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Citizens in WWII

Vern O. Echelberger

Three Campaigns in as many Months

for Dows and Fort Dodge Marines

Lt. James C. Dickerson of Fort Dodge and Vern O. Echelberger of Dows, marine veterans of three Pacific campaigns in as many months. Are here (pictured in article) after assault on Morotai in the Halmahera islands. Echelberger killed the first Jap in the Morotai landing. 

Dateline: By Sgt Harold A. Beard, Marine Corps Combat Correspondent 

Somewhere in the Pacific (Delayed) Two Iowa Marines, veterans of three Pacific campaigns in 91 days, Philippines, recently returned to this American base for a breather before taking their next crack at the Japs.

They are Lt. James C. Dickerson 23, of Fort Dodge, and Corporal Vern O. Echelberger, 20 of Dows. 

Both Iowans are members of a third marine division assault signal unit which assisted the army in establishing the Leyte beachhead. They directed carrier borne navy fliers in close bombing and strafing support of our ground forces. Dickerson was impressed on Leyte by huge stores of American tires, motor vehicles and canned goods abandoned by fleeing Japanese. 

"It was like a used car dealer's dream come true." he said, " The vehicles looked like 1940, and 1941 models; Fords, Plymouths and Mack Trucks filled a dispersal area. One warehouse was full of American made tires and another contained an abundance of American canned goods of all kinds." 

American troops attained their invasion-day objective with almost no resistance," Dickerson related. We found several places where the Japs had started to dig-in, but they had pulled out ahead of us. Our superiority of manpower and equipment must have frightened them." 

Bags Jap

Echelberger bagged a Jap as he hit the beach at Morotai, in the Halmahera islands, prior to the Leyte assault. 

"We heard some firing to our right," he said, "I spotted a Jap in a tree about 30 yards away, I fired three times with my carbine. He tumbled to the ground." 

Resistance on Morotai was slight. The Japs fell back there as soon as our troops moved in. 

"My most exciting moment at Leyte," said Echelberger, "occurred during the landing. The Japs raked the ramp of our landing boat with machine fire just before it was let down for us to go ashore." 

Echelberger had another close call during the Guam Campaign. He dug a foxhole behind his radio jeep. During the night a Jap mortar shell exploded nearby and punctured three tires. The Iowa marine was uninjured. 

Stepping Stone

Their marine unit was withdrawn on the seventh day of the Leyte battle when they turned over their work to army personnel they had trained. It was their third campaign in 91 days. Previously they had participated in the taking of Guam, and assisted the army in seizing Morotai, final aerial stepping stone to the Philippines. 

Lieutenant Dickerson' parents are Mr. and Mrs. J. C. Dickerson, 1116 4th Ave North, Fort Dodge. His wife Kathleen, and their five-month-old son James III, live at the Archer apartments in Fort Dodge. 

Corporal Echelberger is the son of Mr. and Mrs. A. O. Echelberger of Dows. 

(From the Fort Dodge Messenger in 1944 and contributed by Mel Echelberger.) 

John Owen, Sr.

Fort Dodger Pilots Biggest Transport Plane to England

Trip Made Via Brazil and Africa

Piloting a C-46, the army's biggest transport plane, Flight Officer John Owen has landed in England after a flight via Brazil and north Africa. In letters to his wife, who is living in Cedar Rapids, and to his mother, Mrs. Lulu Owen, the 23-year-old flier gives a graphic account of the trip.

A telephone call Dec. 23 from Newark, N.J., informed relatives he was ready to leave. His first letter en route was dated Jan. 1 and on Jan. 22 he wrote of his arrival in England where he missed seeing his cousin Pvt. Donn Richey, who was transferred to France shortly before. Pvt. Richey, son of Mr. and Mrs. V.L. Richey, is with a photographic mail unit.

En route to England, Owen's plane was delayed a few days in the Caribbean area, of which he wrote enthusiastically, where repairs where made.

At 10,000 Feet

"We're flying at 10,000 feet on the mainland of South America." he wrote a day or later. "Have been flying over the top of a lot of weather and over the densest jungle in the world. I can very easily see why we were given all that equipment. Weather here is bad with the tropical rain and storms. we have been flying on but should break out soon. Started taking atabrine today to suppress malaria and last night we started sleeping under nets."

On Jan. 5 the plane was flying over Brazil at 9,000 feet.

" Yesterday we crossed the equator and the Amazon river. Boy! The jungle
down there is really terrific. The ocean and coastline are very beautiful."

At the post exchange where the crew stopped, Flight Officer Owen purchased some gifts for his wife and mother, real silk hose, alligator purse and French perfume.

On Jan 9, the plane stopped at a Brazilian city he could not name but where he was granted a pass.

The morning of Jan.12 he wrote of his arrival in Liberia he said, "The county isn't as dense as in South America. We crossed the equator again and are still within a stone's throw of the ocean."

Owen's next stop was in Senegal, West Africa, then French Morocco.

"Still in Africa," but not identifying his location, he met two 
Fort Dodge Officers, Irving Wogenson and George Antolik.

Wogenson he said, is flying C-47s in the troop carrier command, Lt. Antolik, with the air transport command, was on a flight from his base at Dallas, Tex.

Flight Officer Owen also met "all along the line fellows, who were with me in Dallas" (where Owen completed training for duty with the air transport command after two years of giving instruction to army and navy aviation cadets.

At Navy Base

In French Morocco, Flight Officer Owen put the plane down "at a little navy base because of bad weather. They are real nice to us here and the food is exceptionally good compared to what we've been getting. We stayed in town last night and slept on an innerspring mattress and had hot showers for a change."

The town, he continued, is a French tourist resort but "just behind the tourist part is the same native village, dirty and smelly."

In Senegal, Owen's plane is grounded again by bad weather and he and his crew took a Red Cross tour through the city. "From the air it looked fairly cosmopolitan. That's strictly from the air. It's just as dirty as it can be and I couldn't describe all the different smells."

"The shops were mostly all open except for a few and there was a big market right in the middle of town where they sold fish, fruit and trinkets. You can imagine how a truckload of dead, uncleaned fish, over-ripened fruit and hundreds of barefooted natives could smell. I tried to take a few pictures of them there."

Beg for Cigarets

Of the Sengalese, Owen said: "Young and old, they all pester the heck out of us for cigarets, gum or candy. They have real fights over a cigaret butt."

"They call all the Americans Joe and even the wee babies yell 'Hi, Joe.' One little fellow we call Joe, too, and he was our translator. He could speak a little English, so we gave him a cigaret and he was our buddy."

"His head was shaved and over his right ear was a star where the hair grew, then over
his left ear was a V and down the middle of his head a design that look like a feather."
(Owen made a drawing down the margin of his letter to picture the design.)

"The women have half of their heads shaved and more queer hairdresses."

High class women of French Morocco all had their faces covered, Owen wrote. "The men still wear the long dress-like affair, only this time with hoods," He continued.

In Senegal, the dress was similar, "Long gown-like things, all colors." Some wear sandals, although most of them go barefooted, he said.


Owen took some pictures of a native village on the beach. "The women seem very bashful and they hide or turn their faces if they see a camera. For $.50 you can take their picture with their pickaninnies—I guess their modesty is strictly commercial."

On Jan.22, he wrote: We are now over here in merry old England. We had
a rather tough trip up. Flew most of the night, and were pretty well worn out.

"I was looking forward to England-mail, clean beds and food, but what a blow I got. Our quarters are the worst we had.

"Yesterday we flew inland and delivered our plane. Jumped on a train and came right down to London. We got a nice hotel room, hot water and a big, soft, warm bed, which sure looked good-also a square meal, which was our second in three days, so our impression of England has changed somewhat.

"The country here is very pretty. Everything is covered with snow but I'll bet in the summer the coloring is beautiful.

"Naturally I am very disappointed not to see Donn. And also we received NO mail. I don't know how long we will be here, as we are waiting for transportation now." 


News of Our Men and Women in Uniform


Now at a base in deep eastern China not far from the Jap front, Flight Officer John Owen of Fort Dodge has been assigned to an air transport squadron which is working with a bombardment group.

 For this new assignment in a combat cargo unit, he is on detached service from the air transportation command.

 He is still flying a C-46, the same type ship in which he made a flight to England via South America and Africa before going to the Asiatic theater.

 Writing Feb 24 to his wife, who is living in Cedar Rapids, and his mother Mrs. Lulu Owen, the pilot said he had not yet started flying and didn't expect to for a few days.

 "They have a bunch of pilots here now and they can't take care of all of us at once. I'll get to fly some co-pilot trips before I start out as pilot."

 His new assignment he describes as "nothing to worry about, because all past records are good and the future looks even better.

"We won't have such awful bad weather, like in India,
and I guess we'll get very little Hump flying.

"Up until now, fellows were getting home in six or seven months but I believe they won't let us fly so much any more. I'll still be home for Christmas (I hope).

 "This unit is small and mobile,so I may be moving from time to time."

 Of this present base, he said: "I think probably you've seen pictures of this place in papers and magazines, or perhaps the newsreels. Remember where all the collies built runways of crushed rock and then hundreds of them pulled a big roller? Well, this is one of those places.

 "It's pretty cold here, too. We are required to wear our winter uniforms but at night it's almost too cold to be in a jacket.

 "One nice thing, there are no malaria mosquitoes around here, so we don't have to sleep under nets.

 "I was fortunate to get a tent, with cots and besides I have got some sort of mattress. There were several of us moved down here and some of them haven't cots or mattresses.

 "I was glad to get out of India, out of Chabua and the land of sacred cows, great big hawks, and bamboo and grass huts full of mice and birds that look and sound like parrots.

 "We slept under nets at Chabua and mice ran all over the outside of our nets at night."

 The people he has seen in China he described as "very strange and seem more backward than any other place I've been. There are a lot of collies around digging diches, carring water for our showers in five-gallon buckets on yolks and they look just like pictures you see of them.

"The women have their feet bound and it looks as if they are walking on pegs."

"This is really ancient China. Big hairy water buffaloes pull carts with big wooden wheels over streets of flat rocks.

 "Buildings are like you see in pictures, with turned up roof corners and carved scroll work. The town itself enclosed by a big stone wall, is real small and, except in a little suburb is very dirty and run down. There is a little boom town just off the field, where we stopped for supper and had some Chinese chicken and French fries.

 "The food cost us 1500 yen, about three dollars in American money. The money here is practically worthless. I'll enclose a 100-yen bill equal to about 20 cents in our money."

 In his Feb. 24 letter, he told of recieving mail from his wife and mother, postmarked early that month-the first mail he had had in more than two months. 

Learn To Fly In Civilian Pilot Training Class Here

Members of Class: Ellis Eno, Kenneth Clark and H.L. Bloxom, instructors; Dean Cummings, Claude Wood, Robert Patterson, John Owen, Birdie Swan (the only female), Robert DeLanoit, Jim Dickerson, Fred Muhl, Dale Johnson, Dale Cummings, Jack Nau, Bob Rose, Pete Alger, Dwight Mace, Gerald Whittemore 

Fifteen young Fort Dodgers this week began a civilian pilot's training course under the program the Civil Aeronautics authority is sponsoring in American Colleges and universities.

 The local course is offered through Fort Dodge junior college with H.Lynn of the high school faculty in charge of the ground school and Ellis Eno and Kenneth Clark, Fort Dodge pilots, as flying instructors.

 The class is made up of 14 young men and one girl. The 15 members passed a stiff physical examination and began their ground course Monday.

 All of the students have had a year or more of college study.

 The members of the class and their colleges and universities are:

 Claude Wood, John Owen, Birdie Swan, Bob DeLanoit, Dale Johnson, Jack Nau, Bob Patterson, and Pete Alger of Fort Dodge junior college; Dean and dale Cummings and Gerald Whittemore of Iowa State college; Jim Dickerson, Fred Muhl and Dwight Mace of the University of Iowa, and Bob Rose of the University of Indiana.

 The course calls for 72 hours of ground school and 35 hours of flying instruction. Classes in the ground school are being held at the high school each morning with Bloxom in charge. Eno and Clark will give the flying instruction at the Eno airport.

 The course will take about eight weeks. At its conclusion, the students will be ready to take their private pilot's examination.

 All expenses of the course are borne by the federal government.

 Both the ground school and flying instruction are thorough in their coverage. The class will study the history of aviation, civil air regulations, navigation, meteorology, parachute theory, aircraft and the theory of flight, engines, instruments and radio uses and forms.

 Actual flying will be taught to the students in ships that are considered models of safety by instructor who have had long experience in flight training 




John Owen, son of Mrs. Lulu Owen, is chief instructor for the United States naval aviation cadets at Yankton, S.D. He has been at the South Dakota field since July and recently was the subject of the following article in the Yankton Dakotan:

 "With the development of flight activities in Yankton since the dedication of the municipal airport last June 14, there has been a considerable turnover of flight instructors as engaged by the Bierman Flying Service for the training of U.S.naval aviation cadets, but one of those pilots who has been with the local operation nearly all that time is John Owen, who came last July.

 "Owen, like a number of local pilots, began his flight career in Iowa...Fort Dodge, to be exact. He took primary Civilian Pilot Training there in 1940 under Ellis Eno, now lieutenant colonel in the U.S army who until recently was commandant at the Rapid City air base.

 "Before taking his secondary CPT training, Owen attended Fort Dodge junior college and Coe college at Cedar Rapids, majoring in mathematics for the study of aeronautical engineering. Art Kroening, now chief test pilot at Kelly field, was Owen's secondary instructor at Cedar Rapids. Later, he took cross-country instruction under Meryl L. Terry, former CAA resident flight supervisor here. An instructor's refresher course at Cedar Rapids brought Owen his CAA instructor's rating in July of 1942.

 "Before coming to Yankton he taught flying at Waterloo and Esterville, Iowa. He holds CAA ground school ratings in meteorology, aircraft and navigation, and now has 1400 flying hours to his credit. 

Note: These are articles written about John Owen Sr, born in 1921. They appeared in the Fort Dodge Messenger and Chronicle, and were submitted by his son, John D Owen Jr.

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