When weather warnings for heavy rains are issued at White Sands Missile Range, they conclude with, "If you encounter a flooded road, do not attempt to cross. Turn around. Do not drown."
When Private 1st Class Marvin Owen approached a flooded bridge on the evening of Aug. 19, 1978, he drove his military police vehicle straight into it.
He stopped beside a vehicle to rescue an Air Force captain, his wife and their two children whose car had stalled while attempting to drive through the flooded bridge. As a second military police vehicle approached the scene, Owen radioed to warn them not to get too close to the stream of water growing deeper and swifter.
That was the last transmission he made. Soon after, a wave of flood water 10 feet high descended from the hillside and swept them from the road. No one survived.
But the memory of his heroic action was not forgotten. During a 1979 ceremony attended by his parents on the site where the incident happened, the Las Cruces Access Road was renamed Owen Road in his honor.
A second memorial ceremony was held in 1994 when a sign was erected beside the bridge where the incident occurred, but this time his siblings were able to attend.
One of them was his younger sister Marcia, who returned to White Sands Missile Range this week to lay a wreath at the memorial for her brother Bobby, as he was called by family and friends.
After laying the wreath among the presence of White Sands Police Officers, Garrison Commander Col. Christopher Ward and his wife Heather, Marcia shared memories of her brother.
Bobby liked being a cop, she said, and had planned to eventually return home to Louisiana and pursue a career in law enforcement. But while at White Sands, Marcia said her brother was well-liked by all, including neighborhood kids on post who called him "The Fonz" because of the black leather jacket and shades he wore as seen on the TV show "Happy Days" that was a hit at the time. Marcia said Bobby was a friendly young man who liked to stop and chat and throw the ball around with the kids.
For his heroic action, Owen was posthumously awarded the Soldier's Medal, the highest peacetime award for valor authorized by the U.S. Army.
The citation on the memorial reads: "There is no truer act of heroism than helping your fellow man. When an act of Valor is done deliberately, in a calculated manner and not in the heat of battle, the act becomes even more courageous."
You can learn more about Owen and the incident by visiting the roadside memorial marked by its rustic dark-wood structure. It is located on the south side of the bridge on the right side of the Owen Road as you leave post.