“In the Footsteps of Bud Owens”


During the annual reunion of the 8th Air Force Historical Society and the Air Forces Escape and Evasion Society there was a talk by the WWII historian Warren Carah and video entitled “In the Footsteps of Bud Owens”.  The video is on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMNu1qkm01o.  It commemorates the experiences of Staff Sgt. Francis “Bud” Owens, waist gunner on a B-17, who was shot down July 4, 1943 and attempted the crossing of the Pyrenees. Traveling with Owens in the first part of his evasion was the pilot of his B-17, Olof M. Ballinger.

Participating in a commemorative trek beginning in July 2015 at the crash site in Normandy and following Bud Owens’ route, were

  • Owens’ niece, Colleen Brennan
  • Owens’ great-niece, Hayley Hulbert
  • Normandy Battlefield Guide Geert van den Bogaert
  • Two members of the present 381st Training Group, Capt. Luke Oman and Staff Sgt. Troy Cahoon
  • Sam Soderberg of the Air National Guard
  • Louis Hatet, great grandson of a member of the Resistance

Instrumental in researching Owens’ experiences was WWII historian Warren B. Carah, author of “Tragedy in the Pyrenees — The High Cost of Freedom“, which provides further details on what happened to Owens and the other airmen.

Mr. Carah also narrates much of the You Tube video.  Members of the families that helped Owens, who were children at the time, are interviewed and show mementoes they had kept relating to the evaders who stayed with them.  The photography is of good quality.  Moved south to Paris, the airmen were passed on to the Burgundy Network.  After a long stay in Paris, they were taken by train to the town of St. Girons at the foot of the Pyrenees.  English-language subtitles are used for portions of the video that are in French.  When the commemorative trek begins the crossing of the Pyrenees, a guide explains the system of signals that would warn of German patrols.

Bud Owens saved the lives of two other American airmen during WWII but perished in the Pyrenees.  Final scenes are at his gravesite in Belgium.

Keith Janes, in his Conscript Heroes website, quotes Warren Carah as saying:

“S/Sgt Francis Owens was one of the bravest men I have ever researched. Earlier in the war he was decorated for saving the life of a fellow airmen when he dashed out and dragged a wounded man away from a bomb loading accident scene with explosions going off everywhere. Later during the bomb run on Le Mans that saw his plane being shot to pieces, Owens went forward to the radio room and dragged out an unconscious fellow crewman and then dragged him the length of the plane to the rear door, pulled the parachute release, and pushed him out to insure he would not go down with the plane. It was only then that Owens put on his own parachute and left the plane. Owens was never officially recognized for that effort, but his family now knows, as does the family of the radioman he saved.”

The trek begins at the crash site.

Mr. Carah is also the author of Achtung! Achtung!  Die Flugfestungen Kommen!: Attention! Attention! the Flying Fortresses Are Coming: Memoirs of WWII, available from Amazon, AbeBooks, and Barnes&Noble.

For further information on Owens, see two articles in the newsletter of the Air Forces Escape and Evasion Society:

  • “Tragedy in the Pyrenees Mountains”, Winter 2006-07 issue, pp. 5-6, Communications, on this website.
  • “Documentary Retraces Serviceman’s Fatal Trek Through the Pyrenees”, by Torsten Ove, Pittsburg Post-Gazette, July 20, 2016, pp. Winter 2016 Communications, pp. 21-23, on this website.