A plaque in memory of Patrick J. Owens, a historian who meticulously chronicled the development and achievements of Picatinny Arsenal, was unveiled at a ceremony on Aug. 16 in front of the site of the former Picatinny Arsenal Museum.
Owens, who passed away on Feb. 12, 2022, served as historian from 1988 until 2016 for the organization previously known as the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC).
Owens seemed to always have the answer to any history questions related to Picatinny Arsenal, providing it within a short amount of time if not immediately. His knowledge of archival materials reaching back to the founding of the Arsenal in 1880 was unparalleled.
With his countless historical presentations in the community and installation tours over the years, Owens came to be closely identified with Picatinny, almost an alter ego of sorts.
His memory and contributions were celebrated by friends, family, and co-workers who attended the ceremony. A native of Boston, Massachusetts, Owens served in the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam. He was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in combat while attempting to save a fellow Soldier from an explosive device.
At the recent ceremony, principle remarks were provided by Anthony J. Sebasto, Acting Director of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Armaments Center, which was previously known as ARDEC.
“I know he (Patrick) worked very hard to record Picatinny history, and to make it available for the next generation,” Sebasto said. “It is unfortunate that the museum closed. That bothered Patrick immensely. But when the museum closed, he didn’t stop making sure that there was a place to share our history. Patrick set about writing a book. It is the definitive history of Picatinny Arsenal.”
Owens obtained his doctorate degree in history at the University of Notre Dame in 1976. His articles appeared in the Encyclopedia of New Jersey History, The Heritage Review, and Social Science Docket.
In January 1993, Picatinny Arsenal’s newspaper, “The Voice,” started publishing a regular column by Owens entitled “Looking Back…at Picatinny.” Each article related information about a significant or interesting fact about the Arsenal’s past.
Owens wrote more than 1,000 articles, but perhaps his most notable achievement was a book he wrote just before his retirement, a parting gift of his extensive knowledge for future generations.
“Picatinny: The First Century” is a broad and penetrating history of Picatinny Arsenal, a project that required years of diligent effort and dedication to his craft.
“To write that book involved extensive research, piecing together information from numerous sources in order to build an understanding of what happened and in what context,” Sebasto said. “He worked on it for years. He built it literally brick by brick. He did it for us. We should know the history of this place. It is important.”