Navy Band Great Lakes (NBGL) traveled three hours south to the small town of Chillicothe, Illinois to assist in the dedication ceremony of their post office building to a fellow shipmate. Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens enlisted in the Navy in 1998 after graduating from Illinois Valley Central High School in Chillicothe, where he joined the Navy and was eventually assigned to the Navy SEALs. Senior Chief Owens gave the ultimate sacrifice during his final deployment in Yemen on January 29, 2017.
“He is from my hometown and went to my high school,” said Lt. Patrick Hill, director of NBGL. “These aren’t the kinds of jobs that we ‘enjoy’ doing, but there is nothing more sacred than honoring a fallen shipmate and his family.”
Owens was posthumously promoted to Senior Chief a week after his death and awarded the Silver Star for actions during a three-day battle in Somalia in July 2015, in which he led a 12-man team alongside African forces against 400 Al Qaeda militants. His citation states that he was ambushed with “small arms, machine guns, anti-aircraft guns, rocket propelled grenades, mortars, and improvised explosive devices” and that he “repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire,” helping eventually secure the town that had been under militant control for 10 years. Senior Chief was buried in the Arlington National Cemetery. He is survived by his wife and three children.
“I would like to thank the extended family and friends in attendance today for coming from near and far to support the kids and I,” said Carryn Owens, wife of the honoree. “The constant phone calls and messages from everyone have helped me immensely in the last year and a half since his passing.”
According to Mrs. Owens, Senior Chief had last visited the town in the year of 2016 when he drove in from a training exercise in Chicago he was participating in to visit his parents’ graves, both of which he hadn’t seen since losing their respective battles to cancer and spent time with his grandmother who most recently passed in April of 2018. To Carryn, Senior Chief Owens showed immense love and pride for his hometown and passion for his dream of becoming a Navy SEAL.
“He was one of those humble warriors you will never read a book or see a movie about because he lived it,” she said. “His career and those of his teammates who were by his side, many of whom are still fighting for our freedoms, are the story you will never hear.”
After speaking about him for a bit, Carryn spoke to guests and family members about the last time she heard from her husband. He called her a couple days before departure and sent an email the night before he left. She tearfully recited the last email he sent and the atmosphere was solemn.
“It was nice to hear you happy yesterday. I know these times are tough with me gone and everything, but it will get better when I get home. I will be out of touch for a few days, but I want you to know that I love you and will call/email you when I get back to my old location. Tell the kids that I love them and I am unbelievably proud of all that they do. I am excited to be home with us a family and look forward to the future. I’m getting out. I love you, see you in a few weeks.”
Upon finishing the email, small cries and teary eyes from could be seen and heard from guests, family members and service members in attendance as they all took a moment to grieve. When she could speak again, Carryn finished her speech with personal insight.
No one will ever understand what the kids and I lost, and having felt it this past year and a half, it is a sacrifice I would never make again,” she said. “So please don’t forget the sacrifice of Memorial Day because it is not a happy day, it’s a solemn one, and there are families that gave up their entire world, for this country.”
After the speeches were complete, the family and post office officials unveiled the sign for the building. In addition to the building, the portion of Route 29 through Chillicothe will be renamed the “Senior Chief Petty Officer William ‘Ryan’ Owens Memorial Highway” and named the day in the town in his honor.