John Owen Army Medic
During WWII he first served in the 55th General Hospital in the US and England. After D Day he was transferred to C Company 50th Armored Infantry Battalion, Sixth Armored Division, Third Army. (Patton's.) He was a medic or "Company Aid Man", living with and caring for frontline troops. He earned the Combat Medic badge, two Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts and three Campaign Ribbons.
He carrried no weapon even though he was at or near the front lines where men were falling all around him. John Owen sought to save lives on the World War II battlefields of Europe. He was a combat medic.
Owen, of Portsmouth, earned his master’s degree from Yale University and was teaching at a private school in upper New York State when his draft board back in Seattle, Washington, where he grew up, sent him notice on May 31, 1943, that the US. Army had need of his services. He answered the call but told the Army there was no way he could point a riﬂe at another human being and pull the trigger.
"I went in as a private with the classiﬁcation of 1AO—non-combatant only. I was what they called a conscientious objector," Owen said.
He went through basic training and jumped through all the hoops the military required of him. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, when US. soldiers and the Allies waded ashore in Normandy to begin a long and deadly invasion to push Adolph Hitler’s troops out of France and back to Berlin, Owen’s duty station was General Hospital in England. While young American soldiers were dying on the battlefield, Owen was playing in the band.
"I found out I was going to be at General Hospital for the duration of the war. And the chief reason they wanted me was that I could play the French horn,” he said.
His intentions were never to be in a non-combat classiﬁcation. It took two months of paper work, but he had his draft status changed to "combat" and by August he was into the fray. He became a combat medic, although still a conscientious objector. Instead of carrying a riﬂe and hand grenades, he carried a medical pouch over each shoulder and packages of bandages around his waist.
He caught up with his outﬁt in Nancy, France, in August, 1944. He became the company aid man for C Company of the 50th Armored Infantry Division, a part of General Patton’s Third Army. Patton had advanced so rapidly that he got out ahead of his supply lines and had to wait for them to catch up. Ike’s supply lines now stretched almost 400 grueling miles from Normandy to the front lines.
Owen would spend the remainder of the war at or near the front, patching up the wounded, saving those he could. The anesthetic smell of the hospital was replaced with the smell of gunpowder and the stench of death.
December and January would bring some of the fiercest and deadliest ﬁghting of World War II in what is referred to as the Battle enemy ﬁre and suffered heavy casualties.
John Owen was presented with the Silver Star while still on the battleﬁeld.
With utter disregard for his own safety, he worked unceasingly to administer medical aid to the wounded. He also toured the company position seeking men in need of aid and encouraging others. The gallantry he displayed during this period and his outstanding devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the Medical Corps.
FIRST PURPLE HEART
He was awarded his first Purple Heart as a result of his searching the battleﬁeld for wounded American soldiers and wound up helping a German soldier. This event took place after the Battle of the Bulge when his outﬁt was advancing through Belgium and Luxemourg toward Germany and the Siegfried line.
"We had a lot of action that day with lots of artillery. We were on a forest road heavy with snow,” he said. "As we advanced I passed by an unconscious German lying across a log and making strange noises. I noticed his mouth looked funny and discovered he had swallowed his false teeth. All the noises he was making were from trying to breathe around those false teeth. I reached into his mouth to try to help and he bit me! He bit so hard I couldn’t get loose. I had a big deep cut in my thum ." A couple of GI's came to help him. They pried the German’s mouth open with a trench shovel enough for Owen to free his thumb.
A few days later he realized the bite was infected. He stopped by the ﬁeld hospital. The doctor—he was called Captain Sprei and he called Owen "Doc”—bandaged it and gave him some antibiotics. Then the doctor insisted on writing Owen up for the Purple Heart.
“The captain told me, ’You were wounded in hand-to-hand combat with a frenzied German.’ While this was true, I felt like he was bending the truth a little. We laughed about it. He said, ’You better take it. At the end of the war they will be discharging people on points, and the points will be determined by how many medals you get'
"It turned out he was absolutely right. I found out after the war in Europe was over, I had quite a few of these so-called decorations, and they did help me get out four months earlier than I might have.”
Owen has enough other war stories to ﬁll a book, stories about sleeping on a bed of pipe tobacco, about the sheep that wouldn’t leave his side even during German bombardment, about a lonely outpostin no man’s land.
Once, after the Americans and their Allies had gotten the upper hand in the Battle of the Bulge, Owen and his outﬁt were in an advancing line made up of many units.
John Howard "Howie" OWEN Ph.D.
1920 - 2014