.
BATTLES AND ATTACKS
One time, when Bill was getting chased by a Japanese sub they had to hide, and were stuck out at sea for thirty-nine days. It was so bad that the crew started eating old and raw food, and they were very low on water. In one of the battles they were told not to pick up any survivors, most of the people in the water drowned or got eaten by sharks. "If we were close to being hit, I wouldn't be here right now," explained Bill. One time, when they were getting chased they had to go down five hundred feet, when their sub was only meant to go down three hundred feet. Since the Japanese wouldn't give up they had to go down an extra two hundred feet. The light bulbs started to burst and the water started to come in the ship. This was one of the scariest moments for Bill because the sub ran on a battery and the longest the battery could last under water was twenty four hours. The only way you could charge it was above water. Luckily they hid in between two water currents so the Japanese ship's radar couldn't detect it because the two water currents would bounce the sound beam and it moved in all different directions. When they saw that it was clear, they went to the surface and recharged thier battery. The Flying Fish was attacked seven times. During the war Bill and his crew sunk six ships.
Above: Bill Bowman fought in submarines just like this one in World WarII
"There's no such thing as almost sinking because once you're hit you're pretty much dead." Bill said. After finally being able to go back to Pearl Harbor, they all got thirty days parole, where they were all sent to a hotel and they got to swim and lie on the beach. But soon it was back to work. To escape a lot of thier attacks they would hide in a temperature curve which was two bodies of water that meet. In some cases they would have to pick up any survivor that wanted to come on the ship, and they would have to chain them up until they were able to reach a destroyer where they would transfer the captives. The only men that died on Bill's ship did because of mistakes made. In one incident, they had to close all the doors in the ship and get into their battle stations and one of the doors closed on a man and he died.
THE END OF THE WAR
In his last voyage of the war, Bill and the crew were sent into Tokyo Bay where Japan would surrender to them, and later his ship went on to land. After the war was over the navy sent Bill to college where he later graduated from the University of Miami. He then went back into the navy and served in it from 1941 - 1964. By then he had lived through two wars and had served on two nuclear submarines. He also got married and had children, and is now living in Dedham. He was giving six stars from fighting in the war, and he still sees many of the men he served with and belongs to the USS Submarine Veterans of World War II in New Hampshire. They have a reunion once a year. Bill said, "If I was asked to do this all over again, there's no doubt in my mind that I would."
Mack, Kyle. Interview on February 20, 2004