Former Leavenworth Mayor Ken Bower wasn't sure what course of study he wanted to pursue in college after his high school graduation, so he decided to join the United States Air Force in 1964.
By RIMSIE McCONIGA
Former Leavenworth Mayor Ken Bower wasn’t sure what course of study he wanted to pursue in college after his high school graduation, so he decided to join the United States Air Force in 1964.
Also, he thought it would be better to enlist rather than taking a chance on being drafted.
Since he has served, he has seen quite a few changes.
“I was selected to be in the Air Police and was stationed at Pease AFB, Portsmouth, New Hampshire,” said Bower.
“Once I completed basic training I went to the Air Police school at Lackland AFB in Texas.
“The unit I was assigned to supported the 509th bombardment wing which is of course famous for dropping the first atomic bomb which led to the surrender of Japan. The 509th at that time was the last active duty wing which had B-47 bombers and KC-97 tanker refueling aircraft. Today the 509th is positioned at Whiteman AFB in Warrensburg, Missouri, and is equipped with the B-2 stealth bomber, quite a change since I served. I did see the unit move to upgrade to the B-52 during my enlistment. This change caused me to move to Loring AFB, Caribou, Maine, on a temporary duty assignment. The base is just a few miles from the Canadian border and of course I was lucky enough to be there in the middle of winter. Many days the temperature was constantly below zero with lots of snow. Not fun when you are performing security duties on the flight line.”
For Bower, military service is a family tradition. His grandfather served in the Army during World War I and his dad served in the Army in World War II. He is also proud that his youngest son served on active duty in the Army for about five years and is currently serving as a brigade chaplain in the Kansas National Guard.
Included in Bower’s military experience were several overseas postings, including a temporary duty assignment at Kadena AFB, Okinawa, Japan, where his job was to provide additional security for the KC-135 tanker aircraft.
“This was at a time when we were involved in heavy bombing of Vietnam,” said Bower. “The B-52 aircraft were stationed at Guam and our tankers at Okinawa did the refueling missions that were required to support them.”
Some of his proudest moments came when he was assigned to supervise the nuclear weapons storage area at Pease AFB on a rotating shift. He was responsible for overseeing the security of a facility that had a number of hardened bunkers that contained, as Bower said, “who knows how many nuclear bombs.”
“An awesome assignment for a 20-year-old kid,” said Bower. “The other thing I remember well was my selection to work as a base policeman. This was different than the security work and was more like working as a ‘real’ policeman. I even wrote tickets. Also, for a few months, I was assigned to permanent town patrol working downtown in the Portsmouth Police Department.”
Bower’s military service was, he said, a life growth experience.
“You meet so many people with varied experiences and backgrounds,” he said. “Also, the discipline that is required was something I feel was beneficial. It certainly helped me to become a more focused person. The discipline I learned helped me through college and my career at Hallmark, and subsequently in my role on the Leavenworth City Commission and as mayor.”
He believes the biggest issues for people joining the armed services today include multiple deployments. But he also believes that the sense of pride of serving the country is one of the most satisfying benefits.
“I would say to anyone thinking about joining the military if you want an experience of a lifetime you should do it,” said Bower. “I don't regret my service and am proud to say I served my country.”