Honor Flight

Area resident Errett Allen talks about World War II, America today, and helping veterans take free trips to visit Washington D.C. memorials

Carmen GeorgeNovember 7, 2012 

You may have seen him at many Mountain Area veteran events: a tall, lean man with grey/white hair hidden beneath his signature black National Rifle Association cap, sitting quietly at a table surrounded by photos of a memorable trip to Washington D.C. to see the nation's war memorials.

The World War II veteran has a calling: to help his fellow soldiers visit those memorials too -- for free.

The Oakhurst resident of more than 40 years, Errett "Reb" Allen, 86, volunteers promoting the Honor Flight Network, a non-profit that provides free airfare and lodging to WWII veterans to visit Washington D.C. on a guided tour of its memorials with other veterans and their families.

An Honor Flight statement reads: "Of all of the wars in recent memory, it was World War II that truly threatened our very existence as a nation -- and as a culturally diverse, free society. Now, with over one thousand World War II veterans dying each day, our time to express our thanks to these brave men and women is running out."

Allen served in the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne "Screaming Eagles" Division during WWII, fighting in Europe.

While he'd been to Washington D.C. dozens of times before, he'd never gone to the National World War II Memorial until he took the free, group trip with the Honor Flight Network in 2006. The network provided airfare, lodging and transportation around D.C. Discounted rates were also given to accompanying family members. It was an experience he'll never forget.

After that visit, he got involved as an Honor Flight volunteer, passing out contact cards at Veteran Stand Down events and throughout the Mountain Area, sharing his trip with other veterans.

For more information about the free Honor Flight trips, made possible through donations to the non-profit, visit honorflight.org or email Allen at rebl@nctv.com.

America's past and present

Allen still remembers his first experience with war, when after training as a paratrooper, he suddenly found himself -- at age 18 -- in Europe late in 1944 amidst death and devastation.

He recalls his first briefing from a squad leader: "Never ever take your helmet off, and if I say, 'Hit it,' you go down."

A few seconds later, enemy fire erupted and a soldier near them, who'd taken off his helmet for some air, had five holes in his head.

From Dec. 16 to Jan. 7, Allen and his fellow soldiers lived in, and fought from, a deep foxhole -- their feet immersed in over a foot of melted snow that couldn't be bailed out. The experience almost caused the amputation of his feet in the weeks that followed.

"I've only known two men in my lifetime that actually like war," Allen said. "Anyone who's experienced it doesn't want to go back."

Allen was decorated by Belgium and France, and his division -- the 101st Airborne -- was the first division to ever receive a Presidential Unit Citation for their triumph in the famous Battle of the Bulge.

When he was honorably discharged after eight years in the U.S. Army, leaving as a sergeant, Allen had 265 jumps as a paratrooper.

Yet while he was decorated and came from a long line of Army men -- including a lieutenant that married a daughter of U.S. founding father Samuel Adams -- Allen puts it simply: "War is hell."

"The worst thing that happened to me was seeing my friends blown apart in front of me," Allen said. "There's nothing worse than war except possibly losing your wife, and I've lost two wives."

In Oakhurst, Allen retired after more than 20 years at H&R Block (work he describes as: "I was always fighting with the IRS and I was always winning") and as the owner of Sierra Sport Shop, that primarily sold guns and ammunition.

"I abhor war, but the only way to avoid war is to stay militarily strong," he said.

Although he loves America (to further prove the point: he named a son after U.S. military man and his own middle name is "Lincoln," named after President Abraham Lincoln) Allen said he believes the land of the free has also made some big mistakes.

"George Marshall, a former U.S. chief of staff, should never have interned Japanese Americans and what's even sadder -- the way we have treated the Indians in this country ... and we haven't learned a damn thing," Allen said. "We are still treating them poorly."

Other things that concern him: America's youth.

"I'm very discouraged by this young generation," he said. "They don't seem to have any sense of responsibility for themselves or those around them."

And while Allen can't drive and has several medical conditions, including surgically-induced diabetes and pancreatitis, he keeps volunteering as the area representative for Honor Flight to do what he can to make a better world.

He wants other veterans to experience the kind of thing he did in Washington D.C. six years ago, when he visited the National World War II Memorial for the first time.

"So many people stopped and talked to me and were so nice to me," Allen said. "So many people thanked me for my service."

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