Robert McGowan – Colonel, United States Army

Back home from Vietnam, Bob McGowan ran into more cold shoulders than an Alaskan butcher.

“He'd been through three tours of duty,” says his wife, Deirdre McGowan, “and said that by the third one, ‘I didn't even look for anyone to be happy that I was back.'

“But that wasn't true here,” she says. “One of the things he liked about living in Mississippi is that people here respect the military. He told me, ‘When you're in Mississippi and you're in the military, you're something.' ”

As a U.S. Army Colonel, McGowan was, by all accounts, something.

Among the medals he came home with was the Army Distinguished Service Cross for valor, second only to the Medal of Honor.

“It's unusual to meet a man who has such a capacity for loving and who is also really macho,” says his widow.

“It did not faze him to cry or to love or to show how much he cared, and to make himself vulnerable that way, even with me.”

As a commander, McGowan lost 65 of his men in Vietnam, says Deirdre McGowan. “Some died in his arms.

“But he had a way of making people not afraid to die.

“I remember a friend of mine who had breast cancer,” she says.

“Bob sat with her as she was dying and said, ‘Glenda, you did what you needed to do here. It's OK to let go.' ”

“He did that with his men, too.”

McGowan had almost as many causes as medals. Among them was Grace House, a Jackson home for people with HIV. He directed it until his death.

He also fought for United Way of the Capital Area, First Call for Help, the Episcopal AIDS Committee, HeARTS Against AIDS benefits and other groups.

After meeting Mary Fortune, executive vice president of the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi, he adopted one more.

“Bob enjoyed logistics, planning all the components that went into making something work,” says Deirdre McGowan. “He asked if he could help organize the Foundation's walks, and he did.

“He really admired Mary and respected what the Foundation was trying to do.

“He realized that diabetes is a chronic condition and has to be tended to. He was good at that, too.

“But no one in his family had diabetes. Neither did he.”

McGowan died of complications from pneumonia, in February 2001. He was 71.

He was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. No one turned a back on him there.

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