Like a lot of generous people, Eddie and Mary Bowen aren’t looking for attention or applause.
Lately, though, word is getting out about the couple, who host annual hunting events for wounded warriors at their Jackson, Tenn., lodge and property. What started a few years ago with four hunters and a lunch is growing fast; their latest hunt, on Nov. 19, included 12 wounded warriors, a community cookout, and music by Rockabilly Hall of Fame artist Stan Perkins.
“If it wasn’t for these men and women, we wouldn’t be able to do anything we’re doing today,” says Eddie, whose father, Edgar, was a World War II Army veteran. “I didn’t serve in the military. I wish now I had, but I didn’t. This is my way of giving a little bit back to them, with a place they enjoy.”
Tennessee Legionnaires recognized the Bowens at their department convention in June, thanking them for their commitment to veterans and youth. Besides offering deer and turkey hunts through Wounded Warrior Project, the couple support Hope Outdoors, which provides hunting and fishing opportunities for disabled children and adults.
Nancy Harper, commander of The American Legion Department of Tennessee, is a longtime friend of Eddie’s brother Jay Bowen, her counterpart in Colorado. He told Harper about Eddie’s and Mary’s hunting retreats for wounded post-9/11 veterans, and she’s encouraging local posts to do all they can to get involved.
“Eddie’s kept this low key for so long,” Harper says. “Now he’s probably going to get more support than he ever wanted.”
As their hunting weekends get bigger, the Bowens will probably need that help. Eddie has reached out to neighboring landowners to participate so they can accommodate more hunters, or even sponsor their own hunts for veterans.
“We just have a real good time,” Eddie says. “The ones who have come want to come back, and the ones who have heard about it want to come. As for the outpouring from the community, people here are supportive of the military and law enforcement. Since we started, people have been asking, ‘What can I do? What can I bring?’ It’s amazing.”
As commander of the Department of Tennessee’s 8th District, Lanny Davis says he has 1,500 Legionnaires in 21 posts ready to assist however they can.
“I offered Eddie several volunteers,” he says. “This isn’t just about going into the woods and shooting a deer. It’s about fellowship and camaraderie and making these wounded warriors feel like normal people again. It’s very important to the healing process. (Legionnaires) don’t have to raise money to help Eddie Bowen do this. All they need to do is give him some of their most valuable asset, and that’s time. Being around these guys who are severely injured and making them feel at home is so important.”
The Nov. 19 hunt was a perfect getaway for Bruce Heidelberg, an Army veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and member of American Legion Post 77 in Lexington.
“It’s a social event and a stress reliever,” he says. “A lot of these guys are from the city and can’t just go hunt. That’s what makes it special. It’s a bonding experience.”
Heidelberg was invited by buddy Jonathan Thomas, a fellow soldier and member of American Legion Post 122 in Cairo, Ga., who has participated in a turkey hunt and two deer hunts at the Bowens’ property.
Thomas was injured in combat twice: he took shrapnel in his leg from a rocket-propelled grenade during an ambush in 2004, and on another occasion he was shot in the chest and suffered broken ribs on his right side. Making matters worse, Thomas was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2015. He underwent chemotherapy and is now in remission, but is facing spinal cord surgery as a result of past injuries.
“I’m 33 years old, but I feel like I’m 90,” Thomas says. “I’m just banged up real bad. But I’m realizing there are people out there who understand what I’ve been through. When I come here and I’m hanging out with other warriors, it’s a positive atmosphere ... it’s just what I need.
“Eddie and Mary are the kindest people I’ve met in my life. It’s like I’m one of their sons.”
Anita Darnell, immediate past department president for the Tennessee American Legion Auxiliary and a member of Unit 287 in Medina, met the Bowens last summer. They became fast friends, and when Eddie learned that Darnell’s project was to raise funds to buy three canines for disabled veterans through America’s VetDogs, he pitched in to help her buy three more.
Anita’s husband, Thomas, is membership director for the state’s Sons of The American Legion detachment. In addition to volunteering to cook for future hunts, he built a flag display for the Bowens’ lodge. Meanwhile, Anita brought over a table and chair for a POW/MIA “missing man” ceremony, part of a larger patriotic service preceding the meal.
Then, as a surprise, the Darnells presented Eddie and Mary with SAL and Auxiliary memberships.
“We all pull together to make sure Eddie and Mary have everything they need for this event,” Anita says. “We’re thankful to be a part of this great blessing they have brought to this community.”