Monday, May 30, 2011

On a horse, a long way from home

Earlier today, I played Frisbee-golf in the shadow of the Carillon, which was dedicated in 1932 as Virginia's first memorial to World War I veterans. Naturally, I thought of my grandfather, who served his country in that war. He was one of the lucky guys, in that he came home.

In 1916 the fit young men who had already volunteered to be members of the Richmond Light Infantry Blues were dispatched to Brownsville, Texas to watch over the border and chase Mexican bandit/revolutionary Pancho Villa, who had crossed the border to stage a few raids on American soil ... or, so people said. To do the job the Richmonders were quickly converted into a cavalry unit.

My grandfather, Frank W. Owen (1893-1968), seen in the 1916 photo above, was one of those local boys in that Richmond Blues outfit.

Following that campaign, in 1917 the Blues were sent to Fort McClellan, located in the Alabama foothills, near the town of Anniston, for additional training. Then it was across the pond to France to finish off the Great War … the war to end all wars.

Frank Owen grew up in South Richmond in what was then called Manchester. Before his active duty he had mostly made his living as a vocalist. The stories I remember him telling from his years as a soldier were all about his singing gigs, playing football and poker … and various adventures.

Owen is on the right in the photo above. Like other men of his generation, who saw war firsthand, he apparently saw no benefit in talking about the actual horrors he'd seen. At least I never heard such stories. However, he was always quick to point with pride at having been in the Richmond Blues, then seen by many in Richmond as an elite corps.

Eventually, he became a draftsman, then an architect with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway (forerunner to CSX), which was then based here in Richmond. He continued to perform as a soloist, as a studio backup vocalist and in barbershop quartets into his 60s.

Frank Owen believed there was a coward at the heart of every bully. Without hesitation, he depended completely on his own view of life. He passed what he could of that self-reliance on to me. The badge below is from the mid-1950s.

My grandson's middle name is Owen. It's a name he should always wear proudly. A long way from home, almost a century ago, his great-great-grandfather certainly did.

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