http://www.timesdispatch.com/rtd/news/c ... 04/277316/
U-boat capture ‘was a BIG deal,‘ man recalls
By Bill Lohmann
Published: July 1, 2009
BILL LOHMAN Having recently moved to Chicago, former Richmonder Dick Owens thought a visit to the city's Museum of Science and Industry would be a fine field trip for his family.
Once there, he noticed one of the muse um's popular exhibits was the U-505, the German submarine -- or U-boat -- that terrorized the Atlantic in World War II before being captured by the U.S. Navy.
"I wondered," Owens recalled thinking, "if that was the sub my granddad was a part of."
He didn't have to wonder long. When he got to the end of the exhibit, he looked up at the glass panels etched with the names of members of the task force that hunted and caught the sub, and there he saw his grandfather's name: Richard Owens of Richmond.
"It was awesome," said Owens, who spent his early childhood in Richmond before moving to New York. "Sent shivers down my spine just to think he was part of such a big deal."
Owens couldn't wait to call his grandfather.
"Well, I was real excited about that," said Richard H. Owens, 87 and soft-spoken, sitting in his Henrico County home the other day, "and to tell you the truth, I don't get excited about too many things."
"He doesn't," confirmed Leelee Owens, his wife of 63 years. "But he wasn't nearly as excited as I was."
They knew the U-505 was in the Chicago museum -- it's the only German submarine in the United States -- but they had no idea Richard's name was engraved in history.
"Highlight of my naval experience," Owens said of the U-505 episode.
I went to talk to Richard Owens about freedom for our ongoing series of vignettes this week about freedom and the Fourth of July. But his personal U-505 story, a sweet anecdote framed by a true battle for independence, seemed to beg for something more, so here we are.
Owens was a radioman, gunner and radar operator who flew in torpedo planes searching for German U-boats that represented a danger to military vessels as well as cargo ships. Assigned to the carrier USS Guadalcanal, Owens had flown a predawn mission on June 4, 1944 -- he still has his flight book -- off the coast of Africa. He returned to the Guadalcanal for breakfast, and a short while later one of the carrier's destroyer escorts, the USS Chatelain, made sonar contact with a German sub and soon blasted it out of hiding with depth-charges.
It was the U-505.
The timing was fortunate for the Guadalcanal, Owens said.
"If he hadn't been detected," he said, "we were right in line for a torpedo."
The sub and its crew debilitated, members of the Naval task force made history: becoming the first U.S. sailors to board and seize an enemy warship -- and its secrets -- since the War of 1812. The code books and other materials confiscated by the Americans made the seas safer for the rest of the war.
"It was a BIG deal," Owens said.
The crew of the Guadalcanal celebrated and began towing the U-505 to Bermuda. The next morning, Owens said, the sub was gone.
"The line had parted during the night and whoever was supposed to be watching didn't watch very well," said Owens, who came home to work as a mechanic and service manager for a power equipment company. "We just retraced the passage back to it, and there it was, just sitting there. Then we took off with it again."
A seagoing tug eventually took over for the Guadalcanal and towed the sub to Bermuda. The museum arranged for the U-505 to be brought to Chicago, where it was dedicated as a war memorial. The sub has been refurbished and is housed in a climate-controlled hall where visitors like Richard Owens' grandson and his great-grandchildren can walk through it.
Owens' 8-year-old great-grandson was quite taken to see his great-grandfather's name on the museum glass -- and his own. He's also named Richard, but he was a little confused.
He thought his great-grandfather's real name was "Pappy."
Films of the capture of U-505
Capture of U-505
Raw footage of capture of U-505