The Marine Corps Medal of Honor Recipients
Featuring Marine Medal of Honor Recipients From WWII-Korea-Viet Nam And Iraqi Freedom
Sergeant Robert A. Owens
United States Marine Corps
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the Third Marines, Third Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces during extremely hazardous landing operations at Cape Torokina, Bougainville, Solomon Islands, on 1 November 1943. Forced to pass within disastrous range of a strongly protected, well camouflaged Japanese 75-mm Regimental Gun strategically located on the beach, our landing units were suffering heavy losses in casualities and boats while attempting to approach the beach and the success of the operations was seriously threatened. Observing the eneffectiveness o Marine rifle and grenade attacks the incessant, devastating fire of the enemy weapon and aware of the urgent need for prompt action, Sergeant Owens unhesitatingly determined to charge the gun bunker from the front and, calling on four of his comrades to assist him, carefully placed them to cover the fire of two adjacent hostile bunkers. Choosing a moment that provided a fair opportunity for passing these bunkers, he immediately charged into the mouth of the steadily firing cannon and entered the emplacement through the fire port, driving th gun crew out of the rear door and insuring their destruction before he, himself was killed. Indomitable and aggressive in the face of almost certain death, Sergeant Owens silenced a powerfull gun which was of inestimanble value to the Japanese defense and, by his brilliant initiative and heroic spirit of self-sacrifice, contributed immeasuraly to the success of the vital landed operations. His valiant conduct throughout reflects the highest credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
Harry S. Truman
President of the United States
Robert Allen Owens was born in Greenville, South Carolina, on 13 September 1920. The family later moved to Spartanburg, which young Owens claimed as his home town. After two years in high school, he went to work as a textile worker in a neighboring town. He worked at that for five years before his enlistment in the Marine Corps on 10 February 1942.
In 1942, Owens went through recruit training at Parris Island, South Carolina, and then Owens continued his training with the 1st Training Battalion of the 1st Marine Division, then located in New River, North Carolina. In June, the unit's designation was changed to Company A, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, 3rd Marine Division. The Division left for foreign shore duty in September 1942 and the 3rd Marines' first overseas station was at Tutuila, American Samoa. Later they went to New Zealand and Guadalcanal to train for their first combat mission. After 21 months of training, Owens would see his first and only combat mission.
On 1 November 1943, on Bougainville, the landing on the beach at Cape Torokina was strongly resisted by a well-camouflaged 75 millimeter regimental gun. Strategically placed, the gun had already scored direct hits on several of the landing craft and it was seriously threatening the success of the operation. No boats could approach the beach without passing within 150 yards or less from the muzzle, and the gunners could not miss. The emplacement was so situated that it could only be attacked from the front and also in a position whereby rifle fire and grenades could not reach the gun crew.
Sizing up the situation, Sgt Owens decided that the only way to neutralize the gun was to charge it directly from the front. Calling on four volunteers to cover him, he placed them where they could keep adjacent bunkers under fire.
At the moment when he judged he had a fair chance of reaching his objective, the six-feet-three, 232-pound Marine charged right into the very mouth of the still rapidly firing cannon. Entering the emplacement through the fire port, he chased the Japanese out the back where they were cut down by his rifleman. Pursuing them, he in turn was instantly killed. It was discovered that a round had been placed in the chamber and the breech was almost closed at the moment that Sgt Owens came through the fire port.
Over 150 rounds of high-explosive shells were stacked and ready for firing. The enemy had counted heavily on this weapon to stop the Marine landing. They made several determined but fruitless efforts to recapture the piece. MajGen Allen H. Turnage, Commanding General of the 3rd Marine Division, said, "Among many brave acts on the beachhead of Bougainville, no other single act saved the lives of more of his comrades or served to contribute so much to the success of the landings."
General Alexander A. Vandegrift, then Commandant of the Marine Corps, and MajGen Turnage so strongly recommended the Medal of Honor for Sgt Owens, who had already received the Navy Cross posthumously, that the case was reviewed and the generals' recommendations were adopted. The medal was presented to the hero's father at his home in Drayton, South Carolina, on 12 August 1945, by MajGen Clayton B. Vogel, then Commanding General of the Marine Barracks, Parris Island, South Carolina.
Initially buried in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps Cemetery on Bougainville, Sgt Owens' remains were later reinterred in the Fort McKinley U.S. Military Cemetery.
The destroyer, USS Robert A. Owens (DD-827) was christened at Bath, Maine, on 22 July 1946 in honor of the Marine.