Debut author Bowen recounts experiences as a U.S. Marine photographer and journalist, followed up by memorable communications stints with the Voice of America and the American Legion.
Subtitled “The Story of a Marine Corps Combat Correspondent,” Bowen’s illustrated memoir covers his experiences in and out of Vietnam. A prolific contributor of photographs and articles to military news outlets, Bowen has a polished, easy, just-the-facts style that makes for accommodating reading for both veterans and civilians. Son of a Linotype operator in Virginia, Bowen started early as a newspaper stringer but learned that without a college degree, he’d never evolve beyond freelancing. The Marines, which he joined in 1960, offered far greater opportunities, and Bowen shot pictures and told stories of corps life for a number of communications outlets, including the storied Leatherneck magazine. Often based in Okinawa, Japan (he also enrolled in and helped shape a prominent military-photojournalism–education project at Syracuse University), Bowen had a correspondent’s access not only to the span of the Vietnam War, but also to NASA (especially Skylab), the Jonestown cult massacre in Guyana, and the hostage crisis in Iran. The author is clearly proud of his Marine (and, by extension, American) heritage, yet he still keeps the lens cap tight over his own politics and emotions regarding some of the most bitter episodes in modern U.S. history. In his exacting prose, one senses Bowen setting his Marine officer/gentleman discipline aside only occasionally, when he vents frustration as an “overqualified” job-seeker in the 1980s when young novices rose above the proven, accomplished vet (fortunately someone at Voice of America got Bowen his next major gig, and he was back doing communications on behalf of Uncle Sam). The final quarter showcases Bowen’s photography—images that portray American soldiers (especially in the Vietnam theater) without losing sight of their humanity. If the writer seems to be holding back a bit on his feelings, these photos speak volumes for him.
An epic, solidly reported memoir even if it tends to keep the more polarizing elements out of the picture.