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Drawing became reality

We heard the service,
we heard the guns, Taps was played and now it was done.
The flag was folded and given away,
Then we all went home,
But one had to stay.


The year-1930.

Dick Owen grabbed his box of crayons and a piece of drawing paper.

He had been thinking for a long time about one of his favorite things and, now that he had the artistic inspiration, the moment had come in his young life to put it on paper.

Picture this: There is a man in a parachute -a paratrooper - jumping from the sky. And, there is an airplane - a biplane actually - flying over fire from the ground.

Dick was 6 years old.


As he stood in the door of the C-47 aircraft - Red Light, Green Light, Stand Up, Hook Up, Equipment Check, Jump - the picture he drew 12 years ago flashed before his eyes - and this time, it was for real.
Pvt. Richard B. Owen, Company H, 3rd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. 82nd Airborne Division, was flying in the night sky over the irregular coastline of Normandy, France.

It was June 6, 1944 - D-Day - and as he jumped from the aircraft door into the red tracer ammunition and red artillery fire from the ground - illuminating the ominous space around him - he said to himself: "What in the world am I doing here."

Owen, from Kansas City, Mo., enlisted in the Army in 1942 - not like his father and brother before him who were drafted - "Because I yearned to be a combat paratrooper."

And, he got what he wanted. His dream came true. His drawing became reality.

Successfully completing airborne training at Fort Benning, Ga., Owen went to Camp MacKall, [sic] N.C., for advanced infantry training, and, after reading about the successful airborne invasion of Sicily in the Kansas City Star, he was ready for action.

"Here we are," he thought, "still in the states. If we don't ship over soon, the war will be over before I have a chance to fight for my country."

Another dream came true.

He was on a ship crossing the Atlantic on his way to England and the war.

"We were on board for 11 days; I was sick for nine. I was the sickest man on the boat. But, -I liked the Army. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. We were going to make a jump into Normandy."

Operation Overlord- and the 82nd Airborne Division, nicknamed the All American Division, was jumping into landing zones well past landfall near the German-occupied town of Ste. Mere-Eglise.

Here, paratroopers would secure the approaches and causeways to Utah Beach preventing the enemy from interfering with the landing of soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division.

Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley's First U.S. Army with its VII Corps, under the command of Maj. Gen. J. Lawton Collins. and the 4th Infantry Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Raymond O. Barton, would land at Utah, cut across Cotentin Peninsula and maneuver through hostile fire, mostly heavy, to the town of Carentan.
To accomplish this - paratroopers had to lead the way.

But the landings were tough; the soldiers were tested.

When Owens hit the ground, he managed to get out of his chute, but he realized that he had lost his entrenching tool - a shovel strapped to his gear.
A paratrooper's gear weighed between 120 and 135 pounds. Attached to his body, the gear was frequently blown off while exiting the plane or lost when the paratrooper landed.

Change of luck: After getting lost alone in Normandy twice, winding up attached with the wrong airborne division, and nearly being killed from a shot to the head, Dick Owen met his future wife LaRue while being treated for tuberculosis at the Veterans Affairs Excelsior Lung Hospital in Missouri.

Thinking: "Lieutenant Wade will chew me out for losing my shovel.'' Owen came to realize that this was the least of his problems. He was alone.
He heard a noise. Someone was approaching.

"Flash," - he gave the password.
"Thunder." It was his buddy, Lew Zieber.

Ironically. Owen and Zieber were two of five paratroopers from H Company who. before D-Day and while in England awaiting the call tore a dollar bill into five pieces. Each paratrooper took his piece into combat. The plan was to put the dollar bill back together -if they survived the invasion - the war.
Owen would later recall: "Three of the soldiers - Curtis Sides, Bob Furtaw and Bill Kursawski
-were killed in action." The dollar was never put back together.

During those early morning hours, Owen and Zieber found other company members, "but it was hard to stay together."

Trying to find soldiers from H Company and from the division under adverse conditions, Owen finally stumbled on a building that had antennae on top and to the side of the building
and other communication equipment in close proximity to the structure.
"With all that equipment around," one soldiers said to Owen, "that must be the headquarters for the whole 82nd Airborne Division."
Owens and his fellow soldier-identified themselves, but were told: "We are the 101st Airborne Division. The 82nd is about five miles to the south of here with a division of Germans between us and them."

Then came the deciding point: "You can stay and fight with us, or you can go hunt your own unit."

Realizing that the odds for a successful rendezvous for two lost 82nd paratroopers were not very good, they opted to stay with the Screaming Eagles.

They were assigned to a company and found themselves on the flank serving as scouts in an attack against German positions.
Under attack, Owen was separated from his unit and again he was alone.
On June 9, three days after landing in Normandy, Owen was found in a barn by an H

see page 27

from page 17
Company soldier, Don Jakeway, and the two attached themselves to another 101st unit again for Owen, on the flank in a hot zone.

"We were walking and there was a German machine gun [nest] on the comer of the road. It was making a mess of all of us. It was a fire fight So someone said: 'You two go get that machine gun.'

"Jakeway and I went toward the machine gun and I was going to use one of my grenades."

Then it the unthinkable happened.

"All of a sudden, I reached up and blood was coming down my face and I said: "That SOB shot me.' I never heard a thing. I never felt a thing. He just took off the top of my head."
Jakeway and another paratrooper dragged the seriously wounded Owen out of the field of fire and hid him behind a wall where medics were tending to the wounded.

"I woke up in a hospital [in England] nine days later. I was in a coma."

Everything, from the time he was shot to his waking in the hospital, was a blank, "except I remembered the medics' cold scissors against my skin when he was dressing my wound."

The doctors and nurses would ask: "What's your name?" and Owens would respond: "Look at my dog tags."

Transported to a hospital in Springfield, Mo., Owen underwent further rehabilitative treatment.

A tantalum plate was placed in his skull and in due time, he was reassigned to Fort Benning, "because, they said, because I was airborne."

Not knowing what to do with him, the Army "put me on permanent KP, a cook in the mess hall and washing pots and pans. I even fired a furnace."

After an altercation with his superiors - his meager duties was the issue - Owen was sent to the hospital for a thorough physical examination.

It was determined that he was suffering from tuberculosis.

Since the Army facility was unable to handle long-term patient care, Owen was discharged from the Army with a 100 percent disability sent to a VA hospital in Waukesha, Wis., "an old hotel they converted into a hospital," he recalled.

"I went into the Veterans' Hospital on VE Day - May 5th I had no treatment, no medicine. I just lay there until they said they were going to send me to a hospital nearer my home."

In the VA Excelsior Springs Lung Hospital in Missouri, while in therapy, something happened that would change his life - this time for the better.

LaRue Bettien, an educational therapist who taught business subjects to the veterans, had Owen as a typing student.

"Now, you won't believe this, but we were sitting there playing cards between the beds, and I looked up and saw her coming down the aisle.

And, right mere I said: 'God, I'd like to have her for my wife, but she's too good for me.'"
When Owen was discharged from the hospital, and after taking her typing course, he went to the telephone, called and asked LaRue for a date.

Four years later, after graduating from the University of Missouri at Kansas City - "my major was art and LaRue typed all my papers"

 - Dick and LaRue, "the love of my life," got married.

Any regrets? "I was only there [Normandy] for three days when I got hit. It seems that it was not even worth it going over. It was always a sore spot with me.

"I wanted to stay in the Army and retire in the Army."

Continuing his interest in art, Richard B. Owen held several positions after graduating from college.

He worked as a technical illustrator for Ford Motor Co., and as a artist for Bendix Aviation.

He designed tools for Union Carbide for 13 years before moving to the greater Washington area and a position with the Environmental Protection Agency.
In 1982, he accepted a job with the Department of Labor and served almost three years in Saudi Arabia.

He retired from government in 1986.

Now living in Silver Spring, Md, with "the love ofhis life" - LaRue, the Owens have three sons: "Real good boys. We've got six grandchildren and two great grandchildren."
hi 1993, Owens completed and published a book of poems with accompanying art work titled "Aerobics for Your Imagination."
The final poem in the book is called "The Flag."
The first stanza appears above. His poem concludes:
He had to stay, but he isn't atone,
As he has comrades to share his new home.
There's some of us left, and we all know,
Soon the flag will be folded to be given away,
And one of us will have to stay.

Source:  AUSA (Association of The United States Army, Special Report - 60th Anniversary of D-Day, June 2004)

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