Ohio Veterans Home resident remembers Normandy invasion
Jun 6, 2014 at 10:20 PM
All over the world, people are remembering today as the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied landing in northern France that launched a decisive front in the war against Hitler's Germany.
But for many years, Ohio Veterans Home resident Tim B. Owen Jr., 89, wanted to forget his role in the Normandy invasion.
He said that he didn't really open up and talk about his war experiences until decades later.
"I got to around 75, I started talking about it," he said.
He remembers that when his daughter was about 55, she asked him, "Dad, what did you do in the Army?" She was surprised when he told her, he said.
Even then, her father didn't go into specifics for many years, his daughter, Wendy Stogner of Avon Lake, said.
"What I remember him saying is it's a good thing he wasn't in the first wave, or he wouldn't be here," she said.
Owen went ashore on Utah Beach at about 10 a.m. on June 7, the day after the assault on the beaches of Normandy began. There was still plenty of evidence of the terrible battle. He soon saw action in France.
In fact, he had seen action before the invasion began on June 6, 1944. After growing up in Cleveland and Lakewood, he was drafted at age 18. The Army sent him to Camp Perry for a few weeks, then sent him to Riverside, Calif., to train as an anti-aircraft gunner.
He was sent to Scotland, and then the cliffs of Dover in England, where his unit fired 90 millimeter anti-aircraft rounds at German aircraft and V-1 Buzz Bombs attempting to bomb London.
"We were shelled, bombed and strafed," he said. "They were trying to knock us out."
He then took part in the invasion. German's Luftwaffe, Hitler's air force, didn't get many planes in the air in France by the summer of 1944, so the anti-aircraft units were pressed into ground combat, Owen said, firing their guns at tanks and German soldiers. They also served as infantry. Owen fought in France and Germany.
"I didn't sleep in a bed for a year and a half. I slept on the ground. You wore the same clothes (for) two months, three months," he said. "We were like animals."
Owen had a girlfriend back home, Lila Mae Brandt, who he planned to marry. They wrote each other, and Owen also wrote to his mother, who sent him packages of salami. Mrs. Owen also sent her son sugar and cans of milk, which he used to make ice cream out of snow.
The letters Owen wrote home were censored — the censors used scissors and chopped out the parts they didn't like — and Owen didn't tell everything he saw anyway.
Once, as he stood in a door, a sniper's bullet whizzed by his nose and hit the building, driving wooden splinters into his face.
Owen didn't share that anecdote in his letters home to Lila Mae, who lived across the street from his parents.
"My mother would have found out. It would have driven her wacky. I didn't want my mother to know," he said.
After the war ended, Owen went home, reuniting in Lakewood in late December with Lila Mae and his family. They got married on Feb. 16, 1946.
After the war, Owen completed his high school degree. He went to work for Republic Steel, starting out as a security guard and rising to become superintendent of security.
He's only been a resident of the Ohio Veterans Home for seven weeks. It's a great place that treats him well, he said.
Lila Mae died in 1997.
"When she passed away, I dropped out of everything. I sold the house," Owen said.