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, passed away on Jan. 10.
He was 88.
After graduation from the University of Alabama in 1954, Bowling accepted a commission in the U.S. Air Force. A fighter pilot by trade, Bowling accrued over 6,500 flight hours on several different aircraft during his 28-year career.
Bowling also had the unique distinction of being one of only a handful of Air Force pilots who conducted carrier operations with the Navy. In 1961 Bowling was selected to be an exchange officer with the sea 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 located 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 ship Pueblo crisis in Korea. Bowling would earn the Silver Star on one of those missions over Vietnam, the U.S military’s 3rd highest award for gallantry.
On Aug. 29, 1968, Bowling, then a colonel, flew 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 lethal envelope of heavy hostile weapons fire to deliver his ordnance with devastating accuracy.
That day, his actions helped lead to hostile forces and their equipment being “completely destroyed” and ground units conducting an organized withdrawal.
Following Vietnam, Bowling held multiple commands throughout the Air Force, including the 68th Bombardment Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina and Strategic Air Command’s 4th Air Division at Frances E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, Commander of the U.S. Air Force Recruiting Service, and deputy commander of the 6th Allied Tactical Air Force.
Bowling also served two stints at the Pentagon, working both in the Secretary of the Air Force’s Office and then later on the staff of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
In 1969, while working as deputy chief of the Internal Information Division in the Secretary of the Air Force Office of Information, Bowling is credited with contributing to the rise of the “Early Bird” newsletter. Hugh Stanley, a friend of Bowling’s for decades, told Military Times one of Bowling’s responsibilities was to aggregate defense-related news and distribute it across Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. At the time, it was printed using mimeograph machines, which predated 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 compiled by officers and public affairs officials, such as Bowling, working at the Pentagon for decades. According to USA Today, Military personnel worldwide came to depend on the Early Bird for information that ranged from geopolitics to what was impacting individual troops at the unit level.
In 2013 the government-funded and Defense Department-produced version of the Early Bird fell victim to budget cuts surrounding sequestration. Military Times and Defense News, which had been publishing an adapted version of the Early Bird, began independently publishing the daily defense-related newsletter. Called the “Early Bird Brief,” Military Times continues to provide an early morning preview of the days’ top defense news and information to this day.
Bowling’s last active duty billet was as Chief of Staff for Allied Forces Southern Europe. He retired in 1982, settling in Huntsville, Ala, so that his children would have stability during their teenage years, 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 decorations and awards 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. Additionally, he has worked as a Legislative Assistant in the US Senate and as an embedded photographer in Afghanistan.