James Sherman Owens, 77, a retired employe of the old War Department and area resident for nearly 40 years, died of cancer Monday at his home in Silver Spring.

Mr. Owens was a native of Brooklyn, and a 1923 graduate of Holy Cross College, Worcester, Mass. During the 1920's, he worked as a journalist in New Jersey, as a probation officer, and then as director of probation for New York State.

During the 1930s he was superintendent of the New York State Industrial School for Delinquent and Dependent Children in Industry, N.Y.

He came to Washington during World War II and worked for the War Department on projects having to do with social disease control. He retired in 1947.

Mr. Owens was the author of works on probation and also had lectured at Fordham University during the 1930s.

His marriage to the former Harriet Rogers ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife, the former Geraldine Stowell, of Silver Spring, three sons by his first marriage, retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. James L., of Rockville, Kevin B., of Silver Spring and Alan P., of Norfolk and seven grandchildren.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the American Cancer Society.