Injured soldier returns to Valley
Bowker said he is 'just happy to be home ... just happy to be alive.'
By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
LORDSTOWN -- "He looks good ... real good," a relieved Rachael Bowker said of her husband, Army Reserve Spec. Robert Bowker, who arrived home early Wednesday after being seriously injured July 26 in a suicide car bombing at a U.S. base near Mosul, Iraq.
Holding hands, the young couple sat on the front porch of the home of Rachael's mother, Sherry Kohn, in Warren and talked about his experience in Iraq and of seeing each other for the first time since he was wounded.
While he smiled a lot and is looking well, Robert, 22, is still taking pain medication for his injuries, and will need more surgery to repair his left ear and eardrum and may need skin grafts. He has shrapnel in his right eyebrow and the inside of his left elbow, which he said will eventually work its way out.
He also has a divot on the top of his left hand and wounds on both legs that require bandages.
"His cuts look nasty. I hate looking at them," Rachael said.
But for now, Robert said: "I'm just happy to be home ... happy to be alive. I got lucky. I survived."
The reunion between Robert and his family was first supposed to take place almost a week ago, and then again Monday night.
The families -- Robert's and Rachael's -- put "welcome home" signs in their yards and homes and decorated their cars for the trip to Pittsburgh International Airport.
Then there was another delay, said Robert's mother, Donna Bowker of Niles.
Finally, the moment arrived. Robert called family members just before 8 p.m. Tuesday to say he would arrive at Pittsburgh International Airport at 6:45 a.m. Wednesday.
Rachael, Donna and Robert's youngest sister, 12-year-old Brittany, went to pick him up in Rachael's car, which had been decorated for two days with signs such as "I Love My Hero," "We Miss You Bob," and "Get Well Soon, Baby."
The couple said they didn't say much beyond "I love you" and "How are you doing?" at their first meeting at the airport.
"We just gave each other a bunch of hugs," Rachael said.
"I cried and said, 'I love you,'" Donna said.
"We had talked to him and knew he was going to be OK. But we needed to see for ourselves," Donna said.
The couple's immediate plans are to spend time with each other and visit friends and relatives during his 28-day leave. Rachael said she is planning a big welcome-home celebration sometime during his leave.
With the exception of a two-week leave in May, he has been gone since Oct. 19, 2003, just two days after he and Rachael were married.
Robert, a member of the 401st Transportation Co. in Battle Creek, Mich., volunteered to go to Iraq.
He said he is proud to serve his country, but does not plan to stay in the military once his enlistment is over.
"I'm done. I did my part," he said.
Robert said about half of the Iraqis seem to want Americans there, but others, especially the Muslims, want American troops out.
But, when he was wounded, it was an Iraqi civilian who helped him to a safer area.
"I couldn't walk, and the combat lifesaver [medic] was also wounded and needed help," he said.
About the bombing
Regarding the car bombing, Robert said he was looking north and the car came from the south.
"He swerved toward me and I reached for my M-16. He beat me to it, and pushed the button," he said.
Three Iraqis -- including a woman and child -- were killed, and several U.S. soldiers were injured.
He said the experience has not caused him to be depressed, but he has had some problems sleeping and certain noises wake him up out of a dead sleep. Robert said he will be placed on medical hold status when he returns to Fort Lewis, Wash.
However, he's home now. If it still didn't sink in after being reunited with his wife, mother and sister at the airport, it definitely became real when he and the family joined together for breakfast at the home of Betty Sigley, his grandmother, in McDonald.
Robert and Rachael live in Lordstown. Robert grew up in Stow and Niles, and Rachael is originally from Warren.