World War II Hero Surprised At Recognition Ceremony

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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.

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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."

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Tom Kenny joined ABC 36 News in June of 2001 as a General Assignment Reporter. A native of Peoria, Illinois, he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications from Western Illinois University. He currently anchors ABC 36 News at 5pm, 6pm and 11pm. Tom has more than three decades of experience in broadcast journalism. He is the only broadcast journalist in Lexington television history to be honored with a national Edward R. Murrow Award. Tom was recognized for reporting on a story that gave a rare glimpse inside the secretive world of the Federal Witness Protection Program. He has won an Emmy Award for anchoring and another for investigative reporting, exposing the deceit and potential danger of online diploma mills. Tom has ten other Emmy nominations to his credit for investigative and feature reporting. He has won Associated Press Awards for reporting and anchoring. He has won two Addy Awards for excellence in promotional writing. Tom was the first broadcast journalist in Lexington TV history to be awarded the Silver Circle Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. It is one of the highest honors given by NATAS. It recognizes television professionals who have performed distinguished service within the television industry for 25-years or more. Tom was honored for more than his longevity, he was recognized for making an enduring contribution to the vitality of the television industry and for setting high standards of achievement. He was also recognized for giving back to the community as a mentor, educator and volunteer. Tom also has network broadcast experience in radio and television having worked as a sports reporter for ESPN, Sportschannel, NBC Sports and the Breeders’ Cup. He was also the studio host and halftime producer for CBS Radio Sports’ College Football Game of the Week and covered the NFL for One-On-One Radio Sports. Prior to joining WTVQ-TV, Tom was Vice-President of the Houston Astros Minor League baseball team in Lexington. He was part of the original management team that brought professional baseball back to the Bluegrass after a nearly 50-year absence. Tom has lived in Lexington since 1984. In that time, he has been heavily involved with dozens of charity and civic groups, with a special emphasis on helping Veterans. He can be reached at tkenny@wtvq.com. You can also follow Tom on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomKennyABC and Twitter @TomKennyNews. Just click on the links at the top of the page.