Thursday, May 02, 2002

Flying Pig runner carries POW-MIA banner




By Michael Perry mperry@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There are close to 6,900 runners registered for the fourth Flying Pig Marathon, which takes place Sunday. But even in the mass of humanity moving through the streets of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, it should be easy to spot Mike Bowen. He will be the runner carrying a black and white POW-MIA flag for the entire 26.2 miles.

        “I get quite a nice reception, especially from the vets,” the Flushing, Mich., resident said. “Some of them will stand right up and salute me. And if they can find me at the end, they come up and thank me for remembering the war that so many people want to forget. I just welcome them home, and it's a great feeling.”

        Bowen, 53, is a Vietnam veteran who said he served in the Third Infantry Division in West Germany from 1968-70, working in supply.

        Back in the United States, as he approached his mid-30s, Bowen said he was a heavy smoker and drinker and was developing “a little bit of a pouch.”

        During a lunch break in 1984, he went out for a run. Eventually, he was able to go a mile, which was a huge milestone at the time.

        Much has changed.

        He ran a 10K in 1985 and his first marathon in Saginaw Bay, Mich., in '86. Sunday's Flying Pig — his first time competing in Cincinnati — will be his 35th marathon.

        The run is, of course, slower and more challenging — it typically takes about 4 1/2 hours for a marathon — with the 3x5 flag he carries in honor of Vietnam veterans who are missing in action or prisoners of war.

        Hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists join the Rolling Thunder organization — which publicizes POW-MIA issues — every Memorial Day weekend in Washington, D.C. to demonstrate on behalf of veterans' issues.

        Bowen was attending the annual Ride to the Wall at the Vietnam Veterans Me morial Wall in 1992 and was looking at names on the wall, including seven high school friends and several other people he knew from the military.

        That's when he got the idea to run with the flag and dedicate one mile to each name on the wall.

        “I've been doing it ever since,” he said.

        Bowen said there are 58,220 names in all; he's up to roughly 38,500 miles.

        He has run as far as 52 miles for a 10-hour Toys-for-Tots benefit in December. He was nominated to carry the Olympic Torch during its journey across the country in Fort Wayne, Ind., in January. He wasn't allowed to carry the flag at the same time for safety reasons.

        Last fall, Bowen ran in the Marine Corps Marathon — an annual race from Arlington, Va., to Washington, D.C. — shortly after the Sept.11 terrorist attacks. The course went right past the Pentagon, where a plane crashed six and a half weeks earlier.

        “That was emotional,” Bowen said.

        Bowen works as a tool and die maker for General Motors. His wife, Patty, is a first-grade teacher who has volunteered to work the finish line Sunday.

        Bowen has heard the Flying Pig is challenging, and he is excited about that.

        “I love hills,” he said. “It takes the boredom out of it.”

        You'd think carrying the flag would be enough.

        Flying Pig schedule
Complete Marathon coverage at Cincinnati.com/flyingpig



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