I keep running into Sowell people here in Cleveland. Today, a friend here who does home renovation called me about something and mentioned that he was working with a guy who did time with Sowell. He said Sowell would be elbowed and pushed around in prison and never did anything, a sign of weakness among inmates.
At the West End Tavern, where I was meeting the esteemed Plain Dealer columnist Michael Heaton for drinks, a gentleman came up after learning I was the author of the new book on Anthony Sowell and said he went to junior high and high school with Sowell.
“Tony was a nice guy, he wasn’t really quiet or anything, he was one of us,” the guy told me. He said he saw him later on outside a grocery store – around the same time Sowell was arrested in 2009 – and Sowell ht him up for change.
“He was a regular guy, he was friendly,” this fellow told me. “He went in the service and was never the same.”
As the book notes, Sowell shined in the Marines and also confirms what Sowell’s former classmate said.
From the book:
Sowell reported for boot camp on January 24, 1978, at Parris Island, South Carolina before being dispatched for basic training at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
It was the smartest thing Sowell would ever do, and his time in the Marines was marked with success, at least professionally.
He finished first in his basic training class of 40. Soon he would find that he could hit a target with a rifle from 600 yards. Like all Marines, Anthony Sowell was taught how to defend himself and emerge victorious from battlefield conflicts, how to hurt an enemy by hand, using choke holds, punches and weapons in hand-to-hand combat. These are special fighting skills, similar to those taught and embraced by the vaunted Navy Seals.
In May 1978, Sowell began his military career as an electrician at Camp Lejeune first obtaining his high school equivalency and then studying electrical wiring before moving up the coast to Cherry Point, where he stayed until March 1980 with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, an aviation unit supporting Marine ground operations in wartime. A solid Marine, Sowell moved around a lot, adapting anywhere he went He even boxed in the camp boxing clubs, again showing he had something to prove.
He next moved on to Camp Smedley Butler with the 3rd Force Service Support Group, Fleet Marine Force Pacific in Okinawa, Japan for a year.
Sowell served the last of his tour of duty at Camp Pendleton, California.
His military stint was marked by his good performance; Sowell received awards during his seven-year Marine Corps career, including a Good Conduct Medal with one star, a Meritorious Mast certificate, Sea Service Deployment ribbon, Certificate of Commendation and two Letters of Appreciation.
“He did exceptionally well . . . Mr. Sowell was promoted meritoriously to private first class at the end of recruit training, which is an extreme distinction,” said Walter Bansley III, a military lawyer who analyzed Sowell’s military records.
Unfortunately, then he came home. And was never quite the same.