Veterans Voice: Doc Owens

World War II veteran Doc Owens of Maysville joined the military in February of 1943 at Fort Leavenworth. He was assigned to the United States Navy and took basic training at Farragut Naval Training Station in Idaho.

From Farragut he went to Naval Station Bremerton in Bremerton, Washington before being assigned to the USS Bogue with a home port of Norfolk, Virginia. The Bogue was an escort aircraft carrier based in the Atlantic.

The Bogue was part of a “hunter-killer” fleet of 12-13 ships patrolling the Atlantic between Europe and the United States. Doc says they were “all over” the Atlantic, often responding to sightings of enemy ships, particularly submarines. The Bogue provided air protection for the fleet as well as carrying out attacks on enemy ships/submarines.

Bogue-class carriers typically carried 12 fighters (Grumman F4F Wildcats) and nine torpedo bombers (Grumman TBF Avengers). The fighters protected the fleet while the torpedo bombers attacked enemy ships when located.

Doc recalls stopping at ports in Bermuda, New Foundland, Saint Trinidad, Liverpool and Casablanca. While at sea, the Bogue might switch convoys from time to time as needed. If an enemy submarine was sighted, the convoy would often change course in order to intercept it.

The Bogue sank a total of 12 German submarines, effectively “breaking the back” of the German submarine fleet, and an important contribution to the victory over Germany.

 In addition, the Bogue sank the only Japanese submarine sank in the Atlantic. The Japanese sub I-52 (code named Momi [fire tree] was a cargo submarine on a secret mission to German-occupied Lorient, France. It carried a variety of cargo including $28 million in gold (based on 1945 prices), in payment to Germany for weapons technology. That was money sorely needed by the Nazis. The sub also carried 14 Japanese scientists who were to be trained by the Germans.

United States Intelligence was aware of the Japanese sub and had tracked it across the Pacific into the Atlantic. They were also aware that the I-52 was to meet up with a German submarine and knew the coordinates. Aircraft from the Bogue were able to intercept the rendezvous and sank both subs. The gold is still aboard the sunken submarine. It has been located in 17,000 feet of water, too deep to salvage with present technology.

With the German defeat, the Bogue traveled through the Panama Canal to the Pacific where it operated as a transport ship, carrying troops and supplies.

Doc’s worst memory of the war years was the long, dark nights afloat in the Atlantic, not knowing when enemy submarines might appear.

Doc worked mostly in the mess unit where he served as a butcher. During operations he was assigned to an officer’s station to work as a messenger in case communications were lost.

With the surrender of Japan Doc returned to Maysville. The trip home was “rough” and took 18 days. He went to work for a relative in the coal business and working as a driver. He purchased 30 acres of land north of Maysville for $3,500. His dad told him he would never be able to pay for it, but he did. He noted that the price of land has inflated considerably from the purchase price.

Doc and his wife Ruth (Weaskuhle) have been married for 71 years. She moved to Maysville as a school teacher and “taught in the same room” for 42 years. Doc and his wife have been active in the local historical society. Doc singlehandedly excavate the ground under the historical society basement, a wheel barrow load at a time and hauled it away.

At age 96, Doc remains very sharp with a solid memory.

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