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Medford veteran 'humbled' by offers of tickets

AVietnam veteran, 61-year-old Phillip Bowles thought he was out of luck getting a ticket to today's town hall event for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

But a story in Friday's Mail Tribune prompted some readers to offer up their tickets to Bowles.

"I couldn't enjoy myself if I'd known he couldn't come," said Grants Pass resident Kathy Newman.

Newman didn't have to give up her ticket, though, because state Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, said, "We need to get this guy a ticket."

Bowles, who picked up the ticket at Bates' medical practice in Medford, said the outpouring of help was overwhelming. "I am humbled by their generosity. I do thank them."

Paulie Brading, chairwoman of the Jackson County Democratic Central Committee, said there are more supporters than tickets for the Obama event.

"There are lots of disappointed people," she said.

Bowles, a Chicago native whose father was black and mother was white, served in the U.S. Army for eight years — including four years in Vietnam working in a unit that pulled the wounded out from the battlelines.

Bowles is a custodian at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White City and is in an internship as a social worker. He said each candidate evokes a sense of some historical importance to him.

"I have mixed feelings," he said about the election.

Sen. John McCain, the apparent Republican nominee for president, also served in Vietnam and was a prisoner of war, which has a special meaning for a fellow veteran.

Clinton is the first woman to run, and Bowles said he also has an affection for former President Bill Clinton, who is popular in the black community.

Despite the appeal of both candidates, Bowles said, "I'm more drawn to Barack."

He said he believes the Illinois senator doesn't have the same old thinking of Washington insiders such as McCain and Clinton.

"Yes, he mesmerizes us as black people," he said. "He gives us hope."

He said Obama is not tied to the old prejudices and hatreds. "Nothing holds us back but our frustrations and our fears," he said.

Bowles said when it comes to racial issues, Obama expresses ways people of all colors can work together.

"We're all in the melting pot," he said. "We're all Americans. But he shows us how we can look forward to the future."

Politics has always interested Bowles, who has a deep affection for political leaders who have stood out.

"I really liked J.F.K.," he said. "Martin Luther King was one of my heroes, but I'm also including Malcolm X."

Growing up in a segregated community in Chicago, Bowles spent many years living in a two-block radius for fear of going into a hostile neighborhood.

If Obama wins in November, Bowles said it will be the ultimate achievement.

"It will manifest a dream of going from slavery to someone who is the president of the United States," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

Phillip Bowles, 61, Medford, received several offers of tickets to the Barack Obama town hall at Kids Unlimited from members of the community. pennell photo - Bob Pennell