Mike Bowen will run his 58,282nd and final mile this Friday in honor of the Vietnam veterans who didn’t come home.
Bowen, 65, a veteran himself, has been jogging one mile for every American who did not return from the Vietnam War. This mission has been underway for 31 years, and it’s finally coming to a close in Washington, D.C., this Friday, National POW/MIA Recognition Day.
“It’s gonna feel good to finish. It’s been a life-long mission,” he said. “I’m pretty excited about getting it over with. It’s been great for me, mentally and physically.”
The idea came to him in 1982, when he was inspired by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
“Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another,” Bowen said. “That’s what we do – we make sure that the guys coming home – whether they’re alive or dead or wounded – will be treated with dignity and respect.”
Since then, Bowen has participated in over 50 marathons and 26 road races on top of his usual runs through his local park. Bowen, also affectionately known as “flagman” for carrying his POW/MIA flag with him on each mile, is glad to be running his last four miles at the place where his journey began–the wall.
Many of his friends from high school volunteered for the Vietnam War, but while Bowen was serving in West Germany, eight of his friends died in war. His personal ties to the war factor into his mission–even through rough times.
“I had a bout with cancer and I just continued to stay in shape the best I could,” Bowen said. “As I got stronger, I finished my chemo and radiation, I got back in shape, and finished my mission. It’s past; I’m a survivor and I’m happy to be alive.”
“Carry on, brother. You done good,” said Delbert Erwin, president of Chapter 175 of Vietnam Veterans of America, which sponsors Bowen’s mission. “He’s a heck of an inspiration to a lot of people. For him to accomplish this mission, I have no words that can describe it–other than awesome.”
Chapter 175 Treasurer Gary Huber said that Bowen and the chapter have had a close relationship since 1988. They support him monetarily during his Crim 10-mile road races, and they supported him emotionally when he was undergoing cancer treatment.
“I’m very proud of Mike,” said Huber. He stuck to it, he didn’t give up, especially when he had the cancer. It’s really amazing. We’re all really proud of what he’s done.”
So will Bowen stay on the move now that his mission is over?
“Absolutely. I’ll keep running til I die.”