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. <

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