Lt. Col. Ben Bowles,

Lt. Col. Ben Douglas Bowles, Ret

Thursday, January 14th, 1932 - Saturday, June 1st, 2019
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Ben Douglas Bowles, 87, of Salem, passed away peacefully on Saturday, June 1, 2019 in Roanoke surrounded by his family. He was preceded in death by his parents, Letcher Hill Bowles, Hazel Gearhart Robinson and Virginia Fortune Bowles; his wives, Patricia Kelly Bowles (1987) and Marcia Bryn Bowles (2015), and a daughter Katherine Bowles Rogers (2009).

Ben is survived by his children, Elizabeth Bowles, Mary Farrell, Douglas Bowles and Christina Sarabhai; ten grandchildren and great-grandchildren; his sisters, Martha Ann Higginbotham, Karen Pappas and Patricia Bleile. Also surviving are many nephews, nieces and extended family and friends.

Ben was born in Richmond, and raised near Roanoke and in Detroit, MI. The family relocated to Salem, VA where he learned to fly his father’s Piper Super Cruiser at Roanoke Airport before he graduated from Andrew Lewis High School in 1950. He attended Roanoke College but left school to enlist in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean crisis. As one of the first five pilots to fly the SR-71 Blackbird, he worked directly with the aircraft designer, Kelly Johnson, to develop numerous innovations associated with high altitude/high mach flight. Ben flew highly classified reconnaissance missions and was the first pilot to log over 900 hours flying the SR-71. Among other medals, he was awarded the Air Medal and two Distinguished Flying Crosses.

Ben retired from the Air Force in 1972 at the rank of Lt. Colonel then worked for 15 years as the Chief Corporate Pilot at Dayton Hudson/Target Corporation in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He relocated to Oviedo, Florida where he enjoyed riding his motorcycle, photography, and drawing. Ben loved cruises, traveling in his motorhome, and spending time with his cats.

The Bowles family would like to especially thank Dr. Rodney J. Poffenberger, Ben’s longtime Florida caregiver, Nadezda Vabishchevich, and all of his other caring, compassionate doctors, nurses, and caregivers.
Funeral services will be held at Arlington National Cemetery later this year. An online guestbook is available for family and friends by visiting
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Service Details

  • Service

    Arlington National Cemetery
    1 Memorial Drive
    Fort Myer, Virginia 22211
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email
  • Interment

    Arlington National Cemetery
    1 Memorial Drive
    Fort Myer, VA 22211
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email


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oscar marquez

Posted at 03:00pm
I had the honor of being chosen to be part of the SR71 program and assigned to PSD 1969 to 1974 and stationed at Beale AFB as well as the TDY tours to Kadena.
One of the first crews I dressed in the pressure suit (space suit) was the crew of Bowles & Fagg. I remember seeing Col Bowles for the first time and if anyone would make a perfect poster boy for the Air Force was Col Bowles. He had that leading actor look.
We care for all the crews however we did have our favorites and this crew was one of them.
I am honored to have met both Bowles and Fagg, and I know they are both up with the Good Lord flying higher than ever.
God Bless you
Oscar Marquez Sgt PSD 1969-1974 Habu for life


Posted at 02:45pm
To Liz and your family I cannot fully express the sorrow I feel for you at this time. I am thinking about you always and am just a call away. I met your Dad only once and he left an impression of a kind and gentle man who also was very intelligent. I know that no matter where you are, he will always be watching over you. You are all in our thoughts and prayers.
Love your friends, Lisa and Dennis Dessureau

S. Wampler

Posted at 01:13am
To Ben's family, we would like to give our condolences to you and let you know we have you in our thoughts at this sad time. From Bucky and Sherry Wampler, and all the guys at Hammered Hardware.

Richard Freeman

Posted at 01:55pm
I met Mr Bowles for the first time several months ago atop of Mill Mountain at the Star. He was with his daughter Elizabeth and others. We started talking I was also in Aviation flying and directing airports around the country. It was an honor to meet one of the first pilots of the SR71 Blackbird. I taught Aviation History and now I was fortunate enough to meet a fine gentleman that is apart of history of Aviation. I send my prayers to the family.

Richard Freeman

Posted at 01:50pm
Mill Mountain Star, left message but not my name. Richard Freeman,

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