Smart and Lucky: How Wayne Owen Survived WWII
Many survivors of war talk about how lucky they were to survive. Here is one such story. During his training during WWII, Wayne Owen’s fellow soldiers gave him the nickname “Lucky”. While he often “slept through the numerous classes, he still made better grades than the other men”. While serving in New Guinea, the tent next to Wayne was destroyed by shrapnel from an overhead dogfight between U.S. and Japanese fighters. He was lucky once more. While in Tacloban in the Philippines, a typhoon hit and the only things left standing were the mess hall and you guessed it, “Lucky’s tent”. Like many serving in the Pacific Theatre, he contracted malaria and spent a month in the hospital where he “had to endure 33 shots of penicillin. It took another 4 – 5 months to recover” before he could rejoin his unit, which had moved to another island during his convalescence. While onboard a ship in Manila Bay in April of 1945, a transport ship only four from Wayne’s, was struck by a Kamikaze attack. “Lucky” escaped harm once again.
Wayne Owen was born September 13, 1923 in Lamkin, Texas in Comanche County. He was one of eight children. His dad, Ben Owen, was a veteran of WWI. Wayne graduated from high school at age 16. After “working at a few jobs”, Wayne enlisted in the Army Reserve. Three of his brothers also joined up and served during WWII. Wayne spent a year at Texas Tech taking courses in math and calculus which would come in handy during his training in the service. He was called up for duty in September 1943 and reported to Camp Wolters in Mineral Wells, Texas. His basic training was in Miami Beach where they were “put up in hotel rooms that cost $100 per night”. That was a large sum back in 1943. He was assigned to the 5th Air Force, 43rd Bomb Group and 64th squad and spent the next year in training for “electronics and radar repair.” The training sessions were always under top security.
Wayne’s squad was sent to Utah and then on to Camp Stoneman, California where they boarded a Navy ship carrying 1300 troops. The camp was known as the “jumping off point” and would send more than one million soldiers bound for the Pacific Theatre and (years later) to Korea. The Navy would do zig zag maneuvers to avoid Japanese submarines, but they eventually landed in Lal, New Guinea where they soon began what came to be known as “island hopping”. His squad was moved from island to island to repair malfunctioning radar units off of B-24’s. On the island of Owi in the Dutch East Indies, the men could “see dogfights over the ocean” and they were constantly being bombed and strafed by Japanese planes. Wayne said he “endured many sleepless nights and saw 45 American planes destroyed.”
While stationed on Nab Zab, New Guinea, Wayne’s unit learned of the death of President Roosevelt and “wondered if Vice-President Truman was up to the task.” Wayne noted that he “saw General McArthur outside the Post Office in Manila in April 1945.” Wayne’s last “hop” was to Ie Shima near Okinawa where a statue had been erected for war correspondent Ernie Pyle who died on Iwo Jima. They soon heard that an atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima and the Japanese had surrendered.
After two months in Tokyo, Wayne, now a Sergeant was discharged at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio. He was recalled to service during the Korean War and served from 1951 to 1952. He landed at Inchon and never spent more than 30 days in one place at a time, due to Chinese intervention.
Wayne married in 1946. He and his wife had 2 boys and 2 girls, but divorced in 1960. He married Lois in November 1960. She had one child by a previous marriage. They raised the children, but had none together. They have been happily married for 55 years. Wayne owned a Shamrock filling station in New Deal for many, many years.
Wayne went on the 2013 Honor Flight and says his favorites were the WWII Memorial and the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery.
Respectfully submitted by
Larry A. Williams
Veterans Liaison Co-Chair
Texas South Plains Honor Flight
Special thanks to Mr. Owens’ grandson, Robert Denton, for supplying details of his grandfather’s military service.