Ten years into his 20-year career in the U.S. Army, Capt. Louis Timmerman (“Tim”) Bowring began his first tour of duty in Vietnam. That was in 1967.
Service in the combat zone must have provided every reason for becoming discouraged and thinking the worst of people, but that is not what his service did to Capt. Bowing. “There has not been one day that I have been in Vietnam that has not been an inspiration,” he said once. “I am convinced more strongly than ever that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true. We have baptisms in the Mekong River in a grove of trees that could not be more beautiful or filled with the Spirit if it were the Sacred Grove. We have seen young men just in from the field of combat with full packs, weapons, and clothes all tattered, attend testimony meeting and bear such fervent witness of the gospel that not an eye in the group would be dry.”
Tim Bowing was born in Salt Lake City in 1937. He had married his high school sweetheart Annette, and five of their six children had been born by 1967. Tim Bowring became President Bowring in his 20s, when he was called to serve as president of the Ozark Branch in Coffee County, Alabama, in the Southern States Mission. Although he was released from that calling when, as Capt. Bowring he went to Vietnam in January 1967 as part of the 4th Transportation Command, he did not abandon the title of “president” for very long – he was soon sustained as president of the Church’s Southern District in Vietnam.
As president of that District, he supervised 17 servicemen’s groups scattered about South Vietnam. He also presided over the Saigon Branch of 350 members, which included Americans, Europeans, Vietnamese, and Chinese. The mission averaged three baptisms per month during Captain Bowring’s tenure.
Much of President Bowring’s attention was given to his servicemen’s groups. Individual groups ranged from 3 to 125 members, with about 700 in all, scattered throughout South Vietnam. Each of his groups tried to meet weekly for at least a priesthood and an sacrament meeting, and as regularly as possible they held weekly MIA study sessions. President Bowring was a great believer in personal study – he was himself taking a BYU correspondence course, and would eventually earn an advanced degree in communications from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Captain Bowring was normally on duty 12 hours per day, seven days per week – how did that leave him any time to attend to his Church duties??
One tool that helped him was that he had access to a helicopter besides the one he flew for his military missions. Somehow – and I don’t know how – Church leaders in Vietnam had access to a helicopter they dubbed the “Hereafter 727,” which they could use for Church purposes. Capt. Bowring listed the kinds of missions he performed in 1967 while using the “Hereafter 727″: to visit “soldiers in the field and servicemen’s groups; to attend a memorial service aboard a Navy LST for a young LDS man killed by the Viet Cong; for dropping off priesthood manuals to member groups, enabling them to carry on Church programs; to take care of priesthood ordinations; and for organizing and reorganizing servicemen’s groups.”
All of President Bowring’s church-related travel had to be done by air, not by ground, because roads were too insecure. Even so, “We in the district presidency have been in such peril as we were doing the work of the Lord that had we not been protected and guided by our Father in heaven it is doubtful that we would be here today. Prayers have been answered so dramatically there is no doubt that the Lord is truly guiding and directing His Kingdom in this portion of the world.” (And what we wouldn’t give to hear the details of even one such event! Diarists and biographers, take note!)
“It has been a testimony to me,” he said, “to see the government of the Church function in complete love and unity of faith under some of the most adverse conditions.” That BYU correspondence course may have helped in this regard – he was studying “Priesthood and Church Government.” “It’s a real test to minister the needs of the Church while striving to follow the procedures as set forth.”
Tim Bowring retired from the military 10 years later, in 1977. He finished that degree in Omaha, and much of the remainder of his life was spent in Overland Park, Kansas. He and Annette served a church service mission, too.
And then he became ill, diagnosed with Lewy Body Disease, a disease which combines the worst features of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. He passed away in 2005, at age 68, and is buried in the National Cemetery at Leavenworth, Kansas.
Photo: L.T. Bowring on right, with one of his counselors, D.B. Roberts. Roberts is holding a stack of Church manuals on their way to servicemen’s groups somewhere in South Vietnam.