Private Benjamin Bowie
- Unit: 92nd Division, 365th Infantry Regiment, Company I
- Date of Birth: December 27, 1887
- Entered the Military: September 30, 1917
- Date of Death: September 10, 1918
- Hometown: Los Angeles, California
- Place of Death: near St. Dié, France
- Cemetery: Plot H, Row 1, Grave 30. Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France
Felicitas & Gonzalo Mendez High School
Benjamin Bowie was born on December 27, 1887 in Monticello, Florida. He was the son of Annie Bowie, a laundress from Texas, and Benjamin Bowie, Sr., a farm laborer from Florida. Bowie had an older sister, Nola, born in 1886.
As an adult, Bowie worked as a cigar maker in Tampa, Florida. He later moved to Los Angeles by 1910, where he continued to work as a cigar maker and a laborer until finding employment as a railroad porter with the Southern Pacific Railroad. His widowed mother moved to Los Angeles in 1917, and they resided together in downtown Los Angeles until the United States Army drafted him that year.
Bowie registered for the draft in June 1917, but claimed an exemption to care for his mother. Despite this request, he received orders to report for active duty in October 1917 and served with the 92nd Division, 365th Infantry Regiment. Created along with the 93rd Division in November 1917, the 92nd Division was a segregated unit of the United States Army, comprised of African American servicemen from almost every state in the country.
Due to Jim Crow laws at the time of Bowie’s service, white and black soldiers could not serve together in the same units. African American soldiers, eager to fight and prove that they deserved the same rights as all Americans back home, faced disappointment on all fronts. They were often relegated to logistics and support roles, rather than the combat roles given to white male soldiers. Despite the racism they faced at home and abroad, the men of the 92nd and 93rd Divisions fought honorably for the Allied cause. Their contributions to the war effort were not fully recognized or honored until much later.
Bowie trained at Camp Lewis in Tacoma, Washington; Camp Grant in Rockford, Illinois; and Camp Upton in Long Island, New York. On June 11, Bowie’s division deployed for France from Hoboken, New Jersey aboard the ship Agamemnon.
Upon arrival in France, the unit reported to a training camp near Bourbonne-les-Bains. In early August, the infantry regiments moved near the city of Bruyères. From August 23 to 30 the 92nd Infantry Division worked with the French Army to occupy the St. Dié sector in the Vosages Mountains.
He wrote a letter to his mother while he was abroad, saying, “I am now going into the front line trenches, mother. If you do not hear from me again, don’t worry.” This was the last his mother ever heard from him.
September 10, 1918 was a rainy day. French and American troops withstood enemy raids and a bombardment of front line trenches that began at 5:30 in the morning. By the end of the day, the front line trenches were badly damaged, four men died, and fourteen were wounded. Benjamin Bowie was one of these casualties. He lost his left leg and suffered gunshot wounds.
Bowie was buried in the French cemetery at St. Dié on September 13, 1918. On October 18, 1921, he was re-interred Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France.
Annie Bowie received a telegram soon after her son’s last letter, informing her of her son’s death in France. In 1930, Annie Bowie sailed to France on the American Merchant, as one of the Gold Star Mothers. Just as her son had gone to France as part of a segregated group, so did Ms. Bowie. She and other African American mothers embarked on a long journey to honor the final sacrifices of their sons.
In 2016, the American Legion Post 228 Square was named after Bowie in honor of his service. Post 228 is located at the intersection of 51st Street and Central Avenue, in South Los Angeles. South Los Angeles is home to many African American residents, and Benjamin J. Bowie Post 228 honors one of the first African Americans from Los Angeles to die in World War I.
92nd Division; Records of Combat Divisions, 1917-1919, Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (World War I), Record Group 120 (Boxes 8); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
92nd Division; Records of Combat Divisions, 1917-1919, Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (World War I), Record Group 120 (Boxes 60-63); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
American Battle Monuments Commission. 92nd Division, Summary of Operations in the World War. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1944. history.army.mil/topics/afam/92div.htm.
“Annie Bowie.” U.S. World War I Mothers’ Pilgrimage, 1929. Digital Images. ancestry.com.
Arce, Genevieve. “51st and Central Dedicated as Benjamin J. Bowie Post 228 Square.” News in the Ninth, June 3, 2016. www.the-new-ninth.com/51st_and_central_dedicated_as_benjamin_j_bowie_post_228_square.
“Benjamin Bowie.” American Battle Monuments Commission. Accessed February 22, 2019. abmc.gov/node/338509.
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“Benjamin Bowie.” California World War I Soldier Photographs, 1917-1918. Digital Images. ancestry.com.
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Benjamin Bowie, World War I Burial Case File; Correspondence, Reports, Telegrams, Applications and Other Papers relating to Burials of Service Personnel, Records of the Quartermaster General’s Office, 1915-1935, Record Group 92; National Archives and Records Administration – St. Louis.
California. Los Angeles County. 1910 U.S. Federal Census. Digital Images. ancestry.com.
“Negro Mothers Praise Lord for Ocean Voyage.” Escanaba Daily Press, July 12, 1930. www.newspaperarchive.com/escanaba-daily-press-jul-12-1930-p-1/.
Lathan, Jamile L. “War on Two Fronts: The Experiences of African American Soldiers During WWI.” American Battle Monuments Commission. Accessed August 26, 2019. www.abmc.gov/learning-resources/lesson-plans/war-two-fronts-experiences-african-american-soldiers-during-world.
“The Buffalo Soldiers of WWI.” National Park Service. Updated October 30, 2018. Accessed on April 5, 2019. www.nps.gov/articles/the-buffalo-soldiers-in-wwi.htm.
War Diaries (92nd Division); A. E. F. General Headquarters, Records of the American Expeditionary Forces (World War I), Record Group 120 (Box 2959); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.