By Fort Campbell CourierNovember 16, 2010
Nearly every morning, Soldiers and faculty of McAuliffe Hall encounter a national treasure. They know him simply as Bill Owens, retired Soldier and long-time friend of the Fort Campbell community.
"Bill is just the nicest guy," said Maj. Matthew J. Fox. "He sends cookies to Soldiers overseas and here to the office, brings breakfast to people. He's become a permanent part of this place."
The daily gifts of homemade cookies and other baked goods go back decades.
"I started bringing the cookies up here back in the 1980s, when General Petraeus was still here at Fort Campbell," said Owens. "It's my way of showing them that I appreciate what they do. These Soldiers do an outstanding job, and I am proud of each and every one of them."
Owens is happy to share his love of cooking and baking, skills that he acquired from his mother and his wife, with just about anybody he meets. It is this knack for making easy friends and being a top-notch communicator that made him an invaluable asset during his many years of service in the U.S. Army.
"I first joined the service in February of 1954. I did my basic at Fort Gordon. After that I went to Fort Lee, and then on to Korea," said Owens.
Owens' specialized in protocol and communications, spending the majority of his career in the Defense Language Institute. Because of his unique talents, he had the opportunity to work with and take care of hundreds of VIPs and high-ranking officers throughout his service.
"He's been an NCO aide for a lot of the big guys, from General William Westmoreland in Vietnam to General Petraeus," said Fox.
When President Kennedy visited Germany in 1963, the summer of the famous "Ich bein ein Berliner" speech, it was Owens and his men who were tasked with taking care of communications for the trip.
Ask anyone who's worked with him, and they'll tell you that Owens would be chosen for tasks such as these because he was a man who could get the job done. Even though he was efficient, he managed to carry out his duties with kindness. In a letter of recommendation, Col. M.K. Ashby recommended Owens for promotion in light of his "courtesy, efficiency and snappiness of character."
A jack of all trades, Owens had a variety of other jobs in the military. He held duties in supply and logistics, he ran a mess hall and was a celebrated cook and bartender.
"While in Korea, I was taking a company commander and XO up to the DMZ line. Across the way were about five North Koreans, and all I had on me was a .45. After getting out of that mess, I reported back to my company commander and said 'Sir, I understand that guys coming out of the motorpool make good cooks. Well, that's where I want to go.' It probably saved my life," laughed Owens.
Owens' military career can be clearly marked by an abundance of awards, bronze stars and letters of sincere appreciation.
"I've probably gotten awards from every place I've been, ever since I was just a buck sergeant in Germany," said Owens. "I've always worked hard to get the job done and done right. When that work is recognized, it makes me feel good."
In spite of a busy military career, Owens managed to find time to become a Family man. His first marriage brought him two children, Davan and Pam. It was after this marriage ended that he found himself back in his hometown of Wise, Va. While at the library one day, he noticed a pretty librarian named Janice. He may have been interested, but she did not make things easy for him.
"This was back in 1965, when I was drinking and raising hell," remembers Owens. "Janice made it very clear that she wanted nothing to do with that stuff. I had to quit drinking for a full 30 days before she'd even go out with me!"
Owens cleaned up, which he said turned out to be a most beneficial decision. Eventually, he and Janice were married and had two children, Bill Jr. and Lisa. He gives her most of the credit for the success he had during his military career. This April, the couple will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.
"I called my brother-in-law the other day, and we were talking about the wedding anniversary," said Owens. "He said to me, 'We all made a bet back then that you two wouldn't last two years!' I'm happy to say that we proved them wrong."
As he took care of so many people as a Soldier, Owens now devotes a great deal of time to caring for Janice, who is now disabled.
"Sometimes she feels bad about it, but I tell her there's no need," said Owens. "I told her, 'When I was in the Army, you took care of the kids and our home. I had a pressed uniform and spit-shined shoes every morning. Now it's our turn to take care of you. We owe you this.' And I do owe her. I wouldn't be where I am today if not for her."
At 75 years of age, Owens doesn't let anything slow him down. He can still be found at events for retirees or delivering his own brand of home-baked appreciation to Soldiers of all ages and ranks.
"Fort Campbell has been outstanding to me," said Owens. "We have outstanding Soldiers today. From private all the way up, these men and women do an amazing job."
One thing is for sure: the respect and appreciation Bill Owens feels for this community is completely mutual.
"We love having him around here," said Fox. "He's pretty much been adopted by just about every commanding general we have at Fort Campbell."