As part of Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum’s ongoing efforts to support our nation’s veterans, the museum partnered with The Dream Foundation, CKE Restaurants, Inc. and Hampton Inn Charleston/Mt. Pleasant-Patriots Point to make a dream come true for a very special Korean War Veteran who served aboard the USS Laffey from 1950-1954.
With a prognosis of less than one year due to advanced stage heart disease, Gerald Bowman, an 82-year-old Elkins, Arkansas resident expressed his final wish to visit his beloved ship one last time. On Friday, March 1, this wish came true.
Sixty years had passed since his last tour, but the ship remained the same.
“The ship looked exactly like it was when I left it,” he said. “It’s very impressive how they restored and maintained it.”
The desire to revisit ‘The Ship That Would Not Die’ first came to Mr. Bowman when watching a special about the USS Laffey’s return to Patriots Point on television.
“He became so excited and started telling me stories and said ‘oh how I would love to walk her again,’” recalled Mr. Bowman’s daughter, Kim Billings. “He told me he could even show me which top bunk was his.”
During his visit to the Laffey, Mr. Bowman participated in a special tour led by fellow Tin Can Sailor and Laffey volunteer, Hoot Gibson and enjoyed a private luncheon in the ship’s mess. Mr. Bowman also recorded an oral history for the Patriots Point digital library and donated his uniform to the museum.
“This is where it belongs,” he said. “This is where it spent most of its life.”
Mr. Bowman served in the United States Navy from 1950-1954. Upon being recruited, he reported to San Diego, where the USS Laffey sat in a dry dock shipyard and his task was to assist in repairing the damage it had sustained during World War II. Two months later, he accompanied the battleship out to sea, where his service included three tours in Korea.
“Part of our mission at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum is to honor the brave men and women who have answered our nation’s call – heroes like Mr. Bowman,” said Patriots Point Executive Director, Mac Burdette. “Through our efforts each day, we are working to educate visitors about the service and sacrifice of our veterans and we are keeping their stories alive. It is our distinct honor to welcome Mr. Bowman back aboard his beloved ship, the USS Laffey; and we are proud to partner with the Dream Foundation and the Stars for Heroes™ program in this endeavor.”
Patriots Point was honored to be a part of such a special visit, which was made possible thanks to generous support from the Dream Foundation, which provided airfare and financial assistance for Mr. Bowman and his daughter); the Hampton Inn Mt. Pleasant-Patriots Point, which generously donated hotel accommodations; and CKE Restaurants, which supports the final dreams of U.S. veterans as part of their Stars for Heroes™ campaign.