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Friday, September 11, 2015

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.”

“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.”

The first death in the Allen family was Elizabeth’s husband, Major Robert Arnold. He was killed in action on February 25, 1945. Bill received word from his mother of Robert’s death. Bill responded to Robert’s death with the following letter:
March 23, 1945

Dear Folks,
The letter I’ve been dreading for so long arrived tonight. I’ve been hoping that our immediate family might escape having to pay the supreme price, but I guess that the law of averages works there as well as any place else.
Robert was one who I hadn’t worried a lot about. An artillery battalion executive officer isn’t ordinarily subjected to a lot of danger. But he was probably doing more than his job. Your time table will tell you that he was killed on the day of the big jump-off along the Roer and that was a big day for the artillery. They saved a lot infantry lives that day. Maybe mine among them.
Even as accustomed to such things as I have become, it was a blow to me. However, I’m glad that you wrote to me. I’d have felt pretty bad if I had received the word via a returned letter which I wrote to him a few days ago.
I’m going to write to Elizabeth a letter tonight, and that’s a tough assignment. You may not hear from me again for a few days, but I’ll be ok.

Two days later on March 25, Bill reflected more on Robert’s death in a letter to his parents.

                  “This morning I had the opportunity to go to Brussels for a three day pass, but didn’t feel in the mood for celebration at this particular time; and then, too, I feel that I must do the fighting for two members of the family now that Robert isn’t here. I’ll get to go later.”
                  “I’m glad you wrote to me about Robert. I received a letter from Cable tonight n which he mentioned seeing the notice in the paper. His letter was written before Mother’s, but luckily hers got here first. My anxiety would have been great had I not received the notice from home first.”
                  “I will admit that that’s been the biggest blow to me which I’ve yet received. I’ve seen dozens of men die. Several of them I could call close friends. However, when it strikes my own home, it’s still hard to take. I think because I know what he meant to Elizabeth and what a great adjustment it will mean in her life. It’s not that I don’t realize that she isn’t great enough to make it, but it’s so unnecessarily cruel that such things have to happen.”

Bill Allen was to be killed on April 19, 1945. This was three days after his 28th birthday. This was just 19 days before V-E Day. According to the 331st Infantry Division’s action reports for each day, the 331st Infantry Division had no casualties listed after April 19. He was killed near Tochheim, Germany.

The front page of the Galesburg Register-Mail had national war stories and reports throughout the spring of 1945. Individual death reports were put on the second page, and were usually just one column with anywhere from just one or two deaths per day to highs of three or four deaths of soldiers from the Galesburg area.

The headlines of the Register-Mail show how close it was to the end of the war:
April 19                                    Ruhr Victory Complete
April 20                                    Drive for Hitler’s Hideaway
April 21                                    Red Armies Besiege Berlin
April 23                                    Russians Fight Inside Berlin
April 24                                    Slash Thru Heart of Berlin
April 25                                    Allies Close to Munich
April 26                                    Capture Bremen, Stetten
April 27                                    Armies Join, Split Reich
April 28                                    Himler Offers Surrender
April 30                                    Nazi Surrender Offer on Way to Allied Big 3
(Bill Allen’s Memorial Service at Galesburg High School was on May 1.)

In a letter written after 2000, Ben Allen described his memories of the family being notified of the death first of Robert, and then later of the death of Bill. This was a letter to Roukens of Holland who had requested information to help a man writing a book about World War II.

     Ben Allen
Letter which had been sent by Aunt Mabel but returned "Deceased."

Article with death notice of Robert Arnold- most likely the Peoria paper.

This is believed to be the Peoria newspaper.

Newspaper is unknown.

Galesburg Register-Mail on April 30, 1945

The following is from the Galesburg Register-Mail on May 2, 1945. It should be noted that the eulogist was Helen Barrow, who had been active in Bill Allen's GHS plays.
Impressive services in the memory
of Sgt. William Allen, who was
killed in combat April 18 in Ger-
many, were held Tuesday morning
at the Galesburg High School
where Sgt. Allen was a teacher
before entering the service of his
country.  Supt. R. V. Lindsay
opened the services at 11
o’clock in the school auditorium
by paying tribute to the splendid
work of Sgt. Allen while he was
Miss Helen Barrow, a graduate
of G.H.S. now attending Knox
College, eulogized his work with
the students. In closing the a
cappella choir sang the lovely
“Lord Bless You and Keep You,”
and cornetists Bill Kimpton sound-
ed the taps.

GHS Budget, May 3, 1945
 Eulogy by Supt. Lindsay at the Memorial Service

Plaque at Galesburg High School

Picture and information at Memorial Gym at Knox College

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