On Veterans Day, Sgt. Ron Eaton wanted to pay tribute to an American hero and his personal hero, Sgt. Sam Bowen.
“Sam was a close friend of mine,” Eaton said. “He was a true gentle giant. He was a huge man, built like the Incredible Hulk, but soft-spoken and completely compassionate about taking care of others.”
Eaton and his friend were both deployed to Iraqi as part of the Ohio National Guard in 2004. Eaton, a Carmel resident, shared his story at a Veterans Day ceremony Nov. 9 at Carmel High School. The audience of seniors included many he knew and coached and a very special one, his daughter, Grace.
Eaton had spent four years as a military policeman in the Army and four Army National Guard before leaving in 1996. He re-enlisted in 2003 after 9/11.
“Like most Americans I felt paralyzed from the attacks,” Eaton said. “I knew I needed to do something to protect my family, and I did the only thing that seemed natural to me and re-enlisted in the Army National Guard. I knew I had to do my part to help secure our country.”
Bowen, a cook, had gotten permission to go with Eaton on his supply run in Iraq June 16, 2004.
“He hadn’t been out of the gates and was itching to do more and wanted to be my co-driver,” Eaton said.
A large mortar landed near Eaton as they were leaving.
“The force of it threw my body four or five feet, twisted me like a pretzel until I slammed to the ground,” Eaton said. “The explosion created a dust cloud that turned the day into night. The sound was deafening. I was completely disoriented. Another bomb came in. In the chaos, I felt someone grab my body. As the dust settled, I could tell it was Sam. He pulled me 20 feet away from the burning building that no longer had a front side. After asking me if I was OK and I said yes, he then ran back to the burning building and helped pull others to safety. I got to my feet, took a few steps before I collapsed.”
Eaton then noticed he was bleeding from his right side. He was carried to a medical building nearby. The medics recognized he had to be transported for surgery.
“Sam found me before I went in the ambulance and told me he would get the truck back and not to worry,” Eaton said. “I thanked him and he said with a big smile, ‘No problem, that’s what battle buddies are for.’ That was the last time I ever saw Sam.”
Eaton was able to thank Bowen one more time by phone before being medically evacuated out of Iraq.
Three weeks after Eaton was injured, Bowen was killed when a grenade exploded near his vehicle.
“Sam was the one thousandth soldier killed in Iraq, a distinction I wished didn’t exist,” said Eaton, who was medically retired in May 2005.
Eaton spoke at Bowen’s funeral.
“What I wanted to do then and today is spread the story of a great man and American hero,” Eaton said.