lita_bowmanWrit­ten 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.

Lita Bow­man AGE: 86 BORN: Nov. 21, 1927 HOMETOWN: San Juan, Puer­to Rico/New York City, N.Y. RESIDENCE: Palm Springs MILITARY BRANCH: Women’s Army Corps YEARS SERVED: July, 1945 — July 4, 1946 RANK: Pri­vate FAMILY:Four chil­dren, Esther Lee (died at four months), Leslie Ann Dre­i­th of Stu­dio City, R. Chris­t­ian Ander­son of Las Vegas and Ray­mond Bow­man Jr. of Oxnard; five grand­chil­dren, five great-grand­chil­dren.

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.