Hard luck hit the Allan family in 1940 when John T. Allan, a carpenter and father of two sons, died of a massive stroke.
His older son, also named John, quit high school and started working as a butcher to help support his brother, Paul, and their stepmother, Ida.
Then more bad luck occurred.
“John took ill, and I had to quit high school and go out and work to help the family,” Paul E. Allan recalls. “I worked for three different truck farmers in Gardenville. My stepmother worked as a nurse’s aide at Mercy Hospital in the emergency room, but we needed more to make ends meet.”
Allan, though, entertained some lofty notions about his work life.
“I thought I’d like to fly and enlisted in 1944 with the Army Air Forces,” he says, not yet aware that his flyboy dreams would lead to quite a financial boost.
As a farmhand, his monthly pay was about $40; as a sergeant on a B-24 bomber, it was $117. His family back home sure appreciated the extra money.
But Allan paid a high price for his wages, flying from Okinawa up to Japan, nestled in the bomber’s nose, where his twin .50-caliber machine guns were located.
“I would joke with the pilot that I arrived at the bomb site sooner than he did because my turret was ahead of him,” Allan says. “He’d smile when I told him.”
As the “lead” crew member, he realized there was a good chance the enemy, if coming head-on, would most likely take aim at him first.
“One time, as I was climbing into the turret as we approached the target site, either the pilot or co-pilot warned us that a Japanese Zero fighter plane was coming right at us with guns blazing,” Allan recalls. “That was kind of scary. He just made one pass and went on his merry way.”
When the mission was completed and the B-24 was preparing to land, the pilot asked Allan to check the left landing gear.
“It looked OK to me,” Allan says, “but when we touched down, the tire was flat. We started to sink, and the pilot and co-pilot put their feet on the brakes and pulled the throttles back on the two right-side engines and pushed the two left throttles forward to put more speed on, and we landed in a third of the normal runway it would take to land and straight as an arrow.”
The pilot was 21 and known as “the old man.” That landing made him a wise old man, not to mention a hero.
“It could have been pretty rough for us,” Allan says. “When I had looked out the plane’s window and saw the tire, there was no weight on it, so it had looked OK.”
In the weeks before the two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, Allan and his fellow crew members were no strangers to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, from about 15,000 feet above the cities.
“We were mostly bombing factories and train yards. We dropped incendiary and general-purpose bombs,” he says. “Our plane was usually the first ahead of the squadron because of the fact that we were a radar unit. That allowed us to pick up railroad tracks, rivers, streams. In the dead of night, we could tell exactly where we were.”
Three days before the first of the two A-bombs was dropped, Allan recalls seeing a notice that warned bomber crews not to fly within a certain radius of Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
“We looked at each other and said, ‘Hey, what’s happening?’ When they dropped the bomb, three days later, we knew what was happening.”
The war ended Aug. 14, 1945. But Allan’s service continued just outside Tokyo.
Part of Kelly’s Cobras with the 494th Bomb Group. He and his fellow airmen wore an insignia that featured the head of a cobra holding a bomb. That did not go over well with the local citizenry they sometimes encountered.
“They’d shake their fists at us and yell,” Allan recalls. “We didn’t understand a word of the Japanese, but we knew they didn’t like us.”
Back home, Allan attended agricultural college and graduated in 1948 from Cobleskill State College. That opened the door to working at dairy farms, milking cows and cleaning barns. His hard work advanced him to milk testing with the Dairy Herd Improvement Cooperative, and he worked for the organization for 40 years until retiring in 2002.
Allan had married Amelia Landahl, and they raised two sons. After 59 years of marriage, his wife died Dec. 6, 2013, and he says he sorely misses her.
“She cooked my meals for me. Now I have to cook for myself and, even worse, eat what I cook,” Allan says, managing to maintain a sense of humor.
Paul E. Allan, 88
• Hometown: Buffalo
• Residence: Springville
• Branch: Army Air Forces
• War zone: Pacific
• Years of service: 1944-46
• Rank: Sergeant
• Most prominent honors: Asiatic-Pacific Theater Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal
• Specialty: Armorer/machine-gunner on B-24 bomber