Legislation that would rename Lexington’s two Veterans Affairs facilities after two men who fought at Iwo Jima during World War II is heading to President Donald Trump’s desk.
The U.S. Senate and House have passed legislation that would rename the Veterans Affairs complex on Leestown Road the Franklin R. Sousley campus. The VA Medical Center off Cooper Drive will be named for Troy Bowling, an Iwo Jima survivor who volunteered for 66 years at the VA.
Sousley, a Fleming County native, is one six American service men in one of the most iconic war-time photos ever taken — the raising of the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima. Private First Class Sousley was killed less than a month later by a Japanese sniper on March 21, 1945. He is buried in Fleming County.
Bowling was an 18-year-old Marine when he was critically injured Feb. 20, 1945, by machine gun fire in the bloody battle on Iwo Jima. As he lay in a hole wondering if he would live and ever see his native Kentucky again, he made a deal with himself, Bowling told the Herald-Leader in a 2014 profile.
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“I lay on the black sand of Iwo Jima, looked up at the heavens and said, ‘get me out of here alive and I’ll serve mankind for the rest of my life,’” Bowling said.
Bowling, who died in 2017 at 90, kept his promise. Bowling spent 66 years volunteering at the VA and logged more than 78,000 hours of service despite having his own health problems. Bowling lived with a bullet in his spine and lost most of one lung as a result of his war wounds. He was shot in the back, the chest and a third bullet hit his right thigh. Other bullets grazed his left knee and forearm.
Bowling, who grew up outside of London, said in 2014 if it wasn’t for a combat photographer he may have been left for dead.
Bowling found himself lying among the bodies of other Marines who had been killed. Commanders initially thought Bowling was dead. Bowling said he attracted the attention of the photographer who got him help. He spent four years recovering from his wounds but said the emotional scars lasted a lifetime. He started volunteering at the VA part-time in 1951. He spent nearly 30 years working for the U.S. Post Office.
In 2014, he was honored by then-Gov. Steve Beshear, U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray for his long-time volunteer work at the VA.
“We can never repay Private First Class Franklin Sousley and Private Troy Bowling for their service to our nation, but renaming these VA campuses in their honor will ensure their memory and sacrifices are not forgotten,” said Barr, who sponsored the legislation renaming the Lexington VA facilities after Bowling and Sousley.