MANCHESTER -- When an Army officer walked into the Dutch Corner Restaurant here and asked to speak to Sandra Bowman alone, she suspected he wanted to recruit her 17-year-old son.
But the officer had come to deliver bad news.
Mrs. Bowman's other son, Charles L. Bowman Jr., a 20-year-old Army specialist, was killed Tuesday in southern Iraq when a bomblet exploded in his hand.
He became the sixth Maryland soldier to be killed in the Persian Gulf conflict.
"I just kept looking at him [the officer]," Mrs. Bowman, a cook at the restaurant in this northeastern Carroll County community, said yesterday. "He said he had news about Charles. He said it had happened theday before. "Never in a million years did I think it had anything to do with Charles," she said.
The time and the exact location of the accident were not available, said a spokesman for the Joint Information Bureau in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Three other soldiers were injured in the incident.
Specialist Bowman, the 112th U.S. non-combat death in the war, was a mechanic for Bradley fighting vehicles in the 3rd Armored Division, said Maj. Joe Padilla, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.
He had been stationed in Friedburg, Germany, and was deployed to the Middle East after Thanksgiving.
He and three other soldiers in his unit may have been combing an area for bomblets -- baseball-sized explosives dispersed by larger cluster bombs dropped from the air, Army officials said.
"We were told he picked up the [bomblet] and when he put it down, it exploded," Mrs. Bowman said. "There was no other explanation."
The Bowmans, who live on Main Street in Manchester, last spoke to their older son about four weeks ago, shortly after the cease-fire. "He couldn't really tell us anything," Mrs. Bowman said. "He said he loved us, and he was happy because he got our packages."
Although the war was over, Mrs. Bowman said she never stopped worrying about her son.
"There were too many things going on over there," she said.
Specialist Bowman joined the Army after graduating from North Carroll High School in 1988. He was on the track and wrestling teams, and he studied auto mechanics at the county vocational-technical center, his mother said.
The Bowmans said they expectedthe remains of their son to be returned to the United States in seven to 10 days. The couple, who have another son, Bill, and a 22-year-old daughter, Laura, said Charles Jr. would be buried at Gettysburg (Pa.) National Cemetery.
"It's a choice I made," said his father, Charles L. Bowman Sr., a mechanic at McDonogh School in Baltimore County and a Vietnam veteran. "We used to take them up there when they were kids. They all seemed to like it."
News of Specialist Bowman's death traveled quickly through the town of about 2,700 people, where yellow ribbons and American flags still hang on doors and shutters and from utility poles. "I heard about it yesterday," said Joan Beard, who works at a consignment shop on Main Street, not far from the Bowman home. "He survived the war, and then to have something like this happen is a real tragedy."
"It's sad," said Dean Fuhrman, owner of the Dutch Corner Restaurant. "I think that's about the best way you can put it."