Lt Col Charles D. Allen, USAF – Retired, Bomber Pilot – WW II, Korea, Vietnam & the Cold War

This story was written by Ron Albers for Motts Military Museum and is reprinted here with permission.

Charles Delton Allen was born November 21, 1918, on a farm near Lone Wolf, Oklahoma. He was the youngest of four children raised in a farm family that harvested cotton, wheat and grain. When he was only four or five, the family moved to his grandfather’s farm near Frederick, Oklahoma. It was here that he spent the remainder of his childhood. Although he grew up during the Great Depression, Charles really never suffered or wanted for things as many others in the U.S. did during this period. His family was pretty much self sufficient, growing their own fruits and vegetables and raising cows, horses, mules, cows, and chickens. When not doing chores, there was plenty to keep young Charles and his siblings occupied with hunting, barns, orchards, and ponds.

The first eight years of Charles’ education were spent in IXL, a one room country school with one teacher for all eight grades and attendance of about 25 or 30 students. He then attended Consolidated #13 Weaver High School in Frederick, graduating in June of 1936. Following a brief stint at business school, Charles returned to the farm and worked with his parents.

In August of 1941, when Charles was nearly 23 years old, he was drafted into the US Army and sent to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, for artillery school. That not being to his liking, coupled with the fact that he scored high enough on the military aptitude tests, Charles was able to get an honorable discharge from the Army after being in for only a month so he could reenlist in the Army Air Corps. That brought him to Sheppard Army Air Field, Texas, for aircraft mechanic school; but he was soon transferred again to Wendover AAF (on the Utah Nevada border) for training as a B-17 Flight Engineer.  At the time they had no aircraft on station, and Charles recalls being trained at gunnery school there by firing a .50 caliber machine gun from the back of a moving jeep. He excelled at training, became a line chief, and was soon promoted to staff sergeant. In 1942 he applied to become an aviation cadet.

When Charles received official notification that he had been accepted into the Aviation Cadet Program (which ultimately meant he would be deployed overseas) his parents and his hometown sweetheart, Helen, came to Utah to visit Charles.  He received a three-day pass and met them in Salt Lake City. On Saturday morning, while eating breakfast (and without telling his parents,) he asked Helen to go with him to the courthouse to get a marriage license. Upon arrival at the marriage license office, they were told that there was a three-day waiting period required before a license could be issued. And, besides that, the office closed at noon on Saturday. Charles explained that he was only on a three-day pass, and that they could not wait that long. The clerk checked with her supervisor, who agreed that something could be done to accommodate them. By noon on Saturday, July 18, 1942, before the courthouse was closed, they obtained their marriage license and made arrangements for a Mormon Bishop to marry them in his home. At 6:00PM that evening, they were married by the bishop. The only others present were the bishop’s wife and Charles’ parents. A telegram was sent to Helen’s mother informing her of the marriage. (Charles and Helen were happily married for 59 years, until her death in July of 2001.)

SSgt Allen soon transferred to Randolph AFB in San Antonio where he was promoted to Aviation Cadet and received preflight training, which he successfully completed. Following that school, Aviation Cadet Allen was transferred to primary pilot training in the PT-19 at Sikeston, Missouri. Helen joined him there. Because the cadets were required to live in barracks on base, Helen and another cadet’s wife shared a rental home off base. The cadets traded weekends being with their wife at the house or being at a hotel with their wife. Charles fondly recalls that his wife’s roommate was the model for Dutch Boy Paints, and they saw her for many years on paint cans and advertising.

Next came more flight training in the BT-14 at Independence, Kansas, followed by advanced pilot and multi-engine training in Pampa, Texas. On August 30, 1943, Charles received his wings, was commissioned a 2nd Lt, and was assigned to the 460th Bomb Wing at Clovis AAF, New Mexico, for training in the B-24 bomber. From 5 Oct 43 until 28 Jan 44, he was a fully qualified co-pilot in the B-24 and receiving final combat training at Chatham Field (now Savanna, Georgia’s airport.)

Even though their training was not yet complete, on 29 January his 760th Bomb Squadron flew up to Mitchell Field NY for 10 days of orientation and out-processing before departing for Europe. The B-24s flew south through Florida, and had stops in Puerto Rico and South America before crossing the Atlantic to Dakar in Africa and then up to their final destination of Spinniola, Italy. They arrived on 22 Feb 44.

Spinniola was rather Spartan. The mud runway was covered with steel matting. Everyone lived in tents with makeshift heaters, bathrooms, showers, and other facilities.  Lt. Allen’s crew and one other crew decided they were going to improve their lot and make the most of this situation. They, therefore, hired a local contractor or handyman to build them an actual house with cinder block & mortar and a slate roof. It was quite nice, and they were proud of their new accommodations.

On 19 Mar 44, Lt Allen’s crew flew his first combat mission, a four-hour sortie to bomb a target in Yugoslavia. They missed their target and were forced to take additional training sorties. Allen and his crew flew their second mission on 2 April. This time they succeeded. On 21 April - their 7th combat mission - they were recalled from a mission to bomb a target near Bucharest, Romania, because of heavy cloud cover.  They were diverted to a secondary target on the Adriatic coast of Yugoslavia and subsequently found themselves in heavy flak while over that target. They sustained serious damage to the B-24 and lost a substantial amount of fuel. The crew knew that they would never make it back across the Adriatic to Italy and also knew that the B-24 was not at all good at ditching in water. They decided to take their chances by bailing out over Yugoslavia. There were 11 souls on board including a photo- grapher.  All 11 of them successfully bailed out and were able to regroup on the ground.

Fortunately, they were discovered by a group of Tito’s partisans who spent the next 42 days escorting the crew on foot over the mountains. They would march all day and be put up in various buildings in the evenings by these allies, both men and women. It was often cold and snowy, but the crew had their warm flight gear. At times they could see and hear the Nazi troops, but the partisans knew the safest routing and guided them safely to a place where they were repatriated to fly back to Italy on a C-47 from Troop Carrier Command on 30 May 44. They were debriefed, deloused, cleaned up, allowed a week of R& R on the Isle of Capri, and were flying again as a crew by the end of June.

On 6 July 44, on their 14th combat mission, once again they encountered heavy flak, this time over a Nazi target in Italy.  Flak penetrated the copilot’s windshield and struck Lt Allen in the left shoulder. The shrapnel went completely through his shoulder and stuck in the back of his seat. The crew was able to get the aircraft safely back on the ground at Spinniola and get Lt Allen to a hospital, where he spent the next six weeks recovering. While he was healing, the rest of his crew flew enough missions to be redeployed back to the United States.  Allen was promoted to 1st Lt on 23 Jul 44.

On 6 Sept 44 Lt Allen departed Spinniola, arriving by ship back in New York harbor on 25 Sept 44. For the next 51 days he was out-processed and then allowed casual leave to return to Oklahoma for a reunion his bride, Helen, and the rest of his family.

Following WW II, Charles remained in the military and continued to fly bombers for the most of the remainder of his career. He was checked out in the B-24, B-25, B-29 and B-50 aircraft.

In 1952, Captain Allen was accepted into the new B-47 jet bomber program. Pilots at that time were also required to be rated navigators, so he attended navigator training for a year at Ellington AFB, Texas and Mather AFB, California. Upon graduation, he was transferred to the 305th Bomb Wing at MacDill AFB, Florida as a B-47 copilot. He had a very short stint there before the opportunity arose for him to transfer to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, and become an aircraft commander in the new B-47 bombers there. He spent the next 4 ½ years at Barksdale in the Strategic Air Command (SAC.)

From 1 Dec 57 until 16 Apr 62 Major Allen was stationed at Lockbourne AFB where he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and worked his way up to becoming Operations Officer and later the Commander of the 514th Bomb Squadron.

In 1962 and 1963, Charles attended and graduated from both Air Command and Staff and Air War College in Residence at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. From there he attended B-52 school at Castle AFB, California before being assigned to Mather AFB near Sacramento as an Aircraft Commander from 1964 to 1968. During this duty assignment, he was sent to Guam on Temporary Duty (TDY) as an operations officer during Operation Arc Light. While there, he flew 17 combat missions in the B-52 over Vietnam.

Following a one-year tour as Maintenance Control Officer of the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing at Phu Cat AB, Vietnam; Lt Col Allen was again transferred to Lockbourne AFB. Here he served the remainder of his career as Commander of the 301st HQ Squadron of the 301st Air Refueling Wing. He retired in June of 1971, just shy of 30 years of service to our nation.

Among his many awards and decorations, Lt Col Allen earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart, two Air Medals, and the Bronze Star. The DFC was awarded while he was still stationed in Italy in 1944, and the DFC citation reads:  “Consistently, throughout many combat missions against highly important and strategic enemy installations, Lt. Allen has demonstrated the highest order of professional skill, heroism, and devotion to duty. Although regularly and frequently opposed by large numbers of enemy fighters, together with intense, accurate and heavy anti-aircraft fire during which his aircraft at times was seriously damaged. He has fought through to his target and aided in destruction of these vital objectives. His conspicuous and extraordinary achievements throughout these many missions against the enemy have been of inestimable value to successful combat operations.”

During his Air Force Career, Lieutenant Colonel Allen had a number of experiences and received numerous accolades for his skills as a pilot. On November 6, 1953, he was copilot on a B-47 that set a record time for crossing the Atlantic Ocean. His crew flew from Limestone AFB, Maine (later renamed Loring AFB) to Brize Norton AFB, England in 4 hours and 43 minutes.

Charles was such an extraordinary pilot that he was selected to participate in the annual SAC Bomb & Navigation Competition on four different occasions – once as a copilot on a B-29, once as a copilot on a B-47, and twice more as the aircraft commander of a B-47. To be selected to go once is considered an honor, because only the best crew member at each position from each unit is selected. To be selected four times is perhaps unheard of.

LtCol Allen retired with a total of more than 6500 hours of flight time, of which more than 3500 hours of that total was logged flying the B-47.

Following his retirement in June of 1972, Charles spent about 7 years selling real estate in Columbus, before finally retiring for good in 1979. He has done a lot of volunteer work and remains very active with a local Kiwanis club and his church. For many years he played a lot of golf, but the years have made even that more difficult. At age 92 he is still driving and maintains his own home. Friends know him to be a kind and humble gentleman with lots of great aviation tales that he’ll share only if one asks him.

Charles and Helen had one son, Douglas, who passed away in 2010 from complications of diabetes. Charles’ daughter-in-law and grand-daughter live on Long Island, New York, along with both of Charles’ great-grandchildren. Charles maintains very close contact with all of them but prefers to remain here in Columbus.

We are proud to have Charles as a life member of Motts Military Museum, as he himself is a living part of our military heritage and our nation’s history. We thank him for his many years of service and sacrifice for our nation and the freedoms she provides.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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