USS Block Island Association

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CVE 21 Memories

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Bill Davis (CVE 21/106)

“I remember very vividly the day of the sinking of CVE 21. I was off duty at the time & was lying in my bunk when the first torpedo hit. I knew what it was, having been on the USS Lexington which took three torpedoes in the Coral Sea battle. I immediately jumped out of my bunk, which was one deck below the hangar deck & headed for the flight deck. We had been informed that if we were ever torpedoed, to abandon ship promptly as the ship would break up quickly. In my haste to get to the fight deck, I forgot my life jacket, which was attached to my bunk. But as I was crossing the hangar deck, I spotted a jacket that someone had apparently dropped. I picked it up & continued to the top. As I got to the flight deck, I could see that the aft end of the ship had already split and was dragging in the water. I immediately headed toward the bow & went down a net that had been lowered into the water. There was already quite a bit of oil in the water & I came up looking like a “tar baby”. I eventually swam far enough out from the ship to stop for a little rest, but was feeling the effects of the depth charges that were being dropped by our forces. I finally got together with a group of other survivors & we were eventually picked up by one of our DE's — I'm not really sure, but I think it was the USS Ahrens. I was in the water for quite some time, but suffered no problems. We were later taken into Casablanca and finally set up ship's company in camel barns but that's another story!”

James Owens (CVE 21)  As told by Jack Greer

In a small farming community in Edinburg Texas there was the Owen Family with three sons and a daughter. This  family had just gone through the "big depression" and while they had deep concerns about the Germans and the Japanese trying to take over a major part of the world their attitude was not unlike over 85% of the general public. That attitude was to avoid  entering into the war and had actually maintained an "isolationists" attitude. On December 7, 1941 that family and the entire nation did "awake" and their actions became a part of history.

James B. Owen was the eldest son and as soon as he was of eligible he enlisted in the United States Navy and his first duty was aboard the USS Block Island CVE 21 serving as a Petty Officer as an airplane captain. His next younger brother Jack Owen had gone to the recruiting station with him to also enlist in the Navy but failed to qualify because of some minor physical problem. However that rejection did not stop Jack from wanting to serve his country so he enlisted in the Army Air Force.
As soon as the youngest brother Odell was of age he also enlisted in the Navy. Three sons and all three in the service to their country determined to stop the Germans and Japanese from rul;ing the world.

James B. Owen lost his life when the USS Block Island CVE 21 was torpedoed by a German submarine in the Atlantic Ocean on May 29, 1944. Because that ship had taken two torpedoes that ripped many of the ships life rafts and life saving gear off it's sponsons there was a great need for additional life vests and flotation materials. Being an airplane captain Jim knew that each airplane remaining there on the decks had small rafts that were made available to the pilots in case they had to ditch or were shot down over the water. Jim and other crew members immediately joined in the task of securing these life saving devices. While Jim was in the cockpit of his airplane a third torpedo struck the ship just below the water line almost immediately under the position of that airplane. The explosion ripped through the hanger deck, lifted the aircraft off the deck and the hole left in the deck was so large that when the airplane fell it went down through to two decks below. Jim Owen was one of the shipmates who lost his life in that sinking.

Jack Owen inspected B-17s in 1944.  Later Jack was transferred to repair work on the B-29s and trained flight personnel who had taken flight positions in combat without technical training. Being transferred to Seattle he trained the aircrews that were being readied for combat over Japan. He served with both the 2nd and 3rd Air Force during WWII.

Odell Owen, the younger brother, was serving on board the USS Arenac transporting military personnel to the Philippines in preparations for the invasion of Japan proper. He was serving on that ship when the Japanese surrendered. He was serving on board the USS Appalachian when the first Bikini Atoll atomic bomb test was made.

The shipmates of the two Block Islands formed an Association back in 1963 and both the younger brothers Jack and Odell joined as associate members attend these yearly reunions.

Just before CVE 21 made that last voyage on submarine patrol Jim Owen had gone on shore leave and was able to visit with his brother Jack. As a memento to his visit he gave his brother a small Ronson cigarette lighter that was made as a Christmas  recognition of  the CVE 21 being at sea on that December Day of 1943 (see photo at right). Little things become such a major cherished item when the "giver" is taken from this earth.


Bob Wolf (CVE 21/106)

“The 29th of May was an exciting day. The ship was preparing for a fun time on the 30th. I was in the Radio shack, sitting at the typewriter making up the roster for the different events that would be taking place on the flight deck the next day. When the torpedo's hit, I was thrown topsy-turvy, not really knowing what had happened but it wasn't long before the third torpedo hit and we were called to abandon ship. I was part of a three man Direction Finder group and of course we were working with classified equipment so I had to head for the room that held our equipment to destroy it and the manuals containing German information. After we did that, Jesse Watson and I headed for the flight deck where they had lines down to the water. Jesse was leery of going into the water and brave me, (ha, ha) said that I would save him. Once in the water, we seemed to get separated and I found myself pulling a raft. Some time after that, I don't know how long, there was an explosion.  It must have been after the ship had sunk far enough for the explosives to go off.  All I know was, it felt like I was given an enema with a telephone pole. I was in the water for about 3 1/2 hours. By the time we got to the Ahrens, it was filled to capacity so we had to continue on to the Paine. I could hardly get up the rope ladder without a lot of assistance. The fellows were great. We had the privilege of washing the oil off of us in salt water, cold at that. Since our clothes were saturated with oil, they were thrown overboard, so we had to sleep in our birthday suits. The crew was so nice; they gave up their bunks to us to sleep in. The next day we went to ship supply and were issued some clothes. I got a pair of long johns, winter wool socks and a pair of size 10 rubbers to wear on my feet. I take a size 8 1/2. We ate well and when we pulled into Casablanca and walked off the ship, we were really a scream and the women on the dock & others really got their laughs. We were glad when we got our Army issue of clothing. It was some experience, but I don't think I would want to go through it again. Nicknames for the Radio Gang: Bob was called Sammy; Jesse Watson was called swivel hips, Bill Connolly was called Slick; McPherson was called Snake.”

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