by Wayne Allensworth
Consider this a follow up to my Memorial Day Message.
Harold Oliver Allensworth was my uncle and namesake (My full name is Harold Wayne Allensworth). He was killed in action on June 6, 1944, D-Day, the Allied invasion of Europe. Sergeant Allensworth, the ball turret gunner on a B-24 christened “Sweating it Out” by its crew, would have turned 19 on June 29. My father was 13 when Harold’s plane went down. Harold was listed as “missing in action” for some time. The plane was never recovered. Only one crew member’s body was found, washing up on a beach in Normandy, France.
I recall a photo of my grandmother dressed in black, receiving Harold’s Purple Heart after he had been declared dead. I also recall my grandfather at a ceremony honoring the fallen men in Houston in the late 1980s. A monument was opened at Bear Creek Park, a bugler played “Taps,” and grandad walked up to the monument inscribed with the names of the fallen Americans. He touched Harold’s name, saying “My boy, my boy.” He had never spoken of the loss in my presence.
I was the first family member to visit the American cemetery near Colleville-sur-Mer in Normandy, located above D-Day’s Omaha Beach, the site of fierce fighting on that “longest day.” It was a surprisingly cool afternoon in June, 1983. Over 9,000 graves are at the cemetery. At a garden near the gravesites is a wall inscribed with the names of the missing. I took some pictures and went on a walk along the beach. It was quite a memorable day.
When my father passed away, I found among his personal possessions a letter from the War Department assuring my grandmother, who had apparently been writing many anguished inquiries, that the authorities were doing all they could to find Harold.
General J.A. Ulio wrote that, “You have my heartfelt sympathy in your sorrow and it is my earnest hope that the fortitude that has sustained you in the past will continue through this distressing period of uncertainty.” Another was a notice that Harold had been awarded the Air Medal. When Harold was declared dead, my grandmother was told that she would receive monthly life insurance benefits of $40.40 per month.
Another letter I found (dated October 27, 1944) was from a worried fellow crewmember’s mother–she and my grandmother had been corresponding–holding out some hope that their boys would still be found alive. Mrs. Gross wrote of her son Norman, of Harold, and the other young crewmen, “Please keep praying” for them, to not lose faith. “I’m sure the boys are alright.”
My grandmother had hand copied a prayer in the form of a poem–perhaps from a local newspaper–that in part read, “Somewhere in the sky my lad is flying. The little lad that knelt beside my knee…Somewhere in the sky–O God stand by him. And grant him skill to do his part.”
Harold had written home a number of times. In March, 1944, he wrote to his parents telling them not to worry, that he was “OK and feeling fine” assuring them that “nothing is going to happen to me.” He told them that he would “do his darnedest to come back.” “You can bet on that.” He signed it “Your loving son,” with a P.S. “Don’t worry about me.”
An earlier letter told them not to be concerned about the raincoat he had forgotten at home–they issued him another one.
Harold played baseball, liked to roller skate, and played in the high school band. I have a letter from his high school principal dated December 1942 recommending him for a job at the post office. His cousin, James Wright, had tried to get Harold to attempt a transfer to radio school training, but Harold wouldn’t do it. He was a gunner and a gunner he would remain.
The earnest patriotism, the genuine love and devotion of these people is hard to fathom or gauge from our jaded time. But it was real.
The young men who went to war then were citizen soldiers, men who went off to do a dirty job, hoping to return home to lead the lives they had planned and hoped for. They were simple people with simple, human-scale dreams. They were my family members and I remember them well. As older men, it was hard to picture them as heroes, but they were common men who proved that they were capable of uncommon things. A part of the young me envied them. Harold’s death and the memory of his life was ever present in our family. It was perhaps some solace to us that he died in what we considered a “good war.”
But too many young people have died in too many wars, many of them fought on dubious pretexts. We celebrate their valor, and we should, but we must always be vigilant that lives are not expended in any but the most extreme circumstances. War has to be the very last resort.