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"Vietnam veteran heals as he creates Harrisburg memorial to friend: Nancy Eshelman" PennLi

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Almost 60 years ago, two boys from Harrisburg city met at a Boy Scout meeting.

Although they lived on opposite sides of the city, their friendship blossomed through years of Boy Scout activities.

Then, in their late teens, they lost track of one another.

"Girls took over instead of scouting," Paul Johnson explained.

Johnson, now of Fairview Twp., was a member of the Class of 1965 at John Harris High School.

His scouting buddy Charles W. Bowersox Jr. attended rival William Penn. Then both went off to Vietnam.

Johnson, who served in the Navy, was at sea the day he received a letter from his mother telling him his boyhood friend had died on July 2, 1967, in Quang Tri Province. Bowersox was a 20-year-old Marine lance corporal with an infant daughter he had never seen.

Johnson walked to the stern and threw his mother's letter overboard.

For about 15 years, the memory, like the letter, sank below the surface.

When he returned from Vietnam, Johnson was suffering with post traumatic stress disorder that haunts him to this day. At some point over the years, the memories of Bowersox resurfaced, and earlier this year he set out to learn where his childhood friend was buried.

Using the Internet, he discovered some information about Bowersox and uncovered an email address of someone who might know more. Soon, he found himself talking to Bowersox's daughter, Kelly Corliss, who had been an infant when a mortar hit killed her father.

Next week, the two of them will meet in person.

Johnson was not content just to find his friend's grave. He began a fund to plant a tree and place a bronze marker in Riverfront Park in honor of his scouting buddy. The tree and the marker will be dedicated Oct. 24 with the proper military fanfare.

Through donations, Johnson was able to send Corliss a ticket to fly from her home in California to attend the event. A representative of the state VFW will speak and the Dauphin County Veterans Honor Guard will present a flag fold and taps.

Johnson said they will honor a man who was easy to like.

"I don't think there was anybody who didn't like Moses," he said, using the nickname of his friend.

Johnson, who is retired from the New Cumberland Army Depot, said his effort is intended to honor his easygoing friend, as well as to help himself heal. PTSD has taken a toll on his life, he said.

"Kelly sent me in the right direction to find her father's grave," he said, "I've been to the (East Harrisburg) cemetery a few times and each time it is getting easier. After all these years I am getting closure, and I know it is helping with my PTSD."

Johnson welcomes the public to attend the dedication at 11 a.m. Oct. 24 in Riverfront Park, directly across from Harrisburg Hospital's Brady Building.

He is continuing to collect funds to pay for the marker and said any excess funds will go to a nonprofit organization that helps veterans.

Donations may be made to the Charles W. Bowersox Memorial Fund at any M&T Bank."

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