On Friday, 65-year-old Mike Bowen will complete his “life-long mission” to run 58,282 miles — one for every American who didn’t come home from the Vietnam War.
Bowen, a Vietnam veteran himself, has been working on his goal for 31 years now. Fittingly, he will complete his final mile in Washington, D.C. on Friday, which is National POW/MIA Recognition Day.
“It’s gonna feel good to finish. It’s been a life-long mission. I’m pretty excited about getting it over with. It’s been great for me, mentally and physically,” he told ABC News.
Bowen says he came up with the idea after seeing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington back in 1982. The Vietnam War is a sensitive issue that means a lot to him.
“Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another,” Bowen said. “That’s what we do – we make sure that the guys coming home – whether they’re alive or dead or wounded – will be treated with dignity and respect.”
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Since then, Bowen has participated in over 50 marathons and 26 road races on top of his usual runs through his local park. Bowen, also affectionately known as “flagman” for carrying his POW/MIA flag with him on each mile, is glad to be running his last four miles at the place where his journey began-the wall.
Many of his friends from high school volunteered for the Vietnam War, but while Bowen was serving in West Germany, eight of his friends died in war. His personal ties to the war factor into his mission-even through rough times.
“I had a bout with cancer and I just continued to stay in shape the best I could,” Bowen said. “As I got stronger, I finished my chemo and radiation, I got back in shape, and finished my mission. It’s past; I’m a survivor and I’m happy to be alive.”
His bold mission has earned him the respect of Vietnam veterans nationwide.
Delbert Erwin, president of Chapter 175 of Vietnam Veterans of America, told ABC News Bowen is “a heck of an inspiration to a lot of people.”
“Carry on, brother. You done good,” he said, later adding, “I have no words that can describe it-other than awesome.”