Rowny goes from local boy to American hero
Wednesday, 16 October 2013 12:00

At 96, Edward Rowny remains busy at his home at Knollwood Military Retirement Residence in Washington, D.C.
photo by Michael Rodman

Army career took former Dundalkian from battlefield to the circles of power

by Nicole Rodman

Edward Rowny was 19 when he first realized that World War II was imminent.
    The former Dundalk resident was a junior at Johns Hopkins University in 1936  when he won a scholarship to study in Poland.
    While in Europe, Rowny attended the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, hosted in Adolph Hitler’s Germany.   
    What he observed there would change the course of his life forever.
    “I saw how the Nazis were goose-stepping, and I saw Hitler rabble-rousing the crowds and everything, so I knew there was going to be a war,” Rowny recalled during an interview with The Eagle last week. “So I decided, if there was going to be a war, I might as well get in the right way.”
    Rowny would “get in the right way” by attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
    While he joined the Army at the outset of World War II, Rowny would find himself fighting more than one war in the years to come.
   
Early life
    Edward L. Rowny was born in southeast Baltimore on April 3, 1917.
    By the time he was 5, Rowny’s father, a Polish immigrant named Gracyan, moved the family to the Graceland Park area of Dundalk.
    A builder by trade, Gracyan built many of the homes in Graceland Park.
    Following his father’s death in 1991, Rowny would write about his father, including his experiences building up the Graceland Park community.
    “He usually built two or three houses at a time, rotating the crews among the houses,” Rowny recalled.
    According to Rowny, his father also did the woodwork on what would become Sacred Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church.
    While he did not live in Dundalk during his whole childhood due to his mother’s illness, he does remember visiting Logan Airfield (now the site of Logan Village Shopping Center on Dundalk Avenue).
    “One of my earliest memories of Dundalk was when I was 9, 10, 11 years old. I would board the trolley car —  that was the end of the line — and I would sell fresh roasted peanuts for the people that would come out and sit in the bleachers on the side of the airfield and watch all the airplanes go up in the air and land and takeoff.”
    He added, “Also some people were acrobats. They would have two pieces of wire and would balance on top of the wing of the airplane.”   
    By the time Rowny was in high school, he lived with his grandparents in Baltimore, though he would occasionally visit his parents in Graceland Park, where they lived until their deaths.
    In 1933, at the age of 16, Rowny graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute.   
    He attended Johns Hopkins University, earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering in 1937. He then went to West Point, graduating just in time to see the U.S. enter World War II in 1941.
   
Entering the war
    Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the U.S. entered World War II. By the spring of 1942, Rowny recalled, he was “in one of the first units overseas to Liberia.”
    In Liberia, Rowny was a company commander and engineer in the 41st Engineer Regiment. While there he put his engineering skills to use, building an airfield.
    After nine months in Liberia, Rowny returned to America, where he took command of a new unit that was forming — the 92nd Infantry Division.
    The 92nd trained in the U.S. until being sent to Italy in 1944.
    Through the rest of 1944, Rowny commanded an Engineer Batallion of the 92nd Infantry Division as it made its way through Northern Italy.
    In 1945, Rowny was made an infantry commander. He served in that capacity until the end of the war in Europe.
    As soon as the war on the European front ended, Rowny turned his attention to the Pacific theater.
    “I went to work on the final invasion of Japan but didn’t have to do that because the atom bomb dropped,” Rowny recalled.
    For his service in the war, Rowny was awarded two Silver Stars and two Legion of Merit awards.
    Once the war ended in August 1945, Rowny wrapped up his duties in Washington, D.C. before continuing his education at Yale University in Connecticut.
    At Yale, Rowny earned degrees in engineering and international relations.
    It was during his time at Yale that Rowny learned Russian and studied negotiating with the Soviet Union. These skills would prove the be invaluable nearly two decades later.
   
The next war — Korea
    In 1949, Rowny was sent to Japan to work with Gen. Douglas Mac-Arthur. MacArthur had commanded Allied forces in the Pacific during World War II.
    It was during Rowny’s time on MacArthur’s staff that the Korean War began.
    “War broke out on 25th of June 1950, and I was a duty officer at the headquarters,” Rowny explained. “I got the first message saying that the North Koreans had struck, so I took that to my chief of staff and he went to see Gen. MacArthur in his apartment and he called the Pentagon.”
    It was just a day later that Rowny took on a new role on MacArthur’s staff.
    “The day after the Korean War broke out, his spokesman became nervous and passed out so I was made MacArthur’s spokeman,” Rowny recalled.
    Rowny also became one of the planners of the invasion of Inchon, which resulted in a decisive United Nations victory.
    In September 1950,
MacArthur temporarily promoted Rowny two ranks, from lieutenant colonel to brigadier general, in order to appoint him as chief engineer of the 10th Corps in Korea.
    Later reverting to his rank of lieutenant colonel, Rowny became an infantry commander.
    While he has recounted many of his Korean War experiences in his book An American Soldier’s Saga of the Korean War, a few key incidents stick out in Rowny’s mind.
    One occured a few months into the war, when Rowny put his engineering skills to work building a bridge across a South Korean river.
    “I built the first bridge against the Han River so MacArthur and Syngman Rhee, the president [of South Korea], could come back on the 29th of September 1950.”
    Rowny also recalled building a bridge in order to save U.S. soldiers from attack at the Chosin Reservoir.
    “I air-dropped a bridge which we put together right across the chasm so the Marines and Army could escape to freedom,” Rowny noted.
    Rowny was also involved in Operation Christmas Cargo, in which 100,000 refugees were transported from North Korea to South Korea.
    “200,000 wanted to come but we could only squeeze 100,000 back,” Rowny recalled.
    For his service in the Korean War, Rowny was awarded his third Silver Star Medal and third Legion of Merit award.
   
Between the wars
    After the Korean War, Rowny taught at the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning in Georgia.
    Following his teaching tenure, Rowny attended the Armed Forces Staff College (now known as the Joint Forces Staff College) in Norfolk, Va.
    Beginning in 1955, Rowny became director of the Joint Staff of the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Powers Europe, a strategic military command for NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).
    In 1961, Rowny was promoted (this time permanently) to brigadier general and became assistant  division commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.
    During his time with the 82nd, Rowny first began working with the idea of arming helicopters, a tactic that would become popular in Vietnam and later wars.
    “I experimented with putting weapons on helicopters and was going through tests of the so called Howze Board [a board created to test new aircraft concepts],” Rowny recalled. “When the tests were over, they showed that we ought to put arms on helicopters.”
    With this, Rowny would find himself on a course to the next war — in Vietnam.

Ideas put to the test in Vietnam
    Following Rowny’s tests on arming helicopters, he took an experimental unit to Vietnam to put his ideas into action.
    According to Rowny, the unit, called ACTIV (Army Concept Team in Vietnam) “proved that the armed helicopter would have a big role in future warfare.”
    While his team had success working with armed helicopters, Rowny struggled to get the Army to put the idea into widespread use.
    “I fought the hard fight to get this done, because  the Department of Defense was against it,” Rowny explained.
    “The Air Force said that anything ... that was armed and flew should belong to the Air Force and the Navy said they agreed with the Air Force.”
    With the Army reluctant to go against both the Air Force and the Navy, Rowny’s idea of armed helicopters met strong resistance.
    “It was very difficult to get that concept approved, and they sabotaged it a bit,” Rowny said.
    Eventually, however, the idea was approved and armed helicopters went into widespread use in Vietnam and later wars.
    During the year Rowny spent in Vietnam, he had his fair share of close calls.
    As Rowny recalled, “At one point I was almost captured but was rescued, and at another point, my helicopter was shot down and my shoulder was broken, so I had to be evacuated.”   
    While Rowny spent his days in the field during his time in Vietnam, most nights were a different story.
    “I was watching these tests go on, — we had about 30 tests going on,” Rowny explained. “I would be out in the field all day and most nights — not all nights but many nights — I would come back to my hotel room back in Saigon.”
    After his time in Vietnam, Rowny traveled to Germany, where he commanded the 24th U.S. Army Division.
    From there, Rowny served as deputy chairman of NATO’s Military Committee until his career took an unexpected and — for Rowny — unwelcome turn in 1973.