Sandra Bowman knew better than to stop worrying about her son, even after the Persian Gulf war ended. "There were too many things over there that were not safe," she said.
One of them, an unexploded cluster bomb, blew up and killed her son, Army Spc. Charles L. Bowman Jr., on Tuesday in the southern Iraqi desert. He apparently had picked it up and was trying to put it down, she said.
Sandra Bowman found out about her son on Wednesday when a uniformed military man found her at Dutch Corner, the Manchester restaurant where she works as a cook. At first she thought the man was a recruiter trying to sign up her other son, who is in high school. But the man insisted on talking with her alone, in the semi-privacy of the restaurant kitchen.
Charles Bowman, 20, was the fifth soldier from Maryland to die in the Persian Gulf theater since Iraq invaded Kuwait last August. He was the 112th non-combat casualty in the war.
Maj. Joe Padilla, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, said Bowman was a mechanic for Bradley fighting vehicles in the 3rd Armored Division.
The cluster bombs are the size of a baseball. Hundreds of them can spew out of a single big bomb, Padilla said.
Maj. Mac Balod, a spokesman at the Joint Information Bureau in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, said the gulf war theater is strewn with unexploded bombs that the military is trying to find and defuse. But he couldn't say whether this was Bowman's duty at the time of his death.
Bowman grew up in Manchester. He joined the Army after his graduation in 1988 from North Carroll High School in Hampstead. He went out for track and wrestling there. His last two years in school were spent learning auto mechanics, in expectation of possibly becoming a mechanic.
He was a lanky man, who favored aviator glasses and a crew cut for his bright red hair.
Gene Dolly, the job coordinator at Carroll County Vo-Tech, remembered him as avid and cooperative, "a good, sturdy, steady kid that we like to have here."
His mother recalled him as "a quiet boy" who fished, flew model airplanes and practiced his mechanics on her car. One of his early attempts at an oil change, when he was 15, resulted in the need for a new radiator, she said, laughing during an interview yesterday at her daughter's home in Manchester.
But he progressed to the point where an Army recruiter asked to see him at school because of his high score on Army tests, she said. At the time of his death, his mother said, Bowman had won two Army achievement awards for his work as well as a recommendation for promotion to sergeant.
During leave to his home last September, a month after Iraq had invaded Kuwait, Bowman told his parents and friends he expected to stay at his base in Freidburg, Germany. But he was deployed to the gulf in December. The last his parents heard from him was a phone call shortly after the cease-fire.
He told them little about his life there, except that he was often busy changing the engines and transmissions on the diesel-fueled Bradley vehicles.
His death was the subject of most of the conversation yesterday at the Dutch Corner, a social gathering place for a small northeast Carroll County town where most residents know each other.
"It hits home," said Bobby Sterner, a lumber truck driver who eats there nearly every day. He knew Bowman slightly from high school. "It hit me pretty hard," Sterner said.
Bowman had joined the Army to learn more about mechanics, his parents said, and possibly to apply the benefits after discharge this June toward further study in college. His parents were proud that he had joined.
His father, Charles Sr., who works as a mechanic at the McDonogh School in Baltimore County, saw combat as a Marine in Vietnam. And his father before him served in World War II. So, when young Charles joined the Army, "it just seemed natural for him to go in," he said.
The family plans a military funeral. Burial will be at the national cemetery in Gettysburg, Pa., he said, near the places where they used to go camping.
The Bowmans said they supported the aims of Operation Desert Storm, and they still do.
His son's death is "just part of it," Charles said. "I don't think there is any understanding of it, just the way of the world, I guess."