Searching for SGT Owen's Family...
Help us find this man's family.
In case you haven’t read my earlier reports on this search, you probably should read them first. (Part I here and Part II here) If you are short on time though, here is the short story as provided in an excellent story written by Cynthia Cather Burton of the Winchester Star.
Do you know this soldier? His name is Sgt. Richard E. Owen, and his face has launched a thousand phone calls.
He also has a connection to Winchester. Last month, at the Salvation Army thrift shop in Massena, N.Y., his military portrait and Purple Heart certificate were discovered in a box of newly donated items. The Purple Heart is awarded to those who have been killed or wounded in wartime action.
Officials there were not sure about what they had found, but after some searching on the Internet, they learned that Owen was no ordinary soldier. He was part of the “Band of Brothers” made famous in books and an HBO television series.
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Owen and 16 other members of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, were killed when their aircraft was hit by enemy fire and crashed into a hedgerow near the village of Beuzeville-au-Plain in Normandy, France.
“When we saw that he was part of the Band of Brothers, we knew this was a very significant person in American history,” Salvation Army Capt. Ron Heimbrock said. “We knew his family would want his picture and Purple Heart certificate.”
The trouble was finding them.
No record was made of the person who left the donation, so Salvation Army officials contacted the local newspaper, which published a story about it.
Heimbrock was certain someone would read it, realize he had made a mistake, and retrieve the items.
No one called.
But plenty of other people did.
Well, we were a part of that, and our searching continues. This post will lay out what I currently have, what we are lacking, and how you can help. Part of the problem with this quest is 17 million people going in different directions, and not much coordination. So, I will lay out what I have been doing, what others I know of have been doing, and what I am searching for now.
This is the basics of what I know. The Rev. George E. Owen and Nora Bell Owen had 4 children that I can verify. The first two were George Jr and Dimple. I believe they were born in Virginia, but I do not have specific documentary evidence of this, and something else suggested that Dimple was born in Indiana. The Reverend Owen was the minister of First Christian Church of Sandborn, IN from 1909-1911. Then he moved to Winchester, where the first child[ren?] was/were born. Again, I don’t have the certificates on them.
In 1913 the Owen family returned to Sandborn, IN and once again the Reverend took over at the First Christian Church of Sandborn. This was the first year that the congregation started in their new (and current) building in the center of Sandborn. Also that year, Nora (then aged 22) gave birth to Noel Ernest Owen on August 18. I have this birth certificate in front of me. “Noel Ernest” would later change his name at some point, and become “Richard E. Owen” Sergeant of the Airborne who would die on D-Day. In January of 1915, Nora would give birth to the last of her children that I could verify, Paul Parsons Owen(s). Now, note the “S”. For some reason documents back that far shift from “Owen” to “Owens.” In fact, some of the documents are just wrong, like the one that listed Paul’s birth year as 1905, when his mom was 13. So, be careful on paying too strict adherence to certain “facts.”
At some point the family once again returned to Winchester. In 1941 Richard enlisted in the National Guard, probably “I” company of the 116th Infantry, 29th ID. (Now the 3-116 INF, the unit I served in A-stan with.) By then he had completed 2 years of college, and had become a postal clerk. His Dad had been minister of the Church of Christ in Winchester, but Richard is listed as belonging to the Disciples of Christ Church there. (Are they the same?) Also, on September 13, 1941 Richard married fellow postal employee Ruth Virginia McCann. They would have no children. They resided at 120 West Cork Street in Winchester.
What we know of Richard’s service from the files of the “Personal War Service Record of Virginia’s War Dead”:
Went to England with the 29th Division in Oct. of 1942. Transferred to 29th Div. Ranger Bn. In spring of 43. While training in Scotland his leg was broken. After several months he was back with the 29th, and [“then”, handwritten] transferred to COMPANY E, 506th Parachute Infantry, 101st Airborne Division. [“Paratroops”, handwritten.] He was serving with the paratroops when they left for France about midnight of June 5, 1944. Their [“Their” typed over that as well] plabe was last seen shortly after 1 A.M. June 6th 1944. When fo nd [sic, “found”] later, apo arentl [sic, “apparently”] it has [sic] been shot down while flying very low.
He was buried at the spot, then disinterred and buried in St Louis in 1953.
His widow would remarry (to William Kyle Milhollen) and pass away on May 12, 2002. Her next of kin was a niece.
Now, everything there I know with a certain degree of assurance to be true. I have the following documents:
* First Church of Sandborn Golden Anniversary 1913-1963 booklet, provided by Minister Bryan Sanders. (Who, alas, is about 75 years too young to remember Rev. Owen.)
* Personal War Service Record of Virginia’s War Dead for Richard Ernest Owen, three pages.
* Birth Certificate Knox County Dept. of Health, Vincennes, IN, for Noel Ernest Owen, Aug 18, 1913 (with other identifying info.)
* Birth Certificate Knox County Dept. of Health, Vincennes, IN, for Robert Parsons Owen(s), Jan 17, 1915 (with other identifying info.)
* Obituary, Ruth McCann Milhollen, The Winchester Star, May 14, 2002.
* Picture of Ruth, “Winchester Postal Office Employees”, attributed to the Stewart Bell, Jr. Archives. (Above)
Now, I also have an obituary for “Nora Owen” from Terre Haute, IN. This is NOT his mother. In that obituary it states that Nora had been a local switchboard operator for 30 years prior to 1958.
Now, what I also have is various Census documents from 1910-1940. Those helped me to identify some folks, they also sent me down the wrong path on two occasions. The 1920 census in particular was rather helpful, although it says that Dimple was born in Indiana, but I couldn’t find anything. Maybe she was born in a different county than Knox County?
Lastly, I have about 400 emails from folks with other information. For instance a couple of folks have said that Paul served in the Navy. I suspect that is true, but I don’t have any documentation on that, and I am not sure on the source. It’s not that I am not reading all the emails, it is that I am absolutely blown away at how many have come in. When I got to work this morning, I had 87, and that was from about 7pm last night.
But, are we any closer to finding Sgt Owen’s family? Well, we know some routes are closed off. For instance, I see little value in pursuing Ruth’s family, as none of them are related save for marriage, and probably don’t really know much about him. (Incidentally, in one of the more heart warming things to come from this story thus far for me, Kanani of Kitchen’s Dispatch told me she is going to deliver flowers to Ruth’s gravesite to honor her for keeping Richard’s memory alive through the WWII memorial and elsewhere.)
What happened to George, Dimple and Paul? Did Paul serve in the Navy and then pass away in Iowa in 1978 as one report I saw suggested? Did Dimple marry into the “Glass” family? Honestly, I can’t figure out from all the reports exactly what is going on, and will keep searching. Where did he go to school for those 2 years? Did Richard E. Owen take in a relative prior to joining the military? It would fit the “1 dependant” listing on his enlistment papers, but I don’t have anything verifying it. When did George and Nora pass away, and where? Were they still in VA? When was George the pastor at the Christian Church of Winchester? It’s gone well beyond just finding relatives for me now. I also want to know all I can about this entire family. Like I said, I am finding a family member if it takes me years. And Robin from the Salvation Army has been wonderful and looking as hard as I am.
There are a ton of other folks involved in this, and I wanted to acknowledge some of them here. My biggest help so far has been Dave Berry of Pathfinder Historical Consultants. He’s kept me focused pretty well thus far. A personal thanks to my friend Brown Neck Gaitor who anchored my Winchester search back when we still didn’t know what was going on. (“Let’s go!” was the motto for our unit, and BNG has been as good as that.) Yankee Mom of Winchester has been helping me as well, and y’all should check out her site if you get a chance. Dan M from the Gathering of Eagles NY sent the picture to me as well, thanks to him.
There are MANY others who are helping as well, and I will include them in my next edition, I haven’t clarified whether they want anonymity, or whether they have online names.
If you find anything you want to share with me, please send it to me at MOTHAX@LEGION.ORG, and put RICHARD OWEN in the title so I don’t accidentally skim over it.