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Local Man Recalls His Experiences as a P.O.W.

  • wcu_ww2-704.jp2
  • This newspaper article titled “Local Man Recalls His Experiences as a P.O.W.” is part of the Samuel Robert Owens Collection. Samuel Robert Owens (1918-1995) was stationed at Cavite Naval Yard in the Philippines when the United States entered World War II. He was a member of the crew of the submarine tender USS Canopus (AS-9), which was actively involved in the defense of the Bataan peninsula until the fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942. The majority of the crew of USS Canopus, including Owens, were captured by the Japanese at Corregidor, and became prisoners of war. Owens remained a POW until the end of the war and received the Silver Star and Bronze Star for his service.
  • Sam Owens holds a frame which contains the numerous medals he received during his service with the U.S. Navy. Local man recalls his experiences as a P.O.W. Sitting on the back porch of his home on Lovingood Avenue in Wal- halla, overlooking a pleasant wooded area, Sam Owens recalls a time long ago and far away when he was a prisoner of war of the Japanese during World War II. Graduating from high school in Jackson County, N.C in 1936, he immediately joined the Navy. He spent two years on the battleship Oklahoma but, not caring much for the highly regulated routinejie transferred onto a submarine. "I was in the Philippines when World War II started," he said. "The Japanese took Hong Kong and then Singapore from the English in just a short time, but then they concentrated their strength in the Philippines, which was a U.S. territory at the time, and had to fight there for five months." Mr. Owens said that getting bogged down in the Philippines proved to be a blunder on the part of the Japanese. "It gave us time to build up our strength and protect Australia," he said. "They could have by-passed the Philippines and gone right into Australia." When the Japanese landed on the island where Manila, the Philippines' major port city, is located, General Douglas McArthur declared Manila an "open city" in order to prevent it from being devastated by war, and the U.S. military retreated to the islands of Bataan and Corregidor. Mr. Owens' submarine went to Corregidor, and he was stranded there when it was hit by the Japanese and sunk. "Bataan fell on April 9,1942," he said. "I was sitting on Corregidor trying to get on a ship." Unfortunately, the Japanese arrived before a ship became available. "When Corregidor fell, they took us all prisoners of war, and took 400 of us to the island of Palawan to make an airfield," Mr. Owens said. When the airstrip was finished, the Japanese left 150 prisoners on the island to maintain it and sent the rest to Manila and then Japan, where Mr. Owens was put to work in coal mines. "We did all the work by hand, with picks and shovels," he said. But, he added, "When you get down to 85 pounds, you can't do much." As it turned out, the prisoners sent to Japan were the lucky ones. As the island where they had built the airstrip was about to be retaken by the U.S., the Japanese killed the remaining prisoners—except for 11 who managed to escape-by putting them in a ditch, machine gunning them, and setting the ditch on fire, Mr. Owens said. "Some of them were my good friends," he added. In 1945, Mr. Owens was only about 20 miles from Nagasaki when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb there. Although the prisoners could not hear or see the blast, Mr. Owens said that, as the days went by, "Wc knew something had happened because the Americans stopped bombing." "Two or three days later a Chicago Daily News reporter came to our camp and told us the Japanese had surrendered." The war had ended so abruptly that the military did not have any means to immediately rescue the prisoners, so they had to remain in the camp about a month. "The B-29s started dropping food to us," Mr. Owens said. After the war, he remained in the Navy until 1958, and then went to Western Carolina University where he got a degree, and became a school teacher. He taught junior high school math and science in western North Carolina for five years, and then taught Cherokee Indians the next five years. He then moved to Walhalla and got a job with vocational rehabilitation, the Walhalla Preschool, and eventually the Oconee County Adult Education Program. He retired in 1980. When Mr. Owens moved to the local area, he was actually returning to the home of his parents, as they were from the Salem area and moved to Jackson County, N.C. before he was born. Medals Displayed In Frame Mr. Owens proudly displays the many medals he received during his military service, whichhis wife, Jean, recently had put in a frame. The medals include a Silver Star, which is IheU.S. military's third highest award for valor in combat, and also a Bronze Star.