Happy Memorial Day: Thank You Ed Allen, & All Who Served

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by Ralph Nichols

Today we honor America’s war dead – brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country that we all might live free. We gratefully remember along with them those veterans who served with honor, returned home to live full lives, but now have passed on.

One who served with distinction then settled into civilian live, pursued a career with Boeing and raised a family, and later recalled his wartime experiences – and his courtship of Ethel, the English girl whom he would marry, in Pilot from the Prairie, was Burien’s and Des Moines’ Ed Allen (pictured above, at left with Writer Ralph Nichols).

Captain Edward Allen flew B-24s on bombing runs from bases in England to targets in Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe in late 1944 and early 1945. Ed died in December 2008 at the still-young age of 84.

I first met Ed in 2003 when he walked into the local weekly newspaper office, where I then worked as an editor, to promote his book. I saw him the final time at the Museum of Flight during Seafair weekend last summer when the Blue Angels were in town. He looked well and, still energetic, greeted me with a warm smile. As always, he enjoyed talking that afternoon about the days when, with so many others of the “greatest generation,” he defended our country and fought for the freedom of others.

A farm boy from Kansas who had dreamed of flying, Ed enlisted in the Army Air Corps after the United States entered World War II. As the pilot of a B-24 Liberator, he and his crew would fly – and return safely from – 30 combat missions over enemy territory, bombing factories, rail yards, oil refineries, bridges and coastal gun emplacements. The support for ground troops provided by the flight group he led earned praise from none less than Gen. George S. Patton Jr.

In a 2004 interview with me in the community weekly, Ed described flying a B-24 as “more or less like driving a farm truck.” He also recalled that the four-engine heavy bomber “could take quite a bit of punishment and still get back.” This confidence in the structural integrity of his plane and its powerful engines was significant.

“As soon as we got into enemy territory, it was not uncommon to see clouds of flak (exploding anti-aircraft shells). It was disconcerting to look ahead and see all these little puffs of flack, knowing that you had to fly through that.” Ed kept his flight group in tight formation on bombing runs, which helped keep them from being attacked by enemy fighters. “Most of the time,” he said, “they all came back.”

That summer, I had an opportunity to join Ed aboard a Collings Foundation B-24 from Tacoma Narrows Airport to Seattle’s Boeing Field. For me, it was the flight of a lifetime; for Ed, a sentimental journey. With misty eyes that betrayed bittersweet memories, he said back on the ground that except for the noise of the engines – and the absence of flak – the plane was exactly as he remembered it.

It was a privilege to share that flight with him – and my privilege and pleasure to know him. Ed Allen truly was an officer and a gentleman. R.I.P., captain, together with all your comrades in arms whose service, devotion and sacrifice for America we honor today.

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