Kentucky sports icon is among this year’s Honor Flight participants

Roy Bowling isn’t certain who nominated him to participate in this year’s Honor Flight, but he’s certainly glad they did.

“I’m thrilled to death to get to go,” said the 82-year-old Jackson Energy Cooperative member who lives in London. Jackson Energy, along with Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives, is sponsoring the day-long trip that will take veterans to Washington, D.C., on Sept. 22.

Bowling joined the Kentucky National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry, just after he graduated from college in 1958. The Guard’s weekend and summer training schedule allowed him to serve his country while also pursuing a career in coaching high school sports. Bowling credits the discipline learned through military training with helping him succeed in his civilian job.

Succeed, however, might be an understatement. In the world of Kentucky basketball, the name Bowling is revered.

The former guardsman is also the man many regard as the most influential coach in the history of Kentucky girls’ high school basketball. He made a name for himself while coaching the first girls’ basketball team at Laurel County High School, after the sport was sanctioned by the Kentucky High School Sports Association in 1974.

The coach drew on his military experience to help him quickly mold green recruits into a basketball dynasty. In the program’s third year, 1977, the Lady Cardinals captured the

first of three consecutive state championships, a record that remains unbroken in 2018.

Bowling also coached the Laurel County team to another state record that still stands. Between 1978 and 1980, the Lady Cardinals had a 73-game winning streak.

When Bowling retired in 1989, he departed with a 15-year record of 403-61 and four state championships at Laurel County.

Though he has a storehouse of fond basketball memories, the basketball icon will be thinking of other things when he travels to the nation’s capitol alongside World War II, Korean and Vietnam veterans. Together, they will view memorials erected in their honor.

He looks forward to seeing the Marine Corps War Memorial. There, he’ll think of his late brother, Troy, a Marine who was in the first wave that landed on the tiny Japanese island called Iwo Jima.

“He was shot bad on the second day, and they had given him up for dead,” Bowling said. Troy lay on the beach for hours, bleeding from a chest wound, before he attracted the attention of a combat photographer who called for help. He was taken to a hospital ship anchored offshore. From there, a recovering Troy watched as the U.S. flag was raised on Mt. Suribachi, the scene that would inspire the Marine memorial.

Troy also made a name for himself — by volunteering more than 77,000 hours at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Lexington. On Aug. 9, the entire Bowling family will be on hand for a ceremony during which the hospital will be officially renamed in Troy Bowling’s honor.

So, if the Bowling name sounds familiar, there’s good reason. In fact, there are a couple of good reasons.

 97-year-old Vet Frank Zupan can’t wait for September Honor Flight

“Being at the front never did scare me,” 97-year-old Frank Zupan says matter-of-factly about his time as a World War II machine gunner.

Frank, one of the oldest WWII vets in Kentucky, volunteered for the Army as the U.S. war machine revved up in 1942. He was trained to fire a M1919 Browning machine gun. It was quite a leap for a young man who never handled guns while growing up in Michigan’s Hazel Park, a Detroit suburb where most household incomes were dependent on the giant Ford plant in neighboring Highland Park.

Four days shy of his 21st birthday, Frank made his first beachhead landing with the Army’s 7th Infantry Division in April 1943. He stepped ashore in the midst of the Battle of the Aleutian Islands as U.S. troops fought to reclaim U.S.-owned islands west of Alaska. It was the first of the island-hopping battles he’d engage in as the war raged across the Pacific Ocean.

That first battle was almost his last. “At one point, I had this feeling that there was somebody behind me,” Frank recalled. A split-second later his intuition was confirmed as an infantryman’s shot took down the enemy fighter poised to kill Frank.

For his heroism, Frank was awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star. He also received a Purple Heart after being injured in battle.

The veteran clearly remembers the incident that earned him the Silver Star, the U.S. Armed Force’s third-highest personal decoration for valor in combat. It happened at Leyte, Philippines Islands, when the rifle company he was supporting became pinned down

“My captain came and asked me if I could fire that thing [machine gun] from my hip,” he said about the heavy weapon normally mounted on a tripod. After crawling on his belly for 100 yards to get closer to enemy lines, Frank stood and shot nearly 1,000 rounds with enemy rifle and machine gun fire whizzing around him. The strategy worked; the enemy group was “destroyed,” his medal commendation noted.

It is this memory and others that Frank is likely to recall on Sept. 22 when he gets his first glimpse of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. He is participating in this year’s Honor Flight sponsored by Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives. During the one-day tour, he will join other Kentucky war veterans in touring memorials erected in their honor

This will be Frank’s second visit to Washington. He was there in 1995 — before the World War II memorial opened – when his son, also named Frank, was honored as the 1995 Sailor of the Year.

“I’m honored to get to return with my dad,” said Frank’s son, who is his father’s guardian for the trip. “Just to get to go with my dad will be an incredible experience.”