By Wendy Hood, Staff Correspondent
Gadsden resident Hubert Owen was born in Birmingham in 1923 to Charles and Sadie Owen.
“I’ve been very fortunate all my life,” said Owen. “God had been good to me, better than I deserve.”
At 93 years old, Hubert Owen has a smile that lights up the room. He has a jolly figure and rosy cheeks and is quick with a laugh. A father to five children and grandfather to nine, he loves to talk about his favorite subject, his family.
“I might be prejudiced, but I think they are just wonderful,” he said.
Owen recalls his childhood days growing up in Birmingham with fondness. His nickname was “Red” because of his bright red hair. He went to work at nine years old as a paperboy for the Birmingham News Post Herald and eventually was promoted to group leader at the circulation office.
Owen credits his mother for introducing him to his future bride, Miss Audrey Ford.
“My mother said to me, ‘Son, I want you to meet my nurse. She’s a fine Christian lady and you need to get to know her.’ My mother was a smart lady,” he said.
In 1943 at the age of 19, Owen was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Fort McClellan in Anniston for basic training. His outstanding physical training caught the eye of the commanding officer, and Owen was offered a position as a trainer. Owen accepted the offer and stayed on at Fort McClellan for over a year before being deployed to active combat in World War II the European Theater in July of 1944 with Company C 30th Infantry.
Owen’s unit moved through the foothills of the Vosges Mountains of northeast France to engage with Germany in the aggressively militarized area of the Rhineland. American troops endured savage fighting in the harsh conditions of rain, snow, ice and mud to push back Nazi forces.
“I was evacuated from the front lines twice,” said Owen. “The first time I was hospitalized for 30 days due to frostbite, then they sent me back to the front.”
The second evacuation occurred in January of 1945. American troops were advancing and came upon a shallow river. The bridge was crushed under the weight of the tanks, forcing the ground troops to wade the river. This put the troops out in the open, and they came under enemy fire and suffered casualties. Owen was spared enemy ammunition but became ill due to gangrene secondary to frostbite in his feet and legs.
Owen was evacuated to a French hospital, where he was told that he would be going home but only after both feet were amputated. Owen persuaded the surgeon to give him a chance to keep his feet.
Owen remembers the doctor telling him, “It’s your life; if you want to take a chance then I’ll go along with you.”
Owen endured multiple surgeries to remove toes but was able to recover without the loss of his feet.
Owen briefly mentions the cost of so many good men who lost their lives in that campaign. Tears fill his eyes and he looks away.
“I was very fortunate,” he repeated.
Owen received multiple decorations and citations for his service, including the Purple Heart, The Bronze Star, WWII American Campaign Medal, WWII Victory Medal, Combat Infantry Badge and others.
After his honorable discharge in September of 1945, Owen returned to Birmingham to resume his position with the Birmingham News Post Herald and his courtship with Audrey. The two married and moved to Gadsden in 1948 for Owen to take the position of circulation manager of the Gadsden branch. Owen eventually went into real estate, opening Owen Realty, a business lasting 50 years.
Owen talks of his wife and children with wistful nostalgia.
“We had a Airstream and we loved to go camping. We went everywhere.”
As he calls off the names of his five children, Owen recounts their achievements. He recalls how Paul “Bear” Bryant came to his home to recruit Owen’s eldest son to play football at the University of Alabama.
“Coach Bryant told Wayne, ‘You’re an Alabama boy and Alabama is a state school, now come on and put on that red jersey and play for me.’”
Owen recalled going by Coach Bryant’s office several years later to thank him for coaching his son. Owen said that the Bear told him to sit down, but Owen refused since he had shown up without an appointment.
“I regretted that later,” said Owen.
Owen was quite active in the community, serving in The Lions Club, The Chamber of Commerce, The Salvation Army Advisory Board, the YMCA, the PTA of Eura Brown and Disque Junior High, and the United Fund, now known as the United Way.
Owen has been a faithful member of First United Methodist Church of Gadsden and continues to attend frequently.