Friday, May 28, 2021

Before the memory fades: Field and Allen, Windham’s sons of sacrifice and honor

Sgt. James Franklin Allen
By Walter Lunt

Last week, this column discussed the character and combat legacy of Charles W.W. Field, Windham’s first casualty of World War 1. Part 2 is about the first loss of a native son during World War II, James Allen.

L. Wayne Allen retrieved the contents of his mailbox and immediately recognized the handwriting on one of the envelopes. It was from his older brother, James Allen, who was serving in the United States Marine Corps overseas – World War II had been raging for several years and the Allen family, like all war families of the early 1940s, was anxious about the status of their sons and daughters in uniform.

The letter from James indicated that should anything happen to him, L. Wayne should take possession of his dairy cows. A grim communication.

James had established a substantial herd of livestock before going off to the war in the fall of 1941. He loved the farm, which had been in the family for generations. It is located on Cartland Road in the Popeville (Friends) neighborhood of Windham, and is now being maintained by James’ nephew, Lee Allen (L. Wayne and Monica Allen’s son).

James saw his first action at Roi-Namur in the Kwajalein Atoll, then in Saipan and the invasions of the Marshall Islands, engagements described as fierce and bloody. Each battle victory moved the U.S. closer to the Japanese mainland and would facilitate long-range bombing attacks.

Then came Iwo Jima, a 2-by-4 square mile island less than 700 miles from the Japanese homeland. A bomber base there would enable B-29s to fly only half the distance to Japan and back. Some 22,000 Japanese stood ready to defend the island.

In February 1945, Sgt. Allen was among three infantry divisions put ashore there to engage in one of the most violent and deadly operations of the war. He would die in battle two weeks later, along with 5,930 other Marines.

 A posthumous citation, awarded after his death and presented to his mother, Flora Allen, detailed Sgt. James Allen’s valor in combat. It read: “For excellent service as squad leader in a reconnaissance company during operations against the enemy on March 6, 1945 on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands. Sergeant Allen maintained control of his men while under heavy machine gun and mortar fire. He succeeded in withdrawing his squad from an enemy machine gun lane to commanding ground. Without regard for his personal safety, he exposed himself on numerous occasions to severe enemy fire to direct the evacuation of the wounded. His courage and conduct throughout were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.” (Signed) C.B. Cates, Major General, USMC, Commanding 4th Marine Division.

James was the first Windham native to die in World War II, just as his cousin, Lt. Charles W.W. Field had been the first from Windham to perish in World War I (The Windham Eagle – May 21, 2021).

News of James’ death hit the Windham community hard. The family fielded letters, cards and phone calls for weeks. There were newspaper articles and, for a while, he was the only news in town.

His high school yearbook noted he was an “outstanding basketball player;” and participated in the school newspaper, swimming, drama club, speaking (contest), orchestra, chorus, Future Farmers of America, class treasurer, and president of the student council.

While distinguishing himself as a Marine at war, James wrote many letters home to family and friends. Many are kept at the Windham Historical Society. They display a remarkable sense of selflessness and devotion. In them, he spoke little of himself, instead inquiring extensively about every detail of the lives of his seven brothers and sisters, his friends and relatives, even his cows. He thanked his father for selling his automobile, saying he hoped to buy a new car when he got home. He had left behind a fiancée, so marriage was also to be part of a homecoming.

Among the many memories and tributes in the months and years following James’ death was one written by his nephew, Lee Allen. In “A tribute to my Uncle James Franklin Allen,” he quotes a close friend of his uncle’s, who described the fallen soldier this way, “(Jim) always impressed me with his physique and his honest, calm, straightforward manner. One could feel the strength of character in his personality.”

To memorialize its two native sons, Windham would name a school and a local American Legion Post in their honor.

Lee Allen would go on to teach at the Field-Allen School, named in part for his uncle. At least once every year, he would speak to the classes about the honor and sacrifice of Charles W.W. Field and James Franklin Allen so that the students would know and understand the significance of their school’s namesakes.

Field and Allen were alike in many ways. Both grew up on a Windham farm and seemed pledged to stay there; both were men of high personal character; both responded early-on to the call of their country; both left their fiancée behind, never realizing a married life; and, they were cousins.

Finally, it would seem those famous words spoken by a Navy admiral of Iwo Jima, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue,” could easily be applied to both Field and Allen. <

Friday, May 21, 2021

Before the memory fades: Field and Allen, Windham’s sons of sacrifice and honor

Lieut. C.W.W. Field. Writing around
the photo says 'Killed at Chateau
Thierry - July 18, 1918 - Shot by
German sniper - 103 Machine
Gun Batt. 26th Division - Killed
By Walter Lunt

In observance of Memorial Day, 2021, Before the Memory Fades explores the character and the combat legacy of two native sons, Lt. Charles W.W. Field and Sgt. James Allen, who died fighting in World Wars I and II respectively, and became the collective namesake of an American Legion Post and a Windham middle school. Part one focuses on Lt. Field.

Charles William Wallace Field was born in Windham on June 25, 1892 to William and Emily (Lamb) Field. William was a Civil War veteran, having served with the 25th Maine Regiment. He died in 1893 when his only son, Charles, was 1-year-old.

Charles grew up in Windham helping his widowed mother, sisters and a boarder work the family farm. He was a member of Presumpscot Lodge of Masons of North Windham. Following his early education in Windham grammar schools and at North Yarmouth Academy, Charles entered Bowdoin College where he served as president of Sigma Upsilon fraternity for several years.

By around 1915, Charles was working various jobs for the Grand Trunk and Boston and Maine Railroads. A later newspaper report said the young Field enlisted in the U. S. Army immediately following America’s entry into the World War. He was commissioned an officer at the Plattsburg (New York) Training Camp and shipped out overseas in October 1917.

Lt. “Chick” Field would engage German forces in a major confrontation at Chateau-Thierry, France in July of 1918. The last heroic moments of his life would be recorded in a book, With the Yankee Division in France, written by Boston Globe reporter Frank Sibley, who witnessed much of the conflict:

“Lieutenant ‘Chick’ Field of North Windham, Maine was in a machine gun battalion. The man commanding the platoon ahead of Field’s chucked away his cane when he started on an advance out of Bouresches, and Lieut. Field picked it up and led his men down into the deadly railroad cutting, behind a built-up embankment where they had to stand and take it for a few moments.

Lieut. Field was as cool as though he had been behind the guns that were sweeping the digging, instead of being the very center of their fire. He was really in a support command, and supposed to be in the echelon. But he came up, with his supports, and insisted on moving. He and his men alike were anxious to get into the fight on this first day of the offensive.

He moved back and forth directing his men and swinging his cane jauntily. And his death came swiftly and mercifully (by a German sniper) while he was smilingly at his work. His body is buried there in the cut where the detail found him next day.”

Days later, the Portland Express-Advertiser reported on the memorial service for Lt. Field…” held at the Union Church at North Windham…attended by a large delegation of family and friends. The sermon was preached by Rev. Jas. E. Aikins, pastor of the Congregational Church at Windham Hill…A large American flag extended across the back of the church…Many beautiful flowers including roses, Easter lilies and seasonable blossoms were sent. As the remains of the young officer lie in France, these floral tributes were sent to the sick and shut-ins among his former neighbors.”

Three years later, on September 3, 1921, The Portland Evening Express reported, “The body of Lieut. Charles W.W. Field of Co. A 53nd Brigade, 26th Division, who made the supreme sacrifice on the morning of July 18, 1918 in the World War, has arrived at his home here.” He is interred at the Smith Cemetery, Windham Center.

Among Field’s possessions, retrieved after his death, was a framed picture of his fiancée, Mollie Sheehan.  On the back of the photo, written in pencil in Mollie’s handwriting was, “Left by Chick Field with his ‘buddy’ when he went to the firing line – July 17, 1918. He was killed July 18, 1918 at Chateau Thierry. This picture was returned to me by (a) Capt. Thomas of Providence, R.I.”

In 1938, 20 years following the death of Field, the Windham American Post 148 was chartered in honor of the town’s first soldier killed in action in the World War – the Charles W. Field Post 148. Another name would be added following World War II. <

Next week, the story of USMC Sgt. James Allen.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Before the memory fades: Zoning, a distasteful idea in the 1960s and 1970s

By Walter Lunt

Windham is going through yet another growth spurt. For decades, planners and town leaders have initiated zoning regulations designed to stimulate or slow down development in certain areas. Throughout, one overarching goal has been to preserve the town’s rural character. Baby-boomers say, “Here we go again, it’s history repeating itself.” They refer to the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s, when population and commercial growth skyrocketed. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say there are similarities.

Early in the decade of the 1960s, the town was reeling from a steadily growing population and crowded schools. Concern over rising property taxes was also growing. By 1969, in their annual report, the town’s Selectmen wrote, “Our population is increasing very rapidly … percentagewise we are the fastest growing community in Greater Portland … along with this growth, comes the need for zoning, newer schools, sewage treatment and more public services.” Further, citizens were clamoring for a modern library, additional street lighting, water line extensions, increased police and fire protection, and new public roads. Zoning, however, was an unpopular notion among much of the populace. A familiar refrain at the time was, “Nobody’s going to tell me what I can do with my own property.”

A view is shown of North Windham in the 1970s.
Residents call it 'citification.'
Also, attempts were under way to broaden the town’s tax base by encouraging and assisting business and industrial firms to locate in Windham. The Windham Development Commission, however, reported that their efforts were hampered by the lack of a land use ordinance (zoning), Chairman Richard Clark said Windham’s lack of zoning prohibited efforts to secure financial assistance from an area building fund to develop an industrial park in South Windham.

“…we urge the community to consider adoption of some land use ordinances to provide businesses the protection that they so often insist upon before making a substantial investment with a community. We would like to attempt to preserve Windham’s many natural resources and characteristics and at the same time, broaden our tax base to cope with the influences of urbanization…”

To illustrate the extent, and the urgency, of the town’s swelling immigration problem, Windham’s population at the close of World War II was around 2,000 souls; by 1960, the number tripled to nearly 6,000, and 7,000 a decade later in 1970.

The number of housing starts were equally astonishing during the brief period. The town recorded 41 units (dwellings) in 1966; by 1972, the number had exploded to 279.

Despite what town officials considered to be a critical need, Windhamites continued to oppose any type of zoning ordinance, even though many complained of “suburbanization” and of “outsiders” coming into town trying to tell the locals how to run their town. By 1973, a 10-year struggle to adopt zoning had been turned down as many times by voters. It seemed the town was, as one resident put it, “progressing into its past.” In its 1971 annual report to the town, the Windham Planning Board stated flatly, “We no longer can afford the luxury of looking the other way.”

At a special town meeting in November 1972, voters passed, by the narrowest of margins – 34 votes, what was described as a “mild” land use ordinance. Opponents, with a lingering distaste for zoning of any kind, went right to work with petitions demanding a new vote. In balloting the following June, voters repealed the four-month-old ordinance by a vote of 954 to 688. A newly empaneled zoning board of appeals was immediately forced out of business.

“Windham doesn’t move forward – it always takes a step backward,” commented one disgusted zoning proponent.

A side note, in that same June election, Windham voted in favor of building a new fire station in North Windham, approved the use of absentee ballots in municipal elections, and increased membership on the town select board from three to five.

Following the last in a long string of defeats for zoning, the Windham Planning Board went into double overtime (meeting, at times, twice weekly); a newly empaneled Town Council (which had replaced the selectmen form of government), in an effort to slow growth, passed a moratorium on all new subdivisions. An updated comprehensive plan was in the works, along with a re-drafted land use ordinance. In June 1976, it was passed, probably due, in part, to what residents were calling the “citification” of North Windham.

Now, in the 2000s, problems and issues similar to those of the early 1970s are plaguing residents and town officials once again. In the words of a forgotten historian, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but sometimes it sure does rhyme.” <