Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 26, 2012

Local World War II veteran recalls infamous campaign

LARRY HYPES
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — He’ still cold — but very proud — after 68 years. William T. “Bill” Allen, now a resident of The Havens at Princeton, remains a member of The Greatest Generation. This week particularly brings back bittersweet memories of the infamous Battle of the Bulge, where he nearly froze to death in the German Ardennes Forest during Christmas week 1944 when Hitler’s Nazi army made a last desperate push against the Allies.

Allen, who became a member of the U. S. Army’s 3rd Armored Division ‘Spearhead’ commanded by Major Gen. Maurice Rose, helped to liberate the besieged city of Bastogne, made famous in part by Gen. George S. Patton Jr.’s charge with his units to save the trapped 101st Airborne Division. Allen was among the Americans attacked by some nine German divisions during the struggle for Bastogne.

“Spearhead” under Rose’s command, had earlier been the first American force to enter Germany, the first to capture a German town (Roentgen), and the first to breach the infamous Siegfried Line.

“I don’t know that I ever get warm in the winter any more,” remembers Allen. “That was quite a situation in Germany for all of the soldiers. The weather was bitter, the fighting was brutal, and the first rule of survival was to keep firing your weapon at the enemy.”

Allen, 88, had already survived one of the most historic advances in military history – the D-Day invasion at Normandy in France barely six months earlier on June 6, 1944. The former Northfork High School All State band member was one of just 13 G.I.s to survive the fierce struggle on Omaha Beach, the day after some 24,000 paratroopers had been dropped to help pave the way for the brutal assault. Within weeks, more than 1.5 million Allied soldiers would be sweeping through France toward Germany but the mighty invasion force made possible eventual victory in Europe.

In the high seas and pounding weaponry directed against them, three out of every four Americans became casualties. Supreme Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, among those terribly anxious, had in his pocket prepared remarks in case the attack should fail reading in part, “If any blame or fault attaches itself to the attempt, it is mine alone.”

With brave soldiers like Allen clawing their way through waves, burning oil, wooden barricades, and withering German fire, the endeavor finally succeeded although more than 5,000 bodies were left on the devastated beach front by midnight on June 6.

“It (the attack) was incredible,” recalls Allen. “However, it had to be done. If victory in Europe was going to be achieved, then the troops had to land in France and fight their way into Berlin. Hitler intended to conquer the world and he would not surrender.”

The Americans and their allied partners began marching northeast toward the enemy.

It was an otherworldly scene for the young Allen, who was born on April 23, 1924 in peaceful Newbern, Virginia. As a youngster, he settled in the bustling McDowell County town of Northfork, where his mother, Lula, moved with his stepfather, James Gillia. Lula lived to the age of 101, and passed away in 2003.

Gillia was a stone mason who helped to build the high school in town, where Bill would embrace his lifelong love of music. He said his dream was to become a carpenter.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 brought Allen’s childhood, along with those of millions of Americans, crashing to an end. Within months he was drafted into the Army, leaving for Charleston to be sworn in.

“I took basic training at Camp Polk, Louisiana,” he recalls. “We learned fighting and survival skills. We were issued an M-1 rifle and I believe we got 80 rounds of ammunition. We also carried a .45-calibre pistol on our hip. It was a revolver, but not a Colt, as I remember.”

Allen notes, “We were told in preparation for battle to locate the enemy, search the area as thoroughly as possible and try to pick out small segments of enemy troops and take or capture as many as possible.

That was usually easier said than done. Our training was essential to preserving our own lives.”

Allen was transported overseas, moving through Belgium at one point. As a member of the Allied forces, he was prepared for the great invasion necessary to liberate Europe from the iron grip of Hitler’s war machine. He recalls a few basic tenets from that period.

“We were told to keep our weapons clean and ready for use at all times. We were also instructed to keep our uniforms in as good condition as possible and we tried to change our uniforms in the field when we could.

You never know what diseases or problems could be transmitted through them, so that was always a consideration. Of course, fighting in the field, moving on foot during bad weather, and those kinds of things presented real problems.”

Allen suffered severe cold during the fighting around Bastogne but survived and the Allies made history with the successful liberation of the city. It was also the time when the American commander Gen. Anothony McAuliffe uttered his famous “Nuts!” response to the German demand for surrender and soldiers like Allen combined to make certain the Americans would not be given up to the Nazis.

After the war, Allen moved on to work with Pratt & Whitney Aircraft as an engine technician. He also worked for a while for Hughes Aircraft, owned by the eccentric genius Howard Hughes.

“Bill has an original picture of Hughes’s famous experimental plane the giant ‘Spruce Goose’ taken in California,” notes Allen’s good friend, Eloise Ratliff, of Princeton, who met the old soldier at a social gathering after their respective spouses had passed away. Ratliff is also very proud of Allen’s service and they enjoy each other’s company very much, sometimes talking about the World War II experiences. Ratliff and Allen often travel in the nearby area.

Allen had three children with his first wife, Clara (Albrecht) including Beverly, David, and Patricia. David has passed away but Beverly lives in Mansefield, Connecticut and Patricia is a resident of nearby Willimantic. Both hold their father in high regard.

“We are very proud of him, what he did for his country,” notes Beverly.

“For years after the war, because of intense fighting, and the weather issues, Dad suffered from what is now known as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) and we are so happy he has gotten some help for that. He is a member of the generation that saved American freedom.”

Allen earned the coveted Bronze Star among his many military decorations. His commander, Gen. Rose, was among several military comrades in arms who did not survive World War II. Rose, a highly respected soldier and acquaintance of Eisenhower, perished in Germany in March 1945.

“It (the war) was an on-going learning experience,” Allen recalls. “We were oriented to go after the enemy. That’s what we did.”

“Bill” Allen and his fellow World War II heroes did such a wonderful job that Americas celebrate freedom safely at home during this Christmas nearly three-quarters of a century later. Their selfless sacrifice has warmed the hearts of millions.