Written by Denise Goolsby | The Desert Sun
In 1936, at the age of 9, Lita Bowman and her family sailed from her birth home of San Juan, Puerto Rico to the United States, where they settled in New York City.
Bowman was working as an interpreter/translator at the Waldorf Astoria when she joined the Women’s Army Corps in 1945.
On July 28, 1945, Bowman’s colleagues gave her a farewell luncheon on the 17th floor of the historic hotel.
“It was the day the airplane crashed into the Empire State Building,” she said.
The aircraft hit the skyscraper after the pilot encountered heavy fog on his way through New York City to pick up his commanding officer at Newark Airport.
After attending basic training at Fort Des Moines, Iowa — the first WAC training center established during the war — Bowman was assigned to the 2nd Signal Center at the Presidio in San Francisco.
“I coded and decoded messages. I had 96 war channels … you want to hear a lot of noise,” she said, laughing. “My main job was the signal center, but then I branched off wherever they needed me.”
For a time, she met ships arriving at the waterfront in the early morning, under the cover of darkness. She set up a table near the ramp where she greeted the returning war vets.
“I had a box of sweaters and a box of Purple Hearts,” she said “Each one who came off of the boat — most of them were in stretchers — I’d give ‘em a sweater and I’d give ‘em a Purple Heart, sweater and Purple Heart … It was pretty sad. They were all the Bataan (Death March) prisoners coming back. They were skeletons.
“There were special diets for Bataan prisoners. At that time, I was on 24-hour call. I used to make the formulas to feed these guys. If you feed them too much, they’ll die. It had to be a little liquid. I felt so sorry for those guys. Your heart breaks.”
One time she was assigned to the histology lab at Camp Cooke, near Lompoc, where she helped perform autopsies.
She met a “handsome” officer while on duty at Camp Cooke.
“I had a date with this MP (Military Police) sergeant … we thought we’d see a movie or something. He said, ‘I’ll see you on Saturday.’”
Bowman said a “rookie” soldier working under the MP was standing on guard duty for the first time on the Friday night before their date. The young soldier was cautioned to keep an eye out for wildlife.
“They warned him, ‘There are bobcats out here, so be careful,’ because it’s such a desolate place,” she said. “Everything was underground, in tunnels, so it was dangerous being up above.
“My shift was from midnight to eight in the morning. My friend passed by checking to make sure everything was alright … as he was passing by, the young kid shot him — and killed him. So then they brought him in and I was in shock … I said, ‘What did you do that for?’ and he said, ‘I thought he was a bobcat.’
She had to assist in her date’s autopsy, which included removing all of the organs.
“My job was to weigh everything,” she said.
Including the liver and brain.
While at Camp Cooke, Bowman was in charge of nine German war prisoners, moving them from place to place through the tunnels.
From there, she was sent to Tacoma, Wash. where she received her overseas orders.
“We went up to the Aleutians then across to Japan. It was right at the end of the war. I was with the Japan occupational forces.”
Two weeks after arriving in Japan, she was called back and sent to Aguadilla Field, a U.S. Army Air Corps Base in Puerto Rico.
From there, Bowman accompanied nine French war brides — all were pregnant — on a troop ship that made stops on 36 islands, dropping the brides off at their new homes.
When she returned to the states, she decided to settle in California, and under the GI bill, attended broadcasting school in Hollywood.
In 1947, she joined the American Legion and is still active locally.
After a chance meeting with Gene Autry, she was hired to work at KMPC, a Los Angeles radio station owned by the country crooner.
“He said, ‘I’ll give you an hour on Sunday, from 9 to 10 and see what you can do.’ They partnered me with Vance Graham — he did the last interview with Amelia Earhart, at the Burbank airport.”
For nine years, Vance and Bowman co-hosted the popular Latin American music-themed radio show, “Bolero Time.”
In 1960, she married Raymond DeArmond Bowman, a classical and jazz music critic, concert promoter and writer — and Pearl Harbor survivor.
For nearly 20 years, the couple presented the “Monday Night Concert Series” at the Ice House in Pasadena.