Total Pageviews

Friday, September 11, 2015

Chapter 1- The Introduction

William Allen
Dear Folks…Love, Bill
“In memory of our son and brother.”’
Benton and Lura Allen
Elizabeth, Lee, and Benny
Dedication to the book of letters published by the family.

Bill Allen was a graduate of Dunlap High School and Knox College. He was teaching at Galesburg High School when he made the decision to join the U.S. Army and fight in World War II. Tragically, he was killed at the very end of World War II as U.S. troops were within miles of Berlin.

The Allen family had two sons and one son-in-law fighting in WWII. Bill Allen in Europe, brother Lee fighting with the U.S. Marines in Asia, and Bob Arnold (daughter Elizabeth’s husband) fighting in Europe. Tragically both Bill Allen and Bob Arnold were killed in action.

Bill was a prolific letter writer during the war. By all accounts, he wrote hundreds of letters to his family, to teachers in Galesburg, and to friends. He came by this letter writing naturally it would appear, his mother wrote a letter each night to her two sons fighting in WWII. After the War, the Allen family chose to publish letters Bill had sent to the family. The book was entitled, “William Allen: Dear Folks… Love, Bill.”

Chapter 2- The Allen Family

The Family
“I thought of you in church on Christmas Eve and all the fun we used to have on Christmas morning at home. I wondered if Benny got up as early as we used to do and if Dad had gotten up to build the fire first and to make sure that Santa had arrived before the rest were allowed to come downstairs.”

Bill Allen in letter sent home on December 26, 1944

William (college age), Lura, Lee, Benny, Benton, Elizabeth

Benton and Lura Allen had two sons and one son-in-law fighting in WWII. Bill Allen in Europe, Lee Allen fighting with the U.S. Marines in Asia, and Bob Arnold (daughter Elizabeth’s husband) fighting in Europe. Tragically both Bill Allen and Bob Arnold were killed.

Chapter 3- The Actor

The Actor

“He works harder than any man whom I have ever known—and gets less done.”
Bill Allen describing his college director in a letter to a friend.

(From Special Collections and Archives, Knox College Library, Galesburg, Illinois.)

After graduating from Dunlap High School, William Allen chose to attend Knox College in near-by Galesburg, Illinois. Bill’s grandfather and father both attended veterinary school. Mable Allen, Bill’s aunt was a professor at Illinois State University. Bill’s cousin, Willadell Allen had attended Knox College. She may have had an influence on Bill’s choice.

It would seem Bill, as the oldest son in the family, would be going to college to train to become a third generation veterinarian. Perhaps some of Bill’s independent nature shows in his choice to go into teaching and his focus on drama. But his interest in drama did have family roots. His father, Benton, had actually participated in community plays. But it would appear the major influence on Bill was his Aunt Mable.

Chapter 4- The Editor

The Editor

“If American civilization is to progress, there must always be maintained that group of communists, socialists, radicals, or what you will, who disagree with the flag-waving, speech-making, oath-taking, DAR type of organization made up of ‘citizens’ who pay their servants and employees ten cents per hour and spend money putting up silk flags in churches and schools.”

Bill Allen in an editorial on February 23, 1939 in the Knox Student

(From Special Collections and Archives, Knox College Library, Galesburg, Illinois.)

In the introduction to “Dear Folks,” his sister Elizabeth writes, “He died as he lived believing in a greater freedom of thought and action, greater tolerance and human understanding.” As you read Bill’s letters, it is obvious he held strong beliefs, was willing to take a stand for his beliefs, and was committed to making the world a better place.

In Bill’s letters from the War, it is clear he was not blindly patriotic.  He had developed a strong set of values connected with the ideals of freedom.  When Bill was boarding the ship to go to Europe, a band was playing. He commented, “We were met at the pier by one of the few bands that I’ve seen in the army (thank goodness, for you know what I think of flag waving music!) and we were greeted with not the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ or even ‘God Bless America,’ but such swing classics as the ‘One O’Clock  Jump.’ The performance was marred only as it changed to the ‘Army Air Corps’ song just before we went up the gangplank. To the infantry that was sacrilegious.”  Bill Allen was an American patriot, but his view of patriotism was centered around the importance of freedom of thought, independent thinking, and willingness to challenge authority.

Chapter 5- The Knox Experience

The Knox Experience

“We thank God that ours is not ‘one nation indivisible.’” 

Bill Allen in an editorial on February 23, 1939 in the Knox Student
(From Special Collections and Archives, Knox College Library, Galesburg, Illinois.)

It is not easy to understand how someone was willing to give up so much to join the Army. He was fifth year teacher in a stable job, who did not have to go to the Army. He chose to enlist in the Army. At first glance, his Knox years would seem to make his decision to join the Army even more puzzling. But his writing during his Knox years may show how Bill’s decision to join the Army was consistent with his Knox experience.

Chapter 6- Galesburg High School Years

The Teacher

“I think of you people often, and how much you did to make my months in Galesburg among the happiest of my life. I’ll be back again some day....”
Bill Allen describing his teaching days at Galesburg High School in a letter.

After graduating from Knox College in 1939, he got a job teaching in Fairview, Illinois. He was to teach English, coach contest dramatics, and direct three plays per year. Bill taught at Fairview for three years. In the fall of 1942, Bill went back to Galesburg, to teach at Galesburg High School. GHS was located in downtown Galesburg. The school was across the street from Knox’s Whiting Hall (girls dorm), and a block from Seymour Hall where he resided during college. So in moving back to Galesburg, he was in pretty familiar territory.

As director of the plays at Galesburg, he would have had many more potential students than he had in Fairview. By all accounts in The Budget (GHS newspaper) and The Reflector (GHS yearbook), Bill was a popular teacher who attracted many students to participate in drama. The Budget on November 18, 1943 in an article announcing Bill was leaving wrote the following, “Under Mr. Allen’s capable direction, the Senior High theatre has become one of the most popular extracurricular activities with the students.”

Chapter 7- The Soldier

The Soldier

“I’m thinking of all the Christmases of the past and what the day has always meant to our family. Partly because I’m sentimental and it’s such a hard time of the year to be so far away from those I love and the prospects of ever returning seem so remote and partly because I needed the emotional release after living under so much tension of late; I took advantage of the opportunity a while ago and sneaked off by myself and shed a great many tears. I’m good for another year now and do realize that I’ve been on of God’s favored. To be alive and whole is all one can ask for these days, that is my blessing.”
Bill Allen writing to Aunt Mabel in 1944 on his last Christmas.

Bill Allen chose to enter the Army as an enlisted man. As a college graduate, he probably would have had the option of becoming an officer. It appears he wanted to go in as an enlisted man.

The following is a description of Bill’s military service:
Sergeant William G. Allen
Serial #-36771414
83rd Infantry Division
331st Infantry Regiment
D Company
2nd Platoon

Chapter 8- Bill's Letters Home

Bill's Letters Home

Chapter 9- Letters to Aunt Mabel

Letters to Aunt Mabel
The following are a collection of letters from Bill Allen to his Aunt Mabel Allen.

                                                                                    January 30, 1944

Dear Mable,
   I think that I have about time to cover this page before lights go out and I turn in for a good night’s rest to begin a new week.  
   This has been by far the most peaceful day that I have had in Georgia.  The 70 degree sunshine has lured enough of the men away from the barracks so that those of us who wanted to could lie around and read and write the whole day long.  I finally got into “Good Night, Sweet Prince” and John Barrymore took me out of this atmosphere for two exciting hours.  Then tonight I attended the first really good movie that I have seen in many weeks.

Chapter 10- His Death

His Death

“That’s another shocking thing about this war- a hero, contrary to fiction and Hollywood, seldom dies a hero’s death. It’s just an unlucky hit which gets him when he doesn’t even have a chance to fight back.”
Bill Allen describing the death of a close friend in a letter to his Aunt Mabel, written March 13, 1945.

Death surrounds a soldier. Just over a month before his own death, Bill described his reaction to the death of a friend. On March 13 in a letter to his Aunt Mabel, Bill described the loss of a close friend.

“I shall never forget late one afternoon when I discovered dead near his gun position the man whom I respected above all others as a soldier. I calmly reported the fact and got a good night’s sleep. It was not until several days later that his body slouched in his hole began to haunt me and I realized that I had lost my friend. He was every muscle a hero, and he should have died a hero’s death as he stormed an enemy emplacement. He had displayed his ability and guts often enough before. But he was far behind the lines when the artillery shell with his number on it landed in his hole.”

Chapter 11- Margraten American Cemetery

Margraten American Cemetery
William Allen
Plot E
Row 2
Grave 1

When a U.S. soldier is killed in action, the family has a choice of where they wish to have the body interred. The body of the fallen soldier can be sent back to the family’s local cemetery, taken to Arlington National Cemetery, or put to rest in American military cemetery nearest where the soldier was killed. The family of William Allen, chose to have his remains buried in Margraten American Cemetery.

Chapter 12- Bill's Student

Bill's Student

“There’s plenty of reality to be faced, by all of us. As for the permanent peace, it’s in our laps now. What are we going to do about it?”

Jack Brooking, the lead in the last play Bill Allen directed.

The following is written by former student, Jack Brooking. It appeared in the Galesburg Register-Mail (date unknown):

Chapter 13- The Graduation Speech

The Graduation Speech

William's niece, Mary Lemon gave Lebanon Valley College graduation address.

Chapter 14- The Empty Rocker

The Empty Rocker
“We all do a lot of planning for the future and I’ve done a lot of thinking along that line myself.  I fear that I’ll never be able to go back to the classroom and earn my living there again.”

Bill Allen in letter sent to Aunt Mabel November 12, 1944

When we study war in school, we always talk about the “soldiers.” We talk about how many “soldiers” die. We need to remember these soldiers are sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters, who are lost to families.

As young children play, parents smile and dream about their future. This little rocker belonged to William Allen as a child. I am sure after his death in WW2, his mother and father looked at this empty rocker and thought about the hopes and dreams they had for a little Bill. Not just soldiers sacrificed but their families did too.

Elizabeth (Bill's sister) wrote the following about her brother:
He set aside his future plans
His every youthful hope and dream
He visioned all mankind his friends
And gave for them the gift supreme.