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  • Texas | Columns | "Wandering"

    Writer Saw
    the Goose Creek Light
    in WWII

    by Wanda Orton
    Wanda Orton
    For one shining time during World War II, New Guinea had a Goose Creek, Texas, connection.

    Famed author William A. “Bill” Owens, who taught at Robert E. Lee High School in the 1930s in the Goose Creek school district, mentioned it in a note to former members of the REL class of 1937.

    “On about Oct. 10, 1944,” he wrote, “I landed at dusk in a Martin mariner on Lake Sentani in New Guinea. I shook. We got out of the plane and water and got in a jeep on a jungle road. In the darkness we came upon, an emergency power station was just lighting up. Suddenly the world was all right for me. A sign stood out in the glow: Goose Creek, Texas, Power and Light. My love to the one who put it there and you all.”

    Owens, who served in the intelligence branch of the U.S. Army, also mentioned the Goose Creek sign in an article in the Texas Humanist magazine in the early 1980s. He commented he felt at home when he saw the name Goose Creek, Texas, because he had taught in the Goose Creek district. ”There is always this carrying with you a part of the past,” he said.

    Owens had no idea, at the time, who made and installed the Goose Creek sign, but later learned their names.

    J.B. “Jug” Williams put up the sign, assisted by fellow soldiers George “Moon” Mullens and Floyd Ciruti. All three were from the Goose Creek area, now part of present-day Baytown. The sign-makers made sure they could easily dismantle and take it with them wherever they went, and by the time the war ended, the sign saying “Goose Creek, Texas” had traveled throughout the Philippines.

    No one knows what became of it, but the sign was last seen on Luzon.

    In his note, penned in 1987, to the REL class of ‘37, Owens conveyed his regrets for not being able to attend their 50-year reunion. “Greetings to one and all,” he began. “First to a boy named John, whom I shook in his seat till his teeth rattled and who after the war greeted me at the Night Hawk in Austin.”

    Owens in 1987 was living in Nyack, N.Y., where one of his neighbors was the actress, Helen Hayes. A novelist, folklorist and historian, he was a retired Columbia University English professor. He died in Nyack in 1990.

    In addition to his collections of folklore and four volumes of autobiography, Owens wrote several novels.
    He authored Slave Mutiny: The Revolt of the Schooner Amistad (1953), which several years after his death provided material for the Steven Spielberg film, Amistad (1997).

    When Owens was with the Extension Division of the University of Texas, he recorded folk songs from East Texas to the Mexican border and worked closely with Roy Bedichek, J. Frank Dobie and Walter Prescott Webb. His close relationship with the legendary literary trio led to his publishing Three Friends (1969), a collection of letters that Dobie, Bedichek, and Webb wrote to one another.

    Born in the small northeast town of Pin Hook, Owens treasured his years in Texas.

    He always felt at home in Goose Creek and – once upon a time -- in war-weary New Guinea.


    © Wanda Orton
    Baytown Sun Columnist
    "Wandering" May 9, 2013 columns

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