A true American hero was surprised Friday morning when he walked into the VA Medical Center Auditorium on Leestown Road in Lexington.
The room was filled with family, friends, politicians, military brass and media to honor Troy Bowling, 87, a World War II Veteran and longtime VA volunteer.
The Governor made him an honorary Kentucky Colonel. Lexington's Mayor proclaimed Friday, February 14, 2014, as Troy Bowling Day in Lexington. There was a proclamation from Sixth District Congressman Andy Barr, speeches and commendations.
It was a fitting surprise party to honor a man who has spent his life serving his country, his family and his fellow Veterans.
The reluctant, humble hero said he was surprised and grateful for the recognition, but said he is not a hero.
"I don't consider myself a hero because I came back, barely. The only heroes I consider are those who are left behind, which was most of my unit. Most of them were killed," Bowling said tearfully.
In 1945, Bowling was a teenager serving with the U.S. Marines East Company, 2nd Battalion, 27th Marines, 5th Division.
He and his unit were among the first wave on Iwo Jima.
On the second day, his unit suffered terrible shell fire, killing most of the men in his unit.
As he and other fellow comrades struggled to take control of Mt. Suribachi, Bowling was shot in the chest and leg and left for dead.
"I lost so much blood that I appeared lifeless and was reported killed in action," Bowling said.
"As I lay bleeding on the black sands of Iwo Jima, I remember looking to the heavens and swearing that if I survived, I would serve mankind for the rest of my life," said Bowling.
Bowling did survive, thanks to a combat photographer who noticed him raising his hand and then called for a medical team to evacuate him to a landing craft.
While medics treated his wounds on the ship, he heard faint cheers outside. Marines had finally taken control of Mt. Suribachi and were celebrating their victory with a flag-raising that is now immortalized in the famous Joe Rosenthal photograph.
Bowling's unit received the Presidential Unit Citation and he received a Purple Heart.
After recuperating stateside at the Leestown Division of the Lexington VA Medical Center and in Louisville, Bowling went to work full-time for the United States Postal Service.
In 1951, he began training with the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and rose through the ranks, holding almost every position from service officer to State Commander. Over the next 40-years, he would help countless Veterans and widows file claims for VA benefits.
Also in 1951, Bowling began volunteering at the Lexington VA Medical Center in the Voluntary Service office.
Today, he has accumulated over 73,000 hours of volunteer service during his 63-year career of serving Veterans at the medical center.
He has received numerous awards, among them -- the George H. Seal Award for Outstanding Volunteer, and the Lifetime Service Achievement Award from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
When asked how he finds strength to keep his promise of giving, he simply replied, "As we say in the Marines, 'Semper Fi,'" which means "always faithful."