Jim Owen: 'They Were Models of Real Marines'
Jim Owen looks back on the two lieutenants who left a lasting impact on his life through their fearlessness and faithfulness to their duties.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the interviewee. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
PBS: During your journey, you tell Ann that you looked up to both Lt. Rice and Lt. Coffeen — that they helped shape who you are today — and we later learn that your son, who is also a Marine, did as well. He said if he ever became an officer, that’s the kind of officer he’d want to be in a combat situation.
What has it been like to see your son follow in your footsteps as well as the two men who inspired you during your own time in the military?
Jim Owen: As I learned at home and in the Corps to be a real man and to do my duty faithfully, it was gratifying to see that my son learned these same lessons. As a result it has helped make him the fine man that he is today. These lessons were taught by Lts. Coffeen and Rice to my son even through the event in Korea as I related it to him. I did not even know it.
PBS: Can you tell us more about how Lt. Rice and Lt. Coffeen’s impact on you influenced your service as a pastor?
Jim: I cannot say that they impacted my ministry directly; that was more of a spiritual matter. However, the lessons learned from them were later lived out in my life in the ministry. Three areas in which these two officers affected my later ministry are:
1. They were faithful men. As they were always faithful to do the job assigned them, so I learned that l too must also be faithful. They set the example early on in my life. People’s lives are at stake both in war, and in civilian life.
2. They were fearless men. They never let the dangers of combat keep them from their assigned duties. Their example was the standard for me, a young man who had no dad to model that attribute. People in a church need such a model in the pulpit.
3. They were models of real Marines in their daily conduct. As I could look at these two men as standards in Marine conduct, so I must model the conduct of a Christian at all times.
In all three of these areas of life I was privileged to have been taught by two heroes for a few months, and they were quite unaware of it.
PBS: When you see your personnel file for the first time at a national archive in Maryland, a report about you reads, “He’s an excellent section leader and could easily handle the position of gunnery sergeant.” You’re surprised to hear this about yourself.
Can you tell us more about this and any other surprises you faced during this journey? What is the most important thing that you have taken away from your time researching and revisiting this part of your history?
Jim: When I saw my fitness report I was surprised at the good marks and the recommendation for promotion for I never even thought I was that good. But, in the Corps, that is a very important rank, for the Corps rises or falls on the quality of its N.C.O.’s.
The most important thing I learned from the research into my past in the corps was the fact that I did display the character needed to be a good Marine and to be a faithful pastor. That was very gratifying.
PBS: When you meet Lt. Rice’s daughter, she reveals that his grave was marked with “Always a Smile” though later her husband had mentioned that they should have used “Always Protecting” as this was something he was known for throughout his life, including that day you witnessed his courageous acts during the war.
What was going through your mind when you heard this?
Jim: My immediate thought regarding what I thought was most appropriate for Lt. Rice’s grave marker was the Marine Corps motto, Semper Fidelis, Always Faithful. I believe that was the legacy Lt. Rice left his family and this old Marine.