Drawing became reality
We heard the
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
During those early morning hours, Owen and Zieber found
other company members, "but it was hard to stay
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
hi 1993, Owens completed and published a book of poems
with accompanying art work titled "Aerobics for Your
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.
(Association of The United States Army, Special Report - 60th
Anniversary of D-Day, June 2004)