“. . . and shall forever be revered by his fellow countrymen.” — George Washington, establishing the Badge of Military Merit”

March 6, 2010

Richard Owen died on June 6, 1944. Yes, what the date implies is true: He died during the Allied invasion of Normandy. Sgt. Owen was a paratrooper with the Army’s 101st Airborne, 506th PIR-E Company — the “Band of Brothers.” His plane was hit during the early hours  of the operation; it crashed during a landing attempt and burned for three days.

Sgt. Owen was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, one of the most precious possessions for an American or his or her family. I was born a little less than two years before Sgt. Owen died. As I was growing up, remnants of the war were still evident in our house. My Dad was 30 years old when the war began, and I guess that’s why he was assigned to civil defense and aircraft construction on the Home Front. But there were letters and uniform buttons on shelves and in drawers that evoked the recent service of our cousins, Mike Aun in Europe and his brother Fred in the Pacific, and our dear friend Jack Mawhinney, also in Europe.

The Silver Star

Among the keepsakes from the recent war were clippings from the Paterson Evening News, and there I read that Mike Aun, who by then had married and moved to Lexington, S.C., had been awarded the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, and the Purple Heart with three Oak Leaf Clusters. I asked my Mom, to whom Mike was like a brother, what those awards meant. She explained as best she could to an ignorant child, but I was much older before I understood the implications of “meretorious service” and “gallantry in action.” I already understood, though, what she meant when she said that Mike had been hurt four times while he was “overseas,” as my Mom always expressed it. I loved Mike for a lot of reasons, but I idolized him for that Purple Heart. No doubt because I was introduced to the award in such a personal way, I have always paused over references to men  and women who have earned the Purple Heart, and so I was particularly attracted to the story of Sgt. Owen, whose award certificate turned up at a Salvation Army center in a box of donated household tchotchke.

The Bronze Star

Personnel at the Salvation Army, Capt. Ron Heimbrock and Darlene Pelkey, were aware of the importance of that certificate, and they were upset to think of it as discarded along with things  of no value. They launched a search that eventually involved many other folks, and the combined effort led to members  of Sgt. Owen’s family who honor his memory. One of them has custody of the medal itself, and she treasures it.

The fact that people who had no direct connection to Sgt. Owen thought enough of what that certificate represented is a comment on their own sensitivity. It is also a fitting salute, across the decades, to one of the many who never should be forgotten.

You can read the Washington Post story about Sgt. Owen himself and about the discovery of the certificate and the search for Sgt. Owen’s family by clicking HERE.

Darlene Pelkey and Salvation Army Capt. Ron Heimbrock with the Purple Heart Citation and a photo of Sgt. Richard Owen / Daily Courier-Observer photo by Bob Beckstead


3 Responses to ““. . . and shall forever be revered by his fellow countrymen.” — George Washington, establishing the Badge of Military Merit””

  1. as a purple heart recipient and past department commander of the militar order of the purple heart department of puerto rico.your article is very heartbroken and deeply sad.the oscar should go to your article…joey rivera..m.o.p.h.caribbean

    • charlespaolino Says:

      Joey: Thanks for your note, and thank for your exemplary service to our country.

      • god bless you. and your excellents articles are a must for our order.we are having our department convention at san juan,puerto rico buchanan army base.
        jun 13-14..2010.
        you are cordially invited.military order of the purple heart.p.o box 1086,yauco.p.r00698..anytime you want to visit us at the caribbean you will be preciouslly welcome.thank you

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s