DeLandite Leonard Dowling, 96, has been honored for his service during World War II by the organization Quilts of Valor.
As thanks for his service in the European Theater, Dowling was awarded a handmade quilt by the local chapter of Quilts of Valor. The ceremony, hosted by American Legion Post 6 and its Auxiliary, took place in DeLand Aug. 11.
Dowling was nominated by DeLandite Mel Rollins, known as “Gunny Mel” around American Legion Post 6, where he is a longtime member.
Rollins shared Dowling’s story of sacrifice and heroism with Th Beacon.
Dowling enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 1943. After boot camp in Miami and traveling around the U.S. for training, he shipped off to Europe, where he served as a member of the 8th Air Force Division and was a member of the 389th Bomber Squadron.
During a bombing raid over Germany on Sept. 8, 1944 — his second mission in the country — his B-24 Liberator bomber was shot down.
Dowling and most of his crew survived the crash, but they were captured and sent to Stalag Luft IV, a prisoner-of-war camp. Dowling was held there until April 27, 1945, when, during a winter trek to a different camp, he and his fellow POWs were liberated by American soldiers.
Sailing into New York for his first visit there, Dowling recalled, the Statue of Liberty was one of the first things he saw. It wasn’t the only thing he saw, though.
“Imagine being a POW at 19 years of age and the first thing you see is the Statue of Liberty,” Rollins said. “Seeing the Statue of Liberty was great, but a yacht came out, and it was full of good-looking women in bathing suits waving to him and welcoming him back. He said, ‘At that moment, seeing all of those good-looking women, I truly knew I was back in the U.S.’”
Dowling’s military honors include the World War II Victory Medal and the Prisoner of War Medal. He was offered a Purple Heart, but turned it down, Rollins said, because he did not believe his injuries — he was wounded with fiberglass shrapnel when his plane was shot down — warranted the medal.
Rollins said nominating Dowling was an easy decision.
“He’s a veteran deserving of gratitude,” he said. “Anyone who had the strength to join America during World War II, I salute.”
Dowling’s quilt is adorned with an image of the Statue of Liberty, and Joey Anderson, a Quilts of Valor member and quiltmaker, said helping make it was an honor.
You can nominate a vet
Quiltmaker Joey Anderson urged anyone, including veterans themselves, to nominate veterans to receive quilts from Quilts of Valor.
The nomination form is available online at www.qovf.org/nominations-awards.