Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day 2011: Remembering Orian G. Owens

Tech Sergeant Orian G. Owens, WWII
Today through the power of the Internet and firsthand research brings into focus the special story of a fallen veteran from the 42N area.

Three weeks ago a stack of papers bought at auction in Coggon, Iowa yielded among other things, a small booklet called the Lisbon High School Alumni Directory 1880 – 1952. In the booklet are very brief updates of the then living or deceased high school classmates. I flipped through the pages, and stopped on one entry for the class of 1935. There among the time period of World War II was a six sentence description of a graduate who served in the Army Air Corps, was shot down, hid by the Belgium Underground and later shot by the Germans.

I was intrigued with this particular listing and went into research mode to find more information about Tech Sergeant Orian G. Owens and what happened to him. Here is his story for Veterans Day:

Following his Lisbon High School graduation in 1935 Orian George Owens (born Jan. 22, 1915), a farm boy, moved to the West Liberty, Iowa area in Muscatine County. Orian’s brother Harold graduated from Lisbon a few years later.

In 1942 Orian became one of 61 Muscatine county men who passed their physical examinations at the Camp Dodge (near Des Moines) induction center. On Aug. 27th Orian left Muscatine for the U. S. Army at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he was assigned various duties.

Due to his farm machinery background Orian was assigned to the Army Air Corps and trained at the Shephard Field, California, Panama City, Florida and Salt Lake City, Utah. He became assigned to the 469th Air Force Bomber Squadron at Dallas, Texas where he became a First Engineer and top turret gunner on a B-17F Bomber. During a training exercise the landing gear jammed and Orian had to squeeze himself through the wing to manually lower the gear.

After training, Orian was sent to England and based at Thurleigh. His B-17F (tail number 42-30782) Bomber was nicknamed, "Rationed Passion." On January 11, 1944 the plane was part of 663 heavy bombers of the 306th Bomb Group. The target for Orian's tenth mission was a manufacturing plant in Halberstadt, Germany.

On the return trip, the plane was hit by flak and crashed in Holland. At that time the Germans occupied Holland, Belgium and France. Orian was injured when his parachute opened and then broke a rib upon hitting the frozen ground.

Orian and other crew members were picked up by the Dutch Resistance. Orian was hidden in a potato cellar with two other crew members. He was later escorted to various homes, barns and other shelters along with the other crew members. Still later the Dutch and Belgium Underground picked up the "Rationed Passion" crew and other downed airmen and moved them to the woods near Chimay and Saint Remy, Belgium, close to the French border.

On January 28th the Muscatine newspaper reported that Orian’s father had received notice that Orian was declared missing in action. At this same time Orian’s brother Harold was a POW under Italian control.

The group of ten U.S. airmen, including Orian waited for conditions to improve for them to be moved to France, then Spain and finally England. In the mean time the Germans closed the routes and the ten airmen had to wait for new escape routes to be established. Two men decided to escape on their own and later were successful.

Orian’s group of eight airmen had just concluded breakfast at 8 AM on April 22, 1944 when the sound of rifle fire came nearby. Nearly 1500 German SS soldiers flooded the area looking for the protected airmen and members of the underground. Orian’s group left the wooded area and was taken into German custody in Chimay. They were interrogated, stripped of their dog tags, false papers and money. After a three hour interrogation the men were loaded onto a truck with guards and headed back to the woods.

Once in the woods the airmen were escorted by two German soldiers each to a certain spot where they were lined up with their hands tied behind their backs. Then the group was separated with each airmen going in a different direction with two soldiers. A signal was given and the Germans shot the airmen in the back of their heads. The bodies were buried in a mass grave near Gosserlie’s airfield. Much later the grave was discovered and the bodies were transported to the military cemetery in Margraten, the Netherlands.

The eight airmen killed that day were from three different aircraft.

George Eike, B-17G “Susan Ruth”, Rochester, NY
Robert Benniger, B-17G “Susan Ruth”, Pittsburgh, PA
John Pindroch, B-17G “Susan Ruth”, Cleveland, OH
Vincent Reese, B-17G “Women’s Home Companion”, Philadelphia, PA
Orian Owens, B-17F “Rationed Passion”, Lisbon, IA
John Gramborsky, B-17F “Rationed Passion”, Chicago, IL
Charlie Nichola, B-17F “Rationed Passion”, Stockton, CA
Billy Huisch, Douglas, AZ

Five months later, the U.S. Army declared Orian as Killed in Action since no one had seen him since the capture. Again his father, George received word of the matter from the War Department. Orian’s brother, Harold, once held as POW was able to escape and rejoin his unit after a 500 mile journey.

After the war, Belgian military authorities tried the main culprits who carried out what is now known as the Massacre of St. Remy. In 1947 four men were sentenced to death while another two served jail time as a result of their complicity in the matter.

The crash of Orian’s B-17 ten member bomber resulted in five KIAs, three POWs and two airmen who evaded capture. In 1948 Orian’s body and other fallen veterans was recovered from Margarten cemetery for transport back to the United States. Flag draped caskets, coming from the war theaters were brought to America at intervals throughout 1948. Last honors were accorded to the serviceman at funeral and burial rites. Final interment was in the cemetery chosen by his next of kin.

Orian’s father George requested that his son be buried next to his mother at a cemetery in Lisbon, Iowa. A military funeral for T/Sgt. Owens was held on November 4th, 1948 at the Federated Church in Lisbon. Orian was awarded the Purple Heart, Air Medal and the Oak Leaf Cluster posthumously.

The town of Lisbon continues to honor its war dead. A new monument to the fallen veterans of Lisbon contains Orian’s name among the list of war dead. Periodically the Lisbon History Center conducts cemetery walks called, “Walk Through the Past” so that stories like Orian’s continue to be told. Know that.



5 comments:

  1. I have just written about this terrible day, April 22, 1944. Thanks for the information you provided. http://libertyladybook.com/2012/07/12/the-massacre-of-saint-remy/

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  2. Orian Owens was a cousin of mine. I really didn't know much about him as I was growing up in Lisbon. His brother Harold was close to our family. Once my dad and I went with Harold to Lime Springs in his Model A Ford converted pickup. Harold never mentioned anything about Orian or World War II. Later, I discovered that he was captured in Tunisia and held as a prisoner of war by the Germans.

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    1. Thank you Clarence for your update. Go to the Lisbon History Center, there in the World War II files you'll find information on Orian and his brother Harold. I believe there is a lengthy newspaper article on Harold's escape in North Africa.

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    2. I have been to the History Center and seen Orion's AAF uniform, but I must have overlooked the the newspaper article. Can this be downloaded in .PDF format? I would like to include this in their Ancestory pages.

      Thanks,
      Clarence

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    3. Clarence - email me at midlat42@gmail.com. I made a pdf for you.

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