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Rochester Solider Honored in Germany
A Rochester soldier whose death was captured in a famous Life magazine photo spread has been honored in the German city where he fell.
Earlier this month, the city of Leipzig voted to name a street after Raymond J. Bowman, who was killed there on April 18, 1945. The street runs in front of the building where he died.
Efforts to preserve the building and recognize Bowman's death are part of a renewed appreciation for the American soldiers who helped liberate that city 60 years ago.
Bowman was with the 23rd Infantry Regiment advancing quickly toward Berlin in April of 1945. Renowned photojournalist Robert Capa was traveling with them, snapping pictures for what he anticipated would be a photo essay about the end of the war in Europe.
He hoped to capture the exhilaration of the Allies' victory, but there were still some days of heavy fighting left. And on that particular day, Capa stood just a few feet away from Bowman, never knowing that he would capture the 21-year-old's last moments alive.
The photos appeared in a two page spread in the May 14, 1945 issue of Life magazine, under the headline "Americans Still Died."
The first photo shows Bowman and and fellow soldier, Lehman Riggs, setting up their machine gun on the balcony of a house in Leipzig, about 100 miles southwest of Berlin. Their vantage point overlooked a key bridge, and the two soldiers took turns firing the gun to provide cover for other American troops who were moving into the area.
Moments later, as Bowman paused to reload, a bullet from a German sniper pierced his forehead. He crumpled to the floor, dead. Riggs tried to help but found it was too late.
He scrambled over Bowman's body to man the machine gun while other members of the platoon filled the street below, searching for the enemy sniper who had fired the fatal bullet.
Capa's pictures recorded the aftermath in graphic detail. Although the magazine did not identify the soldiers by name, his family back in Rochester recognized Raymond right away. "He had a pin on his lapel with his initials that he had made in high school. There was no doubt it was him," said his sister-in-law, Kathleen Bowman, in a 2012 interview.
Seeing the pictures was difficult, but brought some closure. "To have it verified, it made you feel a little better knowing what had happened," Kathleen Bowman said.
The photos gained national notoriety, with many sources — including Capa — erroneously identifying Bowman as the "last man to die" during the war in Europe.
Capa, who was the only photographer to capture the Allied landing at Omaha Beach, called the Bowman image the most poignant photograph of his career. He knew that by the time his photos reached New York for publication the war would be over, and he wondered whether anybody would care about his images.
"So it made no sense whatsoever," Capa recalled in a 1947 interview. "But he (Bowman) looked so clean cut, like it was the first day of the war and he was very earnest. So I said 'All right, this will be my last picture of the war.' And I put my camera up and took a portrait shot of him, and while I shot my portrait of him he was killed by a sniper. It was a very clean and somehow a very beautiful death."
The building where Bowman was killed had fallen into disrepair until a local preservation effort was launched in 2012. Now known as Capa Haus, the renovated building will include an exhibition space to commemorate Capa's photos of that fateful day, and a plaque to honor Bowman and his fellow soldiers.
PFC Raymond Bowman received the Bronze Star (Merit) during the Normandy Campaign.
PFC Raymond Bowman was awarded a Purple Heart for wounds received in action in France. He was awarded a second Purple Heart for a fatal wound received in action in Germany.