By MARGARET MATRAY - Star-Tribune staff writer
PFC. William 'Bud' Allen served as a paratrooper from 1943 to 1946, including the Battle of the Bulge and the invasion of Germany. Allen earned two Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars and a Presidential Citation with the Army's 1st Battalion for the invasion of Germany.
Unit: 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 17th Airborne Division
War fronts: Served as a paratrooper from 1943 to 1946, including the Battle of the Bulge and the invasion of Germany. Allen earned two Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars and a Presidential Citation with the Army's 1st Battalion for the invasion of Germany.
1. After a 19-year-old Allen was shot, he was awaiting surgery at a hospital in England when a nurse approached him and asked his age. She leaned down and kissed him on the forehead, which upset one of the doctors. Allen has not forgotten what she said in return: 'He's just a boy.' (Tim Kupsick/Star-Tribune)
2. William Allen of Lusk served in World War II as a paratrooper, an elite group of men who led invasions by jumping from the sky. Being the first ones across enemy lines, Allen said the paratroopers didn’t know what to do with German prisoners of war when they captured them. 'There was no set rule. You either shoot them or turn them loose. … You had to use your own judgment there. The group I was with, why, we never did have to shoot any.' (Tim Kupsick/Star-Tribune)
3. William Allen war medals are displayed at his home in Lusk. (Tim Kupsick/Star-Tribune)
The planes flew low that day, treetop level. They blanketed the air in a sea of black, slowing to 120 mph to deliver the men who dropped from the sky.
Small arms fire ignited from below, striking some paratroopers before they could even make the jump.
From such a short height, it would be over fast. Swing once, twice, hit the earth.
Pfc. William Allen waited for the signal.
The paratroopers knew their mission, leading the invasion of Germany as the first ones in. But from their planes, they couldn’t yet see the Germans below.
“We was paid double,” Allen says.
“It just sounded good.” He pauses, his voice cracks. “You’re a kid, you know?”
The oldest in their unit was 28. They went in before the tanks and heavy equipment, left alone to fight a war with only what they could carry.
The paratroopers were a new, elite force when Allen was drafted in 1943. Height and weight restrictions were tight, but Allen qualified after passing an exam for the special forces.
The paratrooper ran everywhere. To the mess hall, to mail call, to the bus, he was always on the double. He needed to be in peak physical condition to handle jumping from planes, wind so strong it could knock a man silly.
During training, leather chinstraps often snapped in the force of a jump, and Allen remembers steel helmets raining down from the sky. By the time he got to war, canvas replaced leather. The helmets stayed snug.
They were the only arm of the military that wore bloused pants and smooth leather boots, which prevented parachute strings from catching on buckles. Their packs weighed about 60 pounds. Paratroopers never had enough equipment. A box of ammunition alone weighed 20 pounds, a machine gun weighed 22. They had radios, but those rarely worked.
Allen was assigned to the 17th Airborne Division and sent to England. Paratroopers were locked down the week before making a jump, their location kept secret because they led the invasion. By the end of 1944, blustery weather kept the paratroopers from jumping into the Battle of the Bulge. They walked in.
They fought by destroying supply lines, hoping to cut off gasoline and leave German tanks helpless.
Trees offered the only protection. Allen remembers digging into the woods once, artillery fire raining down the whole night. In the morning, the trees looked like telephone poles.
The troops were advancing when the men from Company B got caught away from the trees in an open field.
“The German tanks got them,” Allen says. “I never knew,” he breaks off, " ... what happened to them for several years later. … Most of them got captured. Part of them got killed.”
Paratroopers were allowed to quit the regiment and be reassigned elsewhere in the Army. Allen stayed.
He spent one month recovering from frozen feet and light shrapnel in the hospital before he was briefed on what came next for him: jumping into Germany to protect the bridge at Wesel. The Allies needed to move supplies across the Rhine.
Officers prepped paratroopers on the mission with photographs and piles of sand representing the hills and mountains. Usually they jumped at night, when it was harder for the enemy to see. This jump would take place in daylight.
It took Allen seconds to reach ground.
“You had to get away from the fire as best you could,” he says. “If you couldn’t, you’d just lay there.”
After three hours, Allen saw a hedgerow and decided to put the bushes between himself and enemy fire. But there were Germans on both sides.
A soldier shot Allen through both arms and one hand.
In the absence of medical tents, paratroopers tended to themselves. They each carried their own bandages and a vial of morphine.
Allen pulled himself toward a patch of trees for protection. He tried to stop the bleeding, but his thumb was dangling, barely attached. He stepped on it and tore it off.
He knew he needed to get out of there. Weak, he crawled up to the road, unsure of who would find him – Germans or Americans.
Two officers in a jeep arrived first. Americans.
Allen made it to a hospital in France, and later, England. A doctor saved his arms from amputation.
A luxury liner that brought troops to war now carried them home wounded, converted to a hospital ship. A major ordered a nurse to put Allen in a cast. It hurt terribly, and Allen convinced her to take it off. The major was livid, threatening to court martial.
“Go ahead,” Allen had told him. He hadn’t been paid, was listed as a stretcher case and was shot to hell. The only things he had to his name was a hospital robe.
He told the major he’d be standing at the railing in his pajamas when the ship docked in the U.S.
But when that moment came, Allen couldn’t stand himself. On deck, from his stretcher, he watched as the Statue of Liberty came into view.
For the rest of his life Allen defied the limitations of his limbs.
“I don’t like to look back,” Allen says now. “I like to look forward.”
His best physical therapy came in the oil fields. He regained his strength from years of hard, physical labor.
When his wife fell several months ago, he built her a ramp so she’d never have to deal with stairs again. Until recently, he got on a ladder and changed the light bulbs at church. He drew the blueprints for his house and filled it with desks, tables and shelves he built himself, with his own two hands.
They Served With Honor
Some have said that 1,000 World War II veterans die each day in United States. History dies with each one.
"They Served With Honor" is a special project by the Star-Tribune to collect stories from Wyoming World War II veterans. We will feature one story each week, from Veterans Day to Veterans Day.
The original article may be found in this Casper Star Tribune feature article