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11/7/2012 12:27:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
Bill Cowles of Peshastin
Honoring those who have answered the call to serve

By Bill Forhan

In 1919 President Woodrow Wilson declared November 11 as "Armistice Day" in recognition of the end of hostilities known as "The Great War" - World War I. That war had ended with the Armistice on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Unfortunately, the war to end all wars didn't and it wasn't until after World War II and the Korean Conflict that Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day. A day set aside to honor those who have answered the call to serve in our country's military.

In the decades that have followed Americans have been engaged in wars in Vietnam, The Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan. Military personnel have also been deployed around the globe in conflicts including the Dominican Republic, Granada, Bosnia, Somalia, Gulf of Sidra, Panama, Haiti and Kosovo.

Our country has also maintained a significant military presence in much of Europe ever since the Second World War. And most recently, we have been reminded of the dangers our military face everyday around the world in defense of our embassies and diplomatic staff.

It is because of our military and the service of our veterans that many people around the world are free from tyranny and oppression. It is because of the selfless dedication to their country that these people often sacrifice their family life and personal safety not just to answer the call to arms but to make sure they are fully prepared when the call comes.

Their service often comes at a heavy personal price. Besides those who make the ultimate sacrifice all who engage in war are left scarred in some way. Beyond the physical wounds and scars of battle, there are the psychological scars. The hidden scars that many carry for the rest of their lives in a private hell of broken relationships, sleepless nights and flashback moments.

Bill Cowles of Peshastin is one of our local veterans who served in Vietnam. Many of the readers of this newspaper know Bill from his regular contributions to the editorial page. Bill's passionate conservative views often offend those who would like to see our country take a different approach. Few know the Bill Cowles who served five and a half years in the US Navy from 1965 to 1971.

Cowles was an electronics technician 2nd Class. He maintained the radios and radar equipment patrolling the rivers and canals on riverboats in support of the Navy Seals in Vietnam. He served four tours in Vietnam because he had a unique skill - he spoke Vietnamese. A skill he learned quickly during his first tour. And because of that skill he often found himself slogging through the mud and the jungle with the Seal teams carrying their radios and interrogating prisoners.

The mission of the Seal Teams that Cowles served with was to work behind the lines to eliminate the Viet Cong shadow government by either killing or capturing them and their leaders. He was based out of a barge, known as Seafloat, in the middle of the Song Cau Lon river in the Ca Mau Province at the extreme southern tip of Vietnam. The area was considered a VC stronghold.

Cowles said his motivation for joining the Navy and volunteering to serve in Vietnam was purely patriotic. "I was anti-communist," said Cowles. "And because I spoke the language I made many friends in Vietnam. Many of them had escaped from North Vietnam to avoid communism."

The support and encouragement he received from the local Vietnamese inspired him to continue his work there.

Cowles saw plenty of action during his time in Vietnam. He said they would make their way up river in the evening and then float back down in the dark. The radar would allow us to watch the river traffic so they always knew where the enemy was moving across the river as they quietly floated back down.

When they had a specific mission, they would insert a 12 to 15 man Seal team into the surrounding jungle usually at about 1 in the morning. They hoped to catch the enemy when they were sleeping. The enemy of course was good at leaving booby traps to warn them of approaching troops and also to disrupt their operations. The most common were punji pits - hidden holes in the ground that were filled with sharpened bamboo poles and metal spikes.

"The worst were the snakes," said Cowles. They had lots of snakes. Some of them were very deadly. They would often make a very deadly booby trap from a small snake called a krait by tying a string to its tail and hanging it in the trees along a trail or in the tunnels they had built underground.

"To this day, I hate snakes," he said. "In fact one of my reoccurring dreams involves a confrontation I had with a cobra. One day a fellow threw a bag into our boat and as soon as it hit the deck out crawled the cobra. Before I knew it, the cobra was flaring its neck only inches from my face. I froze, but fortunately one of the other guys quickly killed the cobra."

The Vietnam War was, and still is, America's longest war. It officially lasted 19 years and six months from Nov. 1, 1955 until May 7, 1975. Nearly 2.5 million members of our military served in that war and over 58,000 made the ultimate sacrifice. Most came home to a country that had grown hostile toward the military. Ultimately, it was not the military that failed in Vietnam it was the politicians who sent them into harms way and then failed to support them.

Cowles said he is aware of many veterans who are still suffering horribly as a result of their experiences in the service of their country. But finally the country and the military are becoming aware of the severe psychological problems many veterans often face. As a result, there are programs and groups that are working to reunite families and help veterans through these issues.

Cowles favorite group is Vets Serving Vets. These are guys that have been through it and know how to reach out and help individuals find solutions. Cowles encourages veterans who are struggling to get hold of Vets helping Vets either through their email at or by calling 509-679-2359.

When asked how he was coping with the trauma of war. Bill said, "I've found the best medicine in the world, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has given me the joy, serenity, peace and power I need."

This year Veterans Day will be officially observed on Monday Nov. 12. Take time to thank a vet. Not all veterans have served in war zones or had to endure the horrors of war, but they have all stepped up to serve their country. All have been willing to place themselves in harms way in an effort to make this world a better place - a safer place. They deserve our gratitude.

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