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Owen Koch
War: WWII
Branch: Marine Corps
Unit: 4th Marine Division
Birth Year: March 8, 1925
Decorations/Citations: Presidential Unit Citation

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Owen enlisted in the Marine Corps in January of 1943, because he did not want to be drafted and join the army. Joining him were three friends who all wanted to serve together. They could not guarantee this and as it turned out, each one went into a different service (Army, Navy, Army Air, and Marines).

After enlisting, he took the train to San Diego for boot camp in May of 1943. He was shipped out in February 1944 to the Marshall Islands with the 2nd battalion, 4th marine division.

His company was a “joint assault signal company” that was responsible for ship to shore communications. He was a telephone man who carried the wire and switchboard to set up these points, mainly for the command posts. Though radio was more widely used, the telephone was also a way they communicated between posts or ship-to-shore. He often laid line and operated the switchboard during combat, including machine gun fire.

One problem they encountered often was their own tanks would run over and damage previously laid wire. Owen was generally on the front lines in the command post.

One thing he remembers most was when he landed on the beach in 1944 next to a marine and as he turned to ask if he was ok he noticed the man had been decapitated. The experience drove home the reality of war. Just after that, one of their block houses blew up and he was hit by burning shrapnel. He was burned so he was taken to the medical tent. There he was bandaged, but he refused a purple heart because the man next to him had lost a leg and he didn’t think it was fair to receive an award for his own small injury in comparison to the other soldier.

He landed at night on the island of Tinnion to set up a command post. He was on switchboard duty one night until 2:00 when he was relieved. He and two others dug a fox hole to sleep in. Within five minutes of its completion, an artillery shell hit the tree near them. The other two men were hit, and one was killed. The man that had taken his place at the switchboard had been killed as well. The tarp was only free of scarring where he had been laying.

Owen received a Presidential Unit Citation when the 4th division took Saipan. This unit would also later take Iwo Jima, but by that time he was in the hospital. In August of 1944 he became ill, and went to army hospital. He had Ludwig’s Angina, an inflammation of the right mandible joint. He had to have a tracheotomy, and was in the hospital from October through March, during which time he had 144 shots of penicillin. He then went back to rest camp on Maui.

When he came back they began training for the intended invasion of Japan. The plan was to land on the first Japanese island in March of 1946.

He returned in October and was discharged on November 19th 1945. After his discharge he stayed with his mother. He met a girl in 1942, prior to his service, who worked in a restaurant on State Street in Ann Arbor. They wrote each other during the war, and she was proud that he went. They got married in 1947, had 11 children together, and are still married today. He worked at an optical business after the war. He started as a messenger boy delivering glasses. He would later open his own business called Quarry Optical, which later became Richardson’s optical. He sold the business in 1990 and retired.

Owen believes that “once a marine, always a marine”, and is a member of the Marine Corps League of Washtenaw county.