Hammett Lee Bowen Jr. was born in LaGrange, Georgia on November 30, 1947. His family relocated to Ocala in 1957. He graduated from Ocala High School in 1965 and attended Central Florida Community College in Ocala for two years.
“He was a leader. And so, he challenged everybody to, you know, pitch in work together and do things together,” said former Ocala Police Chief and retired U.S. Army Maj. Morrey Deen.
Deen said he didn’t just go to the same high school with Hammett, they were also members of the Circle K Service Club, a service organization of the Kiwanis Club for students at Central Florida Junior College.
On Feb. 6, 1968, Hammett Bowen Junior left Ocala to enlist in the U.S. Army and fight in the Vietnam War.
Staff sergeant Hammett L. Bowen Jr. sacrificed his life at age 21 to protect his platoon members on June 27, 1969, in Binh Duong Province in Vietnam.
“If you lose somebody that you truly love, it’s not anything you are ever going to get over,” said Hammett’s sister-in-law Dee Bowen. “It’s always going to be in your heart and a piece of your heart is going to be gone.”
Her husband Keith Olin Bowen joined the Air Force in March 1966, served over twenty years, including a tour of Vietnam, and retired as a senior non-commissioned officer. She said Keith Bowen died from bone cancer, as a result of exposure to the chemical Agent Orange during his time in the war.
One of the family’s last surviving members living in Ocala, Dee Bowen said the community support and recognition have eased her pain and emptiness over the years.
“It makes my heart ache, but I can tell you if Hammett Jr. was here and could see all of this, he wouldn’t think he’d deserve it,” Dee Bowen said, in reference to a monument dedicated to Hammett Bowen Jr. at the Ocala-Marion County Veterans Memorial Park.
Hammett Bowen Jr. was posthumously recognized with the Medal of Honor, in recognition of his valor in shouting a warning to his men and hurling himself on an enemy grenade to save the lives of three of them.
“It takes the right person to throw yourself on a grenade and absorb the impact to keep his troops safe. He’s a hero,” Dee Bowen said. She added she has no doubt he would do it again, “without any regrets.”
“The rest of his troops…as long as they live…had to think about how he cared about him that much,” Deen said. He fought back tears recounting that fateful day of Hammett’s sacrifice, despite the half of a century that has passed.
Deen said the Hammett L. Bowen Jr. Elementary School is a concrete tribute to Bowen’s memory and inspiration.