Army veteran runs 58,272 miles to pay tribute to fallen soldiers - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Army veteran runs 58,272 miles to pay tribute to fallen soldiers in Vietnam

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Mike Bowen Mike Bowen
HAGERSTOWN, Md. -

They arrived in Hagerstown Thursday evening after a 12 and a half hour motorcycle ride from Michigan. About three dozen Vietnam and Vietnam-era veterans and their families -- here mainly to support one of their own: a 65-year-old U.S. Army veteran named Mike Bowen.

On Friday, after riding his Harley to Washington, Bowen will complete an unforgettable journey. He will run around the National Mall to Arlington National Cemetery and back to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Four miles that will bring his total to 58,272 miles -- run over the course of the past three decades.

"I'm going to finish right at the Wall," Bowen tells us. "And go down the Wall and go right to Panel 17 where my buddy's name is. I'll give him a salute and say 'I did it man.' Something I started 31 years ago -- I did it. You are not forgotten my brother. That's what I'll tell my friends on the Wall."

Bowen started his unusual tribute, one mile, one day at a time, soon after he first visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial within days of its dedication.

"And right then, in 1982, I said 'I'm going to run a mile for every one of them guys on that wall,'” Bowen says. “And good Lord willing, I made it."

Bowen says his could very easily have been one of those 58,272 names on the Wall.

"I joined the Army in 1968 right after the Tet Offensive and ended up in West Germany as a soldier," he explains. "I never saw combat. Got home and felt kind of guilty because I lost eight of my buddies."

So he runs. No matter the weather. Through knee surgeries and bouts of cancer.

"You just go running every day," Bowen tells us. "People always take time to sit down and watch TV for an hour or two. Well, I just went running. At one time, I could run 20 miles every other day."

He has run 52 marathons along the way -- wearing out hundreds of pairs of sneakers. He also always holds the POW/MIA flag when he runs.

"I'm an advocate for this issue. The prisoner of war issue. It's very important to me," he explains, "and I'll continue until the day I die."

With affection, Bowen's friends call him “The Flagman.”

"If I had to be like somebody when I grew up, it would be Mike," says Jill Duryee.

She is also in town for Friday's National POW/MIA Recognition Day -- the third Friday in September.

"I don't know," Duryee says, "we just stand in awe at him because he's not a very big man, but he's got a heart that's as big as the world."

About his run Friday, Bowen says: "It's the final chapter of my mission, but it's definitely not the final chapter for the families wondering where their son or their son or their father is because they could still be there living in the jungle, in a cave. You never know."

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