Max E. Dowden, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Homer L. Dowden, was born on October 4, 1916, in Albany, New York. He and his brother Charles joined their parents in their move to Santa Cruz, California, in 1930. The family settled into a home on Cedar Street, and in September Max enrolled in Santa Cruz High School. In high school he was an outstanding student, a member of the High Tow Tong honor society and a basketball star who held the city scoring record until 1943. Outside of school, Dowden was active in DeMolay, a young men's Masonic organization.
In 1934 Max Dowden graduated from high school and shortly thereafter enrolled in the University of California. During his student years, he had learned to fly airplanes. After a brief period at UC Berkeley, he left school and accepted a position in sales with a southern firm headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee.
In 1941 Dowden attempted to join the US Army Air Force but lacked the two years of college education they required at the time, and he turned to Canada.
Because the Royal Canadian Air Force needed pilots to ferry its planes to England, Max Dowden was accepted into their cadet program. He was sent to an air force school in Manitoba for training and late in 1941, received a commission in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
His initial assignment involved shuttling planes from the US to Canada to England. Over the next two years, Max also received specialized training in night bombing techniques aboard British Lancaster bombers.
Wishing to serve in his own country's air force, Dowden requested and received a transfer to the US Army Air Force in 1943. After completing training at US flight schools, he was assigned to the 8th USAAF in England.
In 1944 the Royal Air Force was in desperate need of trained Lancaster pilots to fly night raiding missions; the USAAF loaned Lieutenant Dowden back to them. The final episode in First Lieutenant Max E Dowden's life was described in a letter written to his mother by RAF Warrant Officer Russell E. Rees of Tilsbury, Essex, England.
“[On May 12, 1944] We were on the way home after leaving the target, Duisberg. Everything seemed to be going fine. The heavy flak, which has been causing us so much bother, was left far behind. The Belgium coast was 10 minutes flying time ahead. One's thoughts were dwelling upon the sanctuary of home, the hot rum, the interrogation and bed. Suddenly our little world was shattered. Peace turned into tumult. A night fighter had approached from dead ahead and sprayed the kite with cannon. Max gave the order to abandon aircraft. The poor old girl was in a sad plight. The navigator, bomb armer, rear gunner and mid-upper baled out. I was the last living member to go. I sat over the hole Mam, and looked at Max and Frank. The 'kite' was going into an uncontrollable dive and those two men were struggling to hold a semi-useless stick. They held the 'Yokum' up for those extra precious seconds that five comrades might live. This was a night which will vividly remain with me for ever. Yes, I can say I have walked with heroes."
The body of Max E. Dowden was never recovered, although a grave remembers him in Belgium.
He is memorialized on the Tablet of the Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery, Cambridge, England. His awards include Air Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart.
SOURCE: Santa Cruz Public Library Heroes Online