Melvin Bowling, a retired Air Force Major General, Silver Star recipient and one of the creators of the original Early Bird compilation of military-themed stories in the media, died on January 10.
He was 88.
After graduating from the University of Alabama in 1954, Bowling accepted an assignment in the United States Air Force. A fighter pilot by trade, Bowling has flown more than 6,500 hours on various aircraft during his 28-year career.
Bowling also had the unique distinction of being one of the few Air Force pilots to conduct carrier operations in the Navy. In 1961 Bowling was selected as a change officer in the naval service. While assigned to the Navy, Bowling completed cruises as an operations officer with both the Navy’s 6th and 2nd Fleets.
In January 1968, Bowling was assigned to the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing, which was based at Cam Rahn Bay Air Base, Republic of Vietnam. From January 1968 to February 1969, Bowling flew more than 200 combat missions over Vietnam and flew in support of the Banner-class environmental research vessel Pueblo Crisis in Korea. Bowling would earn the Silver Star on one of those missions over Vietnam, the United States military’s third-highest award for gallantry.
On August 29, 1968, Bowling, then a colonel, was conducting a mission in direct support of Americans in contact near Duc Lap Special Forces Camp. According to his citation for bravery, Americans on the ground were in heavy contact and in danger of being overrun by a numerically superior enemy. Showing “complete disregard for his personal safety,” Bowling made repeated passes through the deadly envelope of heavy enemy gunfire to deliver his ammunition with devastating accuracy.
That day, his actions helped to “completely annihilate” enemy troops and their equipment and ground units carried out an organized withdrawal.
After Vietnam, Bowling held several commands in the Air Force, including the 68th Bombardment Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina and the 4th Air Division of Strategic Air Command at Frances E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, commander of the US Air Force Recruitment Service, and Deputy Commander of the 6th Allied Tactical Air Force.
Bowling also served twice at the Pentagon, both as the Secretary of the Air Force Office and later on the staff of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
In 1969, while serving as the deputy chief of the Department of Internal Information in the Secretary of the Air Force Office of Information, Bowling is credited with contributing to the emergence of the “Early Bird” newsletter. Hugh Stanley, a friend of Bowling’s for decades, told Military Times that one of Bowling’s responsibilities was to collect and disseminate defense-related news in Northern Virginia and Washington, DC. At the time, it was printed on duplicating machines, predating copiers, and the daily newsletter was hand-carried to its various destinations.
While the Early Bird Brief is now digital and published by Military Times and Defense News, it was originally put together by officers and public affairs officers, such as Bowling, who had worked at the Pentagon for decades. According to USA Today, military personnel worldwide became dependent on the Early Bird for information ranging from geopolitics to what affected individual troops at the unit level.
In 2013, the government-funded and Department of Defense-produced version of the Early Bird fell victim to sequestration cuts. Military Times and Defense News, which had published a modified version of the Early Bird, began independently publishing the daily defense-related newsletter. Called the “Early Bird Brief,” Military Times continues to this day to provide an early morning preview of the day’s most important defense news and information.
Bowling’s last bat on active duty was as Chief of Staff to the Allied Forces in Southern Europe. He retired in 1982 and settled in Huntsville, Ala. so that his children would have stability through their teens, according to his obituary. He is survived by his wife, Joan; sons, Mike Bowling and Jim Bowling; and grandchildren, John Michael, Lucy, Jake, Sam, Mathew, and Johnathan.
Bowling’s military awards and honors include the Silver Star, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal with Seven Oak Leaf Clusters, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal with Oak leaf cluster and Navy Commendation Medal.
James R. Webb is a rapid response reporter for Military Times. He served as a US Marine infantryman in Iraq. He has also worked as a legislative assistant in the US Senate and as an embedded photographer in Afghanistan.