The Last WWII Survivor of the Battle for Attu Needs Your Help

In 1942 Max (Bud) Owen, aged 17, had just graduated from high school in Kodiak, Alaska.

WWII was raging in Europe and bolstered by their success at Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Japan was intent on taking Alaska. The thousand-mile Aleutian Island chain was their intended invasion route. In response, the U.S military began preparing for war in the North Pacific, including building fortifications on Kodiak Island, which American planners believed was a likely target.

In June 1942, the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor, only 500 miles west of Kodiak, and captured two of Alaska’s western-most Aleutian Islands, Kiska and Attu. U.S. military commanders realized Japan had to be stopped before they invaded the U.S. mainland.

Meanwhile, Bud Owen was inducted into the US Army and was issued a uniform and a rifle. There was no time for basic training. He and 15,000 fellow GIs were soon aboard troop ships secretly headed for Attu, 1,400 miles west of Kodiak Island.

The seas were rough, but they eventually reached Attu and on May 11, 1943, attacked the Japanese invaders.  The Japanese, dug into tunnels and caves, were prepared to fight to the end. “Those steep snow-covered mountains and knee-deep mud in the valleys made fighting very tough.” Owen recalls.

The Japanese refused to surrender and after weeks of fighting, Owen was assigned to a squad to root out the last of the Japanese from their tunnels. As the youngest, and likely strongest member of the squad, Owen packed a 75-pound flamethrower up a steep mountainside. When the enemy suddenly charged out of a tunnel with rifles blazing, Owen, forgetting the extra weight on his back, dove headfirst into the nearest foxhole, knocking himself unconscious.

The Japanese overran the foxhole and left him for dead. Later, with the Japanese defeated and bodies being collected by the Americans, Owen and his Bible were found and carried down the mountain. He awoke aboard a ship with his head bandaged and his jaw broken and wired shut.

Almost a 1,000 U.S. soldiers died in the Battle for Attu. Another 3,000 were sick or wounded. Nearly 3,000 Japanese were killed or committed suicide. Only a handful surrendered.

After the Battle of Attu, Owen served in the China-India-Burma theater. In September 1945 he was deep in the jungle when he learned that the war was over. There were no more convoys, so he walked and rode elephants, camels, trucks, and trains hundreds of miles back to Calcutta where, he boarded a troop ship to New York. He was discharged on his 21st birthday.

Like many WWII veterans, Bud never spoke about the war until eight decades later when his oldest son, Marty, also an Army veteran, asked about the dental bridge in his father’s mouth. Bud told Marty about his experiences on Attu and how an Army dentist had repaired his jaw after the battle.

Eighty years later, Bud is the last known survivor of the Battle of Attu. When interviewed recently by the Japanese public TV channel NHK, he was asked, “How did you feel about the Japanese soldiers that you were fighting?” Giving the question careful thought, he responded, “I’ve spent 80 years trying to forget and forgive. Let’s let it be.”

Bud is now 98. He raised five children and outlived two wives. He is a survivor, but he needs 24/7 care. The basics of life are difficult, and his needs are beyond what his family can continue to provide. The 2008 recession ravaged his savings but his family hopes that he can celebrate his 100th birthday in his 120-year-old home near Tacoma, Washington.

Thanks be to God he still has his wits about him. He loves to play bridge and cribbage. He enjoys music and sporting events. He played ping pong well into his 90s. He is much respected and loved.

Donations will be used to pay caregivers and help him live out his years at home.

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