JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON — It took nearly seven decades, but the Army finally recognized Arthur Owens for his bravery during World War II.
More than 68 years after Owens saved two injured soldiers from a tank under heavy fire, he was awarded seven medals including the Silver Star and Purple Heart on Sept. 19 at the National Guard Armory on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Alaska Army National Guard commander Brig. Gen. Mike Bridges said the ceremony was held to correct a longstanding wrong.
“It’s a unique opportunity to make something right that got missed,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we take care of Art.”
Owens was also awarded the Army Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign, Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four Bronze Service Stars, WWII Victory Medal and the Army of Occupation Medal.
Bridges pinned only the Silver Star and Purple Heart on Owens.
“If I pin them all on him today, he would tip over from the sheer weight of all the medal,” Bridges quipped.
A technician fifth grade, Owens was near Ludwigshafen, Germany, when his tank was hit with a shell from an anti-tank gun March 23, 1945. While under continued fire, Owens returned to the tank twice and pulled out an injured solider each time.
Owens, 89, was just as humble speaking about the event as he was when asked about being presented his seven medals.
“I don’t consider these as awards,” he said. “It’s just doing your job.”
Seeing two of his crewmembers incapacitated is the last memory Owens has of the battle.
“Getting those two over the side to safety, that was the Lord because I don’t remember a bit about the struggle,” he said.
Vicki Stanley is Owens’ oldest daughter. Having heard the story from her father, Stanley said what sticks out to her is the deal Owens made while under fire.
“He said, ‘God. If you get me out of this, I’ll never complain again.’”
Owens lived up to his side of the agreement.
“He never did anything in bad temper,” Stanley said. “My dad never complained about anything.”
Stanley was one of several family members who attended the ceremony.
Watching her grandfather accept his numerous medals was emotional, said Stevianne Titus.
“I was honored to be a part of it,” she said. “I know it meant a lot to him.”
The entire family shared those sentiments, Stanley said.
“It’s really fun that he’s honored finally,” she said.
Owens’ wife, Ruthanne, was also in attendance. She’s been at his side for 66 years.
“They’re still the cutest couple,” Titus said.
In April, Owens moved to Alaska and met with Verdie Bowen Sr., the state’s director of veterans affairs. After some research, Bowen said it was discovered the orders for Owens’ Purple Heart were never published nor was the citation presented.
A little more digging revealed he was owed a lot more hardware.
When one of those medals turned out to be the third highest military award, Bowen said he knew a proper ceremony was needed.
“It’s such a high medal,” he said. “It isn’t very often you get to see someone receive a Silver Star.”