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Interview with James W. Allen [December 20, 2002]

Judith Kent:

Today is December 20, 2002. This is Judith Kent speaking from the Flagler County Public Library in Palm Coast, Florida. Joining me today is Mr. James W. Allen who was born on January 9,1933. Mr. Allen now resides in Palm Coast, Florida. We have collaborated in the past on a local history project sponsored by the library. No other persons attend the interview. First of all thank you, Jim for agreeing to participate in the Library of Congress-Veterans Project. Would you tell us what branch of service you served in?

James W. Allen:

I served in the US Army.

Judith Kent:

OK, and your rank?

James W. Allen:

I retired as a 1st Sergeant.

Judith Kent:

Where were you stationed?

James W. Allen:

I was stationed several places overseas, but during the war I was stationed in Korea and also Viet Nam.

Judith Kent:

Let's go back now to your childhood. Tell me a little bit about your family.

James W. Allen:

I was born in a little town called Kendrick (outside of Ocala, Florida). I lived with my grandparents in my younger childhood. My father was a Methodist minister; he traveled quite a bit with my mother. My grandparents thought that I should stay stabilized somewhere, so I stayed with them on the farm. I grew up on the farm. We sharecropped. For those who might not know what that means, after slavery they decided to allow the blacks to farm land. They gave them forty acres of land that they could farm. If they couldn't make it on their own they could share with whoever else had farms. They would have to share the crops once they were produced. So I lived on this farm with my grandparents and we sharecropped with the Chapels (in that particular time). The Chapels were family, there were two kids and we all lived close together and farmed and enjoyed life together. Of course, the Chapels were white.

Judith Kent:

You had chores?

James W. Allen:

As farmers we always had chores. Kids, from the time that they were able to move around, had chores. We had to feed the horses, the cows, the hogs, whatever we had on the farm: chickens, ducks, turkeys. Whatever we had, we had to feed. Normally that involved getting up at 6 o'clock in the morning and doing it. When you started school of course you had to be to school around 8 o'clock, so the chores had to be done prior to that. We had to get up at 6. My grandmother was the one that normally woke us up and she always woke us up with the smell of biscuits or whatever it was she was baking at the time. We had a pretty good time.

Judith Kent:

So you had a real warm, loving environment?

James W. Allen:

Sure.

Judith Kent:

So after you grew up and got through school, then you had some decisions to make.

James W. Allen:

Yes. Actually, just before I graduated from school I had a job with some folks there in Ocala named Bierly. They had a hotel up in New York where they worked during the summer. It was in Chautauqua, New York. They asked me if I wanted to go up and I went up with them and worked during the summer. When I came back after working up there it wasn't the same, [laughs] I saw life entirely different. Where it was very segregated down in Ocala where I came from, up there [in New York] it wasn't. I decided immediately that I wasn't going to live in Ocala anymore. I wanted to move around. Since I had approached the age of 18 (which everybody told you as you were growing up, "When you are 18 you are a man, you are going to have to take care of yourself') I moved out and joined the military.

Judith Kent:

So you enlisted?

James W. Allen:

I enlisted. It was during the Korean War and they were offering you a lot of things at that time: complete medical and all of that. Later on we found out that was not completely true. I did enlist and enjoyed it. The strict discipline and so forth that we encountered in the military I had already experienced [as a child] so it wasn't a real problem.

Judith Kent:

Basic training wasn't that arduous?

James W. Allen:

It was not difficult at all. I had always learned to respect the authority and do what I was supposed to do, so it wasn't a problem for me. It wasn't long before I was recognized for that and I began to move up in the ranks.

Judith Kent:

What was your first duty?

James W. Allen:

I learned in basic training to be an infantryman. A point that I want to make about that was that I came into the military shortly after they integrated the services. Harry Truman had announced that he wanted all of the services integrated, so it was a trial thing, so to speak when I came in. They weren't sure whether blacks had leadership skills or anything like that. Shortly after I finished basic training I was allowed to go to Leadership School. In Leadership School you are evaluated and if you don't pass, of course they explain the reason why. I just barely made it. They explained to me that the reason why, was that I was a little slower than some of the white soldiers in the class. They didn't think that I was basically slow, it was just that I was slow (it seemed like) for a reason. When you are brought in a kind of a segregated environment you kind of think that you shouldn't go ahead of the whites. Basically I think that they determined that might have been the problem. I passed all of the other things that I was supposed to. I was shipped overseas to Korea during the war. 2

Judith Kent:

Do you remember when you arrived? What was that like?

James W. Allen:

Oh gee, that was really unusual because we went overseas on a boat. When we got to Sasebo, Japan we were taken off to get our supplies. We had to zero in our weapons and so forth. There was a lot of talk about the war and how the American forces were being killed and so forth. Everybody was very comprehensive [apprehensive]. When we got on the boat to go there [Korea] we were told that we were going to make a landing in Inchon. We were all very (I guess) afraid, [laughing] We didn't know what to expect at the time. We were met by PT boats once we got near the area. We got into the PT boats, with all of our luggage and so forth on our shoulders and were taken to land in combat style. Later on we were met and taken by trucks to a railroad train and shipped to our post (our units) from there. The amazing thing about it was that when I got my assignment it was to artillery, not infantry (which is what I was trained for). When I got to my artillery unit of course I was asked questions and so forth. In questioning they found out that I could type, however the need at the time was for "ammo men", feeding the guns. So I worked at that for some time until I could avail myself of doing some typing that they needed in the Orderly Room. Eventually they took me off the gun and had me do some typing and the morning report and those kinds of things. I was given additional MOS [Military Occupational Specialty, a career identifier] of Administrative Company Clerk. I was a 710 and I had a 1 IB Infantry when I got there. I never really got the Artillery MOS. I went from an infantryman to a clerk. I stayed there all of my combat duty in Korea the first time as clerk. When the war was over (I got there in March of '53 and the war was over in July of '53) we were transferred from the front lines to the rear echelon (this was in the 7th [Army] Division). We had a lot of free time, but it was still a combat environment. Even though we were able to play sports and so forth during the day, we still had to provide guards for our perimeter. At that particular time I was a corporal, and I was Corporal of the Guards. A Major who was the Deputy Commander of the Artillery Unit came into our post one night and found one of my guards asleep. I was in the orderly room and he brought his [the sleeping soldier's] weapon to the orderly room and said, "I want this man relieved." I did, and explained to him that I had checked my guards twenty minutes before and that he was very much awake. He said, "Report this to the CO the next day", which I did. I was due to go on R & R and I didn't hear any more about it, so I did go on R & R to Japan for a week. When I got back, my commander (who had the same name as mine, but a different middle initial) his name was James R. Allan, spelled Allan, mine was James W. Allen, spelled Allen... He was the CO, 1st Lieutenant and I was the Company Clerk. I overheard the conversation (I picked up the phone because I answered all the phones) when then the Artillery Commander called, he thought he was talking to the CO. He said, "I want this man reduced in grade, I want to make an example here." So I was a Corporal at the time and I was reduced "without prejudice" to PFC. All of the guards who were on (other than the one that was caught asleep) wanted to come to my rescue and say, "Look, I know you were out there. It wasn't your fault!" My Commander said to me that he felt that I should accept the punishment "without prejudice" (which means that he could make me back to Corporal the very next month, which he tried to do). The same thing happened all over again; he called and said, "No, I 3 don't think it is time." I had to wait a little while; I did get my promotion back, but by that time I was ready to come back to the states. Administrative people were not making rank as fast as other people with the combat services. So it took me a while before I made E5 and I was transferred from Fort Rucker, Alabama where I was assigned to Huntsville for a promotion that I did get. After I made the promotion I was scheduled to go back to Korea again; which I did. I spent my second tour in Korea and I was in the 4th Missile Battalion at that time. Again, I am an administrative man because I didn't have the combat MOS. I still had the administrative [MOS]. I worked in personnel. I spent, it was a year to the day and then I came back to the states.

Judith Kent:

That was after the war had ended?

James W. Allen:

Yes, after the war had ended.

Judith Kent:

There was some nation rebuilding going on?

James W. Allen:

Yes, at the time the "Honest John" missile was the big thing in the Army arsenal. They wanted to see how that would work in combat. We never got to use that because the war was over and we were just on stand by, so to speak. Again, I was able to go to Japan for a leave (they called it R & R). After you are over there for six months they give you R & R. I was able to do that. The funny thing about going from where I was to Seoul where you had to catch the plane was that there was a small train (a one engine train). It got to a point where the train would not go over a hill and we all had to get out and push the train up to the point where it would get over the hill. They we got back on. [laughing] I thought that was very odd.

Judith Kent:

You spoke about the race issue, did that effect your social life as a soldier?

James W. Allen:

Still there were places that you went where blacks and whites had different facilities, different social clubs. I, being a NCO [Non Commissioned Officer] at that particular time, the NCO club that I had to go to was all black. Maybe down the street a little ways the NCO club was all white. They did have some integration, but there were problems. They still kept them separate and segregated, but you had a choice after a while to go to either one you wanted. If you didn't think you were going to get in trouble, you were free to go to the other.

Judith Kent:

Did you have a chance to date?

James W. Allen:

When I was in Leadership School... When you graduate from Leadership School the one thing you did was that you had ladies brought in by bus from the nearest town to socialize. There wasn't very many blacks in leadership school at the time. I remember one other man in my particular class. His name was Bernard Jenkins. He and I were the only blacks in our particular group. When the ladies came over they kind of shied away from us, but the one that was in charge made it a point to socialize and make us feel comfortable.

Judith Kent:

Were you able to keep in touch with your family and friends?

James W. Allen:

Yes, I loved to write, so I would always sit down... We had different areas in our barracks where you could sit and write. You had to share those common use areas and you had to clean them up, too. It was good lighting and you could actually sit at these places even after lights out and write letters home. I used to do a lot of writing home.

Judith Kent:

Was there a special girl back home?

James W. Allen:

Yes, being very religious (coming from a religious family) growing up we had what in the Methodist church were called, bible seminary. You had it at a different location; you didn't have it in your particular home town, but in other locations. When I went to another location I met a young lady that I cared a lot about and even in the military we corresponded. But like most men, after a while you get the "Dear John" letter; I got one. We kept in touch later on, but it was never a close relationship after that.

Judith Kent:

Where to after Japan, after your R & R there?

James W. Allen:

Most of my assignments after I came back from Korea the second time, I was stationed at Brooklyn Army Terminal. Again, I am an E5 now (which is a lot of responsibility as far as the enlisted are concerned). I was put in charge of what they called, "Army Community Service" which was a new program that was just beginning. A new enlisted person coming into this location (the Brooklyn Army Terminal) I would have all of the necessary information that he would need in order to relocate, even with his family. I had listings for housing (apartments and so forth for his family) also based on what his desires were (his likes and dislikes) it was my responsibility to lock him up with all of that. This was a little one room shack that I had, that I served in. There was a lady counterpart to me who was from (I want to say) American Red Cross. I think that is what it was because she had a cross on her shirt. We used to coordinate on a daily basis what the requirements were and who was coming in. Ships also were leaving from that location to go to Germany, but there was no war during that time. These people were just going for assignments in Germany, so we had to make sure that anyone coming to see them off had refreshments and stuff.

Judith Kent:

Interesting!

James W. Allen:

It was an interesting assignment. The Brooklyn Army Terminal later on, before I left there... I got there in 1961 and they closed that operation in the Brooklyn Army Terminal and moved it to Bayonne [New Jersey]. I did not really get involved in the relocation because I had another assignment at that time in Bermuda (which was one of the off-shoots of the major headquarters. It was one of the satellite operations down there. They were loosing both their personnel man and their administrative man, so they thought that I would be able to provide both of those services, so I got that assignment. Shortly before that (being at the Brooklyn Army Terminal) I met Anne [Johnson], my wife who was a nurse at the Veterans Hospital at Fort Hamilton. Of course we had gotten 5 married and had our first child. When I got my assignment in 1967 to go overseas she was pregnant with the second one. I had to go down to Bermuda because the other guy had to leave. I had to be there to see what he was doing and learn his job. I was told that I would be afforded the time to come back and pick up my family. That did go through. I was able to come back to Brooklyn Army Terminal and bring my family down to Bermuda. By that time we had two kids, because Anne had the second one [in the states].

Judith Kent:

That was quite a change.

James W. Allen:

[laughing] Yes. In Bermuda it [the assignment] was transportation. Our main responsibility was to provide assistance to the Air Force because the Air Force did not have a stevedore operation. That was our responsibility to support them in stevedoring all of their supplies and so forth that was coming in; we had to unload them off the ships and provide them that service. Shortly after we got to Bermuda Anne got pregnant again and we were faced with the third kid. Bermuda, even though it was a small island (only 22 miles long) most of the time it would take you an hour to drive from one end of the island to the other. That was a major problem because the hospital where she would have to go to deliver this baby was on the other side of the island. I did several "dry runs" to see how long it would take to get to the other side of the island. We were able to get her there. I think it was 11 o'clock when she said she had to go and at 1:30 the baby was born, [laughing] We made it in time.

Judith Kent:

You just made it! Where to from Bermuda?

James W. Allen:

We lost our mission in Bermuda because the Navy was coming in to take over from the Air Force. Our major headquarters was as I said, in the Brooklyn Army Terminal. So to leave and close out everything my Company Commander and I (being the prime administrative people to do that kind of thing) had to pack up all of the records and make the final notes and reports and so forth and ship all of this stuff back to the states. We were the last, we shipped everybody out and we were the last to leave. We went back on the plane together and of course our families were with us. We shipped our vehicles in plenty of time to have them at the Brooklyn Army Terminal before we got there. We picked up our vehicles and I was reassigned to Fort Lee, Virginia. It was in the Viet Nam war and I felt that I was going to leave from Bermuda and go to Viet Nam. I lucked out; a lot of people who left there did go to Viet Nam, but it was on the tail end of that war and I still hadn't gone. When I went to Fort Lee I figured, "Well, I've gotten away with this one; I won't have to go." After seven months at Fort Lee I received orders to go to Viet Nam. It was just kind of a blanket order because at that time I was an E6. Most E6 [personnel] could get their orders before they left so they would know what organization they were assigned to. It didn't happen with me and when I got there I was in the reception station for two weeks before I got an assignment. Every day I was asking them where I was going to go. Finally they told me that I was going to the Saigon area and I was going to be in the housing management. They had several facilities for people who were in Saigon (to live in). We had to regulate those and make sure they were run 6 properly and so forth. Basically that is what my job was; I was responsible for 48 (they called the motels), coordinating between the owners of those facilities and our headquarters to make sure that they lived up to their contracts as far as making sure that they had American type entertainment and living quarters and so forth (for the soldiers who were going to be utilizing them).

Judith Kent:

Did you have any training for these assignments? Your assignments seem so varied.

James W. Allen:

No.

Judith Kent:

You are in transportation, you are in housing, personnel and you do it.

James W. Allen:

It was unusual for me because I think I have always been an outgoing individual. People look at me and thought, "This guy can do it." As it was, it worked out. Of course, you learn by doing. They call it, "on the job training." I was able to pick it up fairly quickly.

Judith Kent:

I think you are a quick study.

James W. Allen:

Yes, but the job as the manager for these motels didn't last long because we had a drug problem in Viet Nam and they thought that it was mostly black. Who did they pick on? [ points to himself] They created a Saigon Area Drug Rehabilitation Service and I was interviewed by a General (I will show you his picture in a couple of minutes) who said, "I think you can deal with that [manage the Rehabilitation Service]. I want you to report to me directly, let me know what is going on."

Judith Kent:

So now you are going to be the Drug Czar?

James W. Allen:

Yes, the Drug Czar. We had an officer coming in, but we didn't have that officer. So for about three months I was the NCO and the officer. What we did was, we had the Amnesty Program so that when a young man would come up and say, "Look, I've been on drugs and I want to get off of them." That was the Amnesty Program; we would send him through a two week program at our facility for counseling and also detoxification. At the time without the officer (who was also a medical officer) we didn't have the "detox". We just had the counseling. After two weeks they went back to their organization. The facilities that we had was the gym, the swimming pool, the bowling alley, all of the things that they had in Saigon that these young folks could participate in and get back physically fit. It was three months before I got the officer so that we could provide detoxification. We used (gee, I can't think of the name of the medication that we used to detoxify them) but they considered that to be effective, but also addictive.

Judith Kent:

Methadone.

James W. Allen:

Methadone! That was the name of it. We weren't sure that once they got detoxified that they were going to be free from drugs. After that there was a second 7 program; they had the urinalysis test that we provided early in the mornings at 2 or 3 o'clock. Once they got picked up on that they had to go into another program. We were finding out that the young men who were detoxified and counseled and so forth and sent back to their units were coming up the second time, having to have the same program. What you did then was that you sent them to another facility where they were treated and detoxified and shipped back to the states. Your units lost those people; they had to come back to the states under VA control and be separated from the military. I did that job and was recommended for the award of the Bronze Star which I received. I got that before I left.

Judith Kent:

You got the recognition that you deserved.

James W. Allen:

Yes.

Judith Kent:

Where to from there?

James W. Allen:

From Viet Nam I came back to Fort Dix, New Jersey. Having all of this administrative background, they had a need for 1st Sergeants in administrative courses. They had administrative courses and also cook's courses, wireman's courses at Fort Dix. Those people had to have supervision so I was able as an E7 (the 1st Sergeant position is an E8) to get the position as the 1st Sergeant in the Administrative course. They had a request for 1st Sergeants but at that time none of them were available so I did that until a 1st Sergeant was able to come in. I was sent to the "Admin." course as an administrative supervisor teaching typing (of all things) and administrative skills. While I was there I was visited by the Deputy Commanding General of Fort Dix who was a black general (I will show you his picture later on) who asked whether I was interested in coming to headquarters because they had a position open for an administrative man. I told him, "Sure!" Two days later I was told that I was assigned to the post headquarters at Fort Dix. I worked as the Administrative NCO of the people who were working there: the stenographers, the drivers, all of the enlisted people who worked up there, I was responsible for. I was elbow to elbow with general officers which I got to know very well. I worked there for five years. I thought it unusual that I would be there for that long, but then when I got my assignment the general that asked me to come up there had gotten another assignment. He was a one star black general, one of the first black generals in the military (in the Army). He went to Texas and I never heard from him, but shortly after I got (after the five years) I got an assignment to go to Germany. When I went to Germany I was the 1st Sergeant of the Augsburg Community, still an E7, but with my background [in administration] I was 1st Sergeant of the Augsburg Community. Shortly after that I got a message that General Becton, the one star general [General Julius Becton] who made two star down in Texas is now a three star general in charge of the 7th Corps in Stuttgart, Germany. Shortly after I heard that he had arrived. I got a call asking me to come to Stuttgart. At that particular time we had made a major move, my family moving from Fort Dix to Germany, and we were kind of settled. I enjoyed my job as a 1st Sergeant, so when he called and asked, I explained to him. Two days later I got a call from a one star black general who is the 7th Division Artillery Commander (who was in charge of the area where I was), saying, "I hear that you said 8 "no" to the Corps Commander. I said, "I didn't really say no, sir. I just told him that I was enjoying being here [in Stuttgart]." He said, "We love having you here too, but I think that you are needed up there." So I went home and told my wife that eventually I would have to go there. We [the family] couldn't make the move because I had [recently] made a move [to Augsburg] with my family and you are not entitled to another major move. So I had to leave them in Augsburg and move to Stuttgart and come back on the weekends, which he [the general] said that I could do. I didn't have any requirements for special duties like guard duty or CQ or anything like that. I was free to move around and do whatever I wanted to do other than taking care of... My major job was in protocol, taking care of his social calendar and his [the general's] itinerary, letting everybody know where he is going to be and making sure that there was transportation and everything provided for where he would have to go. He went somewhere every single day! Every day he made it a point to visit some of his satellite organizations. I can gladly say that I never lost him [laughing] the whole time. That was a good thing in itself. Working there, my three years was up and I was due to come back to the states. My mother was in ill health and I was kind of looking forward to it. He called me into the office (this same general) and said, "I'm not ready to come back yet, so I would like for you to stay here." I spoke to him about the reason why I wanted to come back. He said, "Well, I think that you can stay for another six months." My tour was extended for another six months so I actually stayed in Germany 42 months as opposed to 36. The second time I was due to come [home] he was still there. He said, "Well you know, I haven't gone back yet, but I understand and I am going to let you go this time." I came back and I was assigned to Fort Meyer, Virginia as a 1st Sergeant [timer sounds] of Special Activities. It wasn't two months [later] and he was also in the Washington area, so we were able to communicate again. The one thing that I mentioned earlier about being in a certain grade for a long period of time kind of "slacks you up" as far as the "Up or Out" program that the Army had at that time. Even though I was an E8, I could not get another promotion for the time that I had received. At this time I am 28 years in the military. When I got back I was notified that within that one year if I didn't make a promotion to E9 that I would have to get out of the military. Even though it disturbed me, it didn't excite me too much because my Commanders said, "Look, no sweat. We will make sure that you stay in." With that one year I was due to move again and my kids were of an age where they hated to leave their friends and so forth, so we were faced with that. I said, "After we make E9 that is a two year responsibility, I would have to stay in. We discussed it, Anne and I and we decided that it wasn't what we really wanted to do. I retired at Fort Meyer with full military honors. Some of the pictures I can show you are really good.

Judith Kent:

Let's take a brief pause here, [changes tape] Side A ends. Side B begins:

James W. Allen:

What we thought that we would do, now that the kids were older and that she was a registered nurse, it was probably be her who would get a job before I did. Even 9 though I had a lot of military and administrative experience, with all of those years of service you are going to be under qualified or over qualified according to what job you applied for. I really ran into that. I took the Civil Service test and passed and did pretty good on it. I just knew that I was going to get a job. I got no calls or nothing. Anne went out and got a job real fast. It was not immediate [urgent] that I get a job, but after six months I was climbing the walls. I wanted to do something! I did anything that I thought I could do. I cut lawns, and finally I got a call from the school indicating that they didn't have any administrative jobs; Belle Terre School was just opened and I thought that I could get into there. They had bus driver jobs and one of those jobs was immediate.

Judith Kent:

Where are you now? Where are you living?

James W. Allen:

I am here in Palm Coast. Yes, we moved from Fort Meyer here to Palm Coast. I had come down a couple of years back and bought some property. Being from Ocala, Palm Coast was only some 80 miles away and I had found out through the Army Times that there was some property here for sale. I had purchased a lot here with the understanding that it would have what we would want. Plus, I was assured that over here [in Palm Coast] was completely integrated. That was one of the things... I didn't want my kids exposed to segregation again. I was told that wouldn't happen, but when we finally moved here we found that only in Palm Coast was it fully integrated.

Judith Kent:

Not in the county as a whole?

James W. Allen:

Not in the county as a whole. Some of the other cities and so forth were still segregated. We are talking 1980! [laughs] When I finally got the bus driving job it was with the school. With my background and my discipline I found it very hard with the kids. After you tell them what to do, them completely disobeying, [laughs] I said right away, "This isn't for me." I told the lady in the office that and if there was something else that she could have me do administratively that I would love to do that. She said, "Well, we are going to have some accounting for equipment and so forth. I will put your name on the list for that." Sure enough after the school year was out I had to identify in the Bunnell Elementary [school] all of the property; had to tag it with metal tags. I worked with that until it was time for school to start up again. I said, "I don't want to drive that bus anymore!" At the time I had met Jim Harris who was the Council on Aging Executive Director (who was ex-military). I explained to him that I was interested in working down to the Council on Aging. He said, "Well, we have a man who is going to be leaving; you put your applications in." It was very shortly after that I got a call to be one of the bus drivers there. When I got there the guy who was in charge of the overall operation said, "My wife has been talking about moving back to New Jersey; we are not going to live here. Would you be interested in this job?" I said to him, "Of course!" At the time, Viet Nam veterans could get at least six months of... What they had to do was identify a job as being one that was designed for Viet Nam veterans. They [the government] would pay the salary of that individual, so the company (if they created that position) would not have to pay the salary. So he was a little hesitant at first to give me the job, but once he found out that they were going to pay my salary, of course he gave me the job. We began 10 to move in getting more buses and so forth. We went from two buses until when I retired in '95 to 23 buses. We picked up 21 more buses.

Judith Kent:

Tell us a little bit about what these buses were doing.

James W. Allen:

Originally, the buses were designed to pick up... There was a program that was started to assist older Americans who weren't able to provide transportation for themselves to doctor's appointments and life sustaining areas. This program had to be started in order to provide a place for them to eat a lunch meal and also to have the transportation necessary to get there and to doctor's appointment and dental appointments and so forth. This did not include Palm Coast residents because they had income that would not qualify them (so we thought). But a lot of the people who moved into Palm Coast were in a retired mode and the first thing that happened when they got down here is that the husband died leaving the wife who in most cases didn't drive, [or] leaving a wife in most cases who did not know how to write checks from a check book. We had to put all of those kinds of things into place [for them] in addition to the local people who were poor. Flagler County was a very poor county, prior to that, probably one of the poorest in Florida prior to ITT coming in and building a community. They didn't have all of those things [services] in place. When we started to put those things into place, people began to come out of the woodwork. That was another reason for us having to upgrade our facility and also get more buses, because the demand was so great not only for the local people but for the Palm Coast people who we thought had enough income to take care of themselves. Then the Transportation Disadvantaged [staff] decided that we didn't only want to take care of those people, but those people who need to get to work and other places. That was another body of people that we had to identify and take care of, which was another reason for the organization to grow as much as it did. The demand was so great, but funds from grants don't come in as fast... Actually they come in a year later after you put in your reports and such. Actually it is a year later before you get those funds, so you have to survive. We had to keep our personnel to a bare minimum in order to make sure that we didn't over spend, because nobody was paying any overage as far as we were concerned. As we began to get funds coming in on a regular basis we were able to buy and put in for more buses and ask the County to match the funds (which we did). That is the reason why we were able to get a lot more buses.

Judith Kent:

It sounds all very civilized, but in fact I know that you had some interesting experiences dealing with some of the migrant [farm] workers and...

James W. Allen:

Yes. The one thing that you have to remember is that when you have a new city being organized (so to speak) you have to put a lot of things in place. A lot of people who were not directly affected by the new city [Palm Coast] all of a sudden become a problem, because what you have, they want. Even though the migrants were not accounted for as far as Flagler County was concerned, they had all of their funds up in Hastings (in Putnam County). They were not really our responsibility, but if they are working on the camps here in Flagler County, how are we going to get them to Hastings for their medical [care] and so forth? Again, we got calls asking if we would provide that 11 service. We didn't want to turn anything down, because we wanted to build the operation up. We accepted anything that we possibly could provide, so we got into that, transporting them. As you learned of the different camps... We had to actually go to the five different camps to find out where anybody had to go. That was the contract when it was called in, you go to the camps and on certain days we had to take people up there [to the medical clinic at Hastings]. You might have one person at the camp or you might have fifteen people at the camp. You never knew what bus you had to use, but in most cases I used the largest bus that we had in the fleet (which was a 24 passenger bus). When I showed up I might be transporting one person in that 24 passenger bus, but in most cases we had three or four people. In going to those camps, the life-style of the migrant worker wasn't conducive to anybody. No one really understood what went on. I made certain that I went because I thought that with my background in dealing with people and so forth that I would be able to deal with it before I would trust another driver to show up at these places to take these people. I wanted to make sure that I saw what was going on and put things in place. It was there that I found that some of my drivers... I would not want them [involved] especially the women. Some of the men didn't want to[either] (mainly the white male drivers). The black ones (I only had two at the time who assisted me after a while) they didn't mind. The white ones [drivers] indicated that they didn't want that [duty]. As a result, no whites showed up because at the time it was all black migrants. There were no white ones at all. Later on, we began to see a few Hispanics and later on some whites. There were several incidents that I experienced going out to pick them up. I went out one day and a white lady responded to my picking her up and taking her, not to the hospital, but away from the camp. When I arrived at the camp I was told that there was a white female there that was having some problems and I had to get her out of there. That was all that was told to me. When I got there I was told, "You're not taking her anywhere!"

Judith Kent:

These people are armed, right?

James W. Allen:

Yes, they are armed with their cabbage knives.

Judith Kent:

That is a mean weapon.

James W. Allen:

Yes it is. I certainly didn't want to experience having to be hurt with one of those things. That experience led me to realize that whenever I got a call, I wanted to know the circumstances; I didn't want to go into this... Anyway, I dismissed taking her anywhere and left and made the call [reporting the incident]. Then I questioned as to why she was there because it was very obvious that she wasn't there to cut cabbages or anything, [laughing] It was then that I found out that there were a lot of things that were provided in the migrant camps by the foreman who is completely in charge of all of the migrants. He paid them, he provided the place for them to stay, he provided them food and so forth. Normally based on the type of foreman you had, depended on what these people would get. The Alexander Camp was considered one of the best ones because they got two meals a day as opposed to the one. They got decent quarters and he would 12 transport them where they wanted to go. He provided all of those extras that they demanded from him. That was probably one of the reasons why the female was there. The camps, after a while began to shut down. Actually, we lost all of the camps that were out there, the five... They were named by the foreman's name; all of the camps got the name of the foreman. The Alexander Camp was run by Thomas Alexander who lived here in Palm Coast. As I say, that was the best camp. He provided a lot, but he made a lot from that. The farmer, all he wanted was his crops picked. He depended on that foreman to do that. He gave all of the money to the foreman and the foreman could provide the workers with whatever they were paid. In most cases it was minimum wage. They also provided the food which they had to pay for. They provided the quarters in which they lived. Not everything [was provided]. They had to give them free of charge: a bed, a mattress, blanket, sheets and pillow case. Other things that they provided inside the little one room shack, was what they had to pay for. If they wanted sodas during the day after working out in the hot sun, the foreman provided that, but they had to pay for that. They didn't have to pay for it right away, he just kept track of it and on pay day they would have to pay him. He deducted it from what they made. A lot of times they had no pay due. I don't think it was a problem with most of them because it was a way of life. You provide me with what I need and I'm happy. As it got more demanding with the crops you had other people that you had to get, they weren't just migrants moving from place to place. They were local people and some of them he picked up in Sanford [Florida] and other places. They were not illiterate, contrary to what everybody said. They were not illiterate, they were educated; some of them were veterans. Some were people who had jobs but for some reason maybe had bad luck. So, I was able to meet and talk to veterans out there and ask them why [they were doing farm labor]. I met one veteran who had gone through the GI Bill of training and had learned to be a truck driver. He had an accident with the truck and once you have an accident you loose your license and can no longer drive a truck. He was there with nothing to do and was on a corner in Sanford when Alexander showed up and asked them whether they wanted to work. He agreed and promised them all of that and ended up at the migrant camp.

Judith Kent:

So you were reaching a whole broad spectrum of people that often are unnoticed and yet you were involved in Palm Coast, you were involved in the veterans' organization here...

James W. Allen:

Yes. I think the major thing was, when you have achieved a lot in your life and you get to a plateau where you are constantly busy all the time, when you are not really busy you want to fill that void. I think I got involved in a lot of things in the community simply because I wanted to stay busy. I wanted to do something. A lot of times my interest was providing for kids activities. In the military that is one thing that you always had. They had little league everything in the military and the kids were able to get involved in that. You could see their character build. When I came out here we convinced our boss, Jim Harris to let us do some things in the community of Bunnell. He had an organization under the Council for Aging which was called the "Tri-County Housing" which wasn't anything, but it was established and tax exempt. There wasn't anything being done with that organization. We convinced him to start what we called a "Learning Center" so we could get the kids in Bunnell and Espanola into the 13 program and give them homework assistance. Mainly [we wanted] to get them out of their environment and let them see some other things. Since the buses were available we were able to start a program that at the schools (on weekends) we could take them to movies, sight seeing events and other learning experiences.

Judith Kent:

You brought them to the library.

James W. Allen:

We brought them to the library twice a week, and of course I guess you realize that fell through because of them didn't return their books. They lost their books, so the library all of a sudden was faced with the loss of all of these books. We talked about providing a library in the Carver Gym which most of these kids went to. We got a room down there which we set aside for them to have a library, not hardback books, but paperback books. A program was set up to deal with that. There still is an established library at the Carver Gym.

Judith Kent:

You got interested in the history of the area.

James W. Allen:

Yes, among the older black people I began to hear a lot about the way it was in this county a long time ago, the turpentine mills out in Neoga where the blacks lived. It interested me, and every day at the Council on Aging I used to sit with the older black people and even some of the whites, listening to their stories of life here in Flagler County. It interested me. Some of these people had never gone anywhere. With the Council on Aging funds we could take them to Disney World and all of those other places that they had never gotten a chance to go. In listening to them and being around them a lot I began to put some things together, some of the pieces. I am one to always when I am at a new place get around and see what the place has to offer. I began to see a lot of things that weren't being utilized in the parks and so forth. I decided that when anybody would ask me to take them on a trip [bus tour] of Flagler County that I would have places for them to go. ITT realized after a while that some of the civic organizations that were coming and being organized that I did have this place for them to go. It really started from assessing the area and getting funds to deal with what we had to deal with here. A lot of times I had to take people, executives from ITT and other places and even my boss. Whenever he would go, he decided, "Look, I think this is interesting. I would like for you to take other groups out. Anybody who it assigned to the Council on Aging, I want you to take them." I began to add more to it [the bus tour] and it got to be a six hour tour. Basically, that is how that worked.

Judith Kent:

Tell us a little about your involvement with the WW.

James W. Allen:

Well, when Ann and I first moved to Palm Coast we were at the shopping center and they had a memorial ceremony for the new monument [honoring veterans of WWII] there. We were there and Thomas Donnelly, who was [Post] Commander at the time... No he was not the Commander at the time. He was in the WW and he saw us and asked me if I was a veteran and I said, "Yeah." He said, "Why don't you join the WW?" I said, "I'll think about it." He got my name and number and kind of insisted on my coming over and joining. So I did join the WW and when Tom got to be the Commander 14 (which was shortly thereafter) he asked me to be his Adjutant (with my background in administration). I was his Adjutant; he was in for two years and I continued to be his Adjacent. All of the other Commanders who were coming on saying, "Will you be my Adjutant?" So I continued to be the Adjutant. Finally Tom said, "I think it is time for you to go through the chairs", meaning that I would go from the Adjutant position into the other positions: the Surgeon, the Judge Advocate, Junior Vice., Senior Vice and so on. The guys who were in the Surgeon and Judge Advocate positions did not want to be contested; in other words, they wanted those positions. So I actually started out as the Junior Vice. Commander. But I was working full time which was a 40 hour day [week] will all of the programs that were going on. I found out very shortly that I could not [do both] because we built a new building and all of a sudden there was a lot of responsibility. I told them that I was going to have to resign. I just worked in my Adjutant job and some other little things, the ceremony detachment for funerals and so forth.

Judith Kent:

There were a lot of them.

James W. Allen:

I will get to the point where I was actually the Commander and talk about the number of funerals that I had during my one year. Anyway, I did those kinds of things until I retired from my job. Then I said, "Well, now I can do more for the WW." I decided I wanted to go up through the chairs, starting with the Junior Vice, (which was what I had before). I found out that the Senior Vice, position was open so I didn't have to do the Junior Vice. I went to the Senior Vice. A year later I was the Commander. In the position of Commander I was faced with people who were in positions and were kind of backing off or leaving or resigning. My second meeting that I had, I presented it to them. I said, "I don't know the reason I am not getting the assistance that I need, but I am here for this year and I would hope that you would come forward and help me. If not, we are still going to do what we are supposed to do. If you don't want me to be your Commander, tell me and I will walk out and you won't see me any more." Several of the people from the audience said, "No, we want you as Commander." More people began to come forward and help. We had a very successful year. Actually I received the All State Award for the State of Florida. You get a white hat for that; we had a lot of programs where we dealt with kids and so forth. We got a lot of certificates and awards. It was a very successful year. The following year after I was Commander I was elected to the Chairman of the House Board. I resigned that position last year after nonsupport. I really and truly don't have too much to do with the VFW anymore.

Judith Kent:

You are involved now with the African American Cultural Society.

James W. Allen:

Yes, I started what they call the "200 Club" (which was the "300 Club" in the VFW). That [fund raising project] was to support what we wanted to do in the African American Cultural Society. When I designed the "200 Club" I designed it so that it would give us within ten years $130,000. In the VFW "300 Club" each individual gave $50 a year which comes to $13,000. It was kind of like a fifty-fifty; the VFW took half of that for their program and gave the other halfback to the participants. In the African American Cultural Society with the "200 Club" I started a $2 a week; which comes to $104 a year. We gave the same amount back to the participants (which was $7,200) but if 15 I got 200 members that would give us $13,000 into the fund (which would be $130,000 after ten years). We never got 200 members, but we got 178,176 and then it began to decrease. What I did to rejuvenate it was to say, "Look, you don't have to be a member of the organization; you can have friends and so forth that might want to support the organization by being a member of this club. Let them know that there are 57 drawings that we had during the year and every time we pulled one number, the number goes right back in [the drawing]. They can be eligible to win all of the money (which is $7,200)." It sold, so the numbers went back up. Right now I have 178 with the feeling that I have no problem with the New Year coming up, that we can get the 200. In seven years we have generated $111,000, which is amazing. I was hoping that we would get $100,000 in seven years, but I never realized that we would get this close. I was just called the other day and told that I was added to the... I was first asked if I would be a member of the Executive Board and I said, "Yes, I would be." I got a call the other day that I would be replacing a member effective January 1. In June we will have a new election so I would have to then apply for the position. As of January 11 will be on the Executive Board.

Judith Kent:

If you were to look back over your adult life, how would you say that your military service had affected your life?

James W. Allen:

It has affected me in a special way. I think that the experience that I gained, the people that I met, the favoritism that I got as the result of the different jobs that I had, really let me feel that I could do it! I think that being in an area where you are not afforded the opportunity to do certain things... I failed to tell you one thing. When I was in high school, I was in a shop class. I was taught how to draw blueprints and all of that because we were in classes with the [WWII] veterans who were on the GI Bill Program (they were paying them to go to school). In the shop class that they had, they learned construction, blueprints and all of that. So we were instructed to learn how to draw blueprints. I did my blueprint and Mr. Alexander [the teacher] said to me, "That's good! Why don't you take it down town to the place where they do blueprints?" I had a regular drawing, but a blueprint is where they put a machine over it, scan it and so forth and it comes out as a regular blueprint. I was excited; it was my home that I had drawn. When I got down there the guy asked me who drew that. I told him that I did. He said, "How old are you?" I told him. He said, "Where did you learn this?" I said, "In my shop class." When I got back to my shop class I was told by Mr. Alexander that blueprinting would no longer be taught to high school students. It was for veterans. Needless to day, I lost interest and everything, because I knew that this man had called and in some way made a comment that kids were not entitled to this kind of advanced training. I think that my motivation was always that, "I could do it!" I have been given a lot of help in what I have tried to do. I guess that is the reason that I have been able to accomplish so much.

Judith Kent:

Tell me about some of these pictures.

James W. Allen:

In the beginning I showed you this one where I was in Germany. Lt. Pillsbury was his name [friend who took the photo] and he is from the Pillsbury dough, bread and 16 all that. He was from that clan. He was doing his work in the military (which is required for a lot of people who have training). I think that he went to West Point and had to have an assignment. He was into skiing and also mountain climbing and convinced me on a weekend when we had free time to go different places. This one happened to be in the Zugspitz. You know the story of the Zugspitz; several years back they had a real catastrophe when an American plane hit one of the lifts to this one place (because there is a ski lift and also mountain skiing down the mountain right off from this location). We went up by walking but we came down by the lift. No, we came down by a train; they had a train also. The lift (as I mentioned) was hit by a jet plane and caused a lot of problems. At Arlington [Virginia] since I was a 1st Sergeant and several times I was filling in for the Sergeant Major, when I retired he wanted me to have the best honor. The 3rd Infantry Brigade was stationed there to do funerals and so forth. So they had the parade and I walked in the parade. I didn't bring all of those pictures, but 1 have some. I actually marched in the parade and received the Legion of Merit for my overall service in the military. These are some of the generals who provided me with some good advice along the way. This is the officer who gave me the award. I really point out [these generals] because when I first started working for General Becton (who is a black general) he was the third black general, I think, in the Army. At the time that I retired there were (I myself knew personally, through him, 21 black generals) and there were a lot more. This was the two-star black general who was assigned to the Military District of Washington who was also a friend of General Becton. This was the Sergeant Major who I used to fill in for a lot.

Judith Kent:

This is your lovely wife?

James W. Allen:

This is Anne. When you are in the Military District of Washington there are two events that you, as military people, go to each year. One of them is the Kennedy Center for the Arts Program that they have every year and the other one is a program in front of the Lincoln Memorial. They have that program every year. It is open to the public and so forth. We were going to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts that night. It was a free thing, we would get chauffeured there and everything. Also, while I was assigned to the Military District of Washington we had the inauguration of President Regan. We had to line the parade route with our soldiers. I do have pictures of that at home which I didn't think to bring. As I was taking pictures of my Commander in Chief, one of the Secret Service guys came by and said, "Shouldn't you be standing at a salute when your Commander in Chief comes by?" [laughing] So I had to put my camera down and I didn't get a front view picture of him, I got a back view of him and his wife.

Judith Kent:

I'm afraid that our time is almost up. Thank you for sharing your story.

James W. Allen:

OK, that's good. Thank you.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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