Still flying high At 89, ex-WWII pilot takes to the air again

By Frank Konkel

Livingston County Daily Press & Argus (Howell)

BRIGHTON, Mich. (AP) § Flying over the snowcapped Himalayas and sweltering Asian jungles as a pilot in World War II was "no big deal" for Norman Allen.

But the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medals and two Battle Stars the 89-year-old Brighton, Mich., resident received tell a different story.

Allen flew more than 200 missions for the U.S. Army Air Force 4th Combat Cargo Squadron. He piloted the C-47, supplying Allied troops in China with weapons, food and munitions in battles against the Japanese in what's commonly referred to as the China-Burma-India Theater.

Missions often required flying at tree level and at constant risk of enemy fire. By the same token, some missions forced Allen to fly at high altitude over the Himalayas, a dangerous proposition for fully loaded C-47s.

"If anything had to be hauled, we hauled it," he said. "It didn't matter the time of day. We knew what we had to do, and we did it."

On Sept. 16 § 63 years after Allen last piloted a C-47 § he again sat in the cockpit of one of the planes. The flight was arranged by friends and co-workers Roger Fenimore, Dave Wojcik, Richard Owens, Terry Gulledge, Paul Wilcheski and Tom Gaines through the Yankee Air Museum in Washtenaw County's Ypsilanti Township.

The flight took Allen over Detroit and Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers baseball team.

"The ride was wonderful," he said. "It really was an experience I never expected to feel again. I'll tell you, it brought back ... a lot of memories."

Allen was the middle of three boys raised in Detroit. At age 21 and working as a floorman in an ammunition plant, Allen said he felt pressure to enlist in the armed forces because both brothers had already joined the war.

The eldest, Tom, handled artillery in Panama, while Archie, the youngest, was in the infantry in Europe.

Allen enlisted after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

"All of the sudden, I felt like I wasn't doing my job," he said. "I knew I didn't like the mud, and my kid brother was already in the infantry, so I decided to take a shot at the Air Corps."

Following flight training, Allen was shipped to Asia in 1942. By 1943, the 4th Combat Cargo Squadron was the lifeline for the 14th British Air Force and other Allied troops across China.

"I really respect what Norm did for us," said Fenimore, who has worked with Allen at Huron Meadows Golf Course for the past five years. "He gave a lot for his country."

Allen has worked part-time at the Green Oak Township course for the past 20 years. This will be his last year there.

Allen still spends each day with his wife of 66 years, Lucille, who recently was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

They married in 1943, just before he left for the service. Lucille kept a detailed record book of his missions, documenting places he flew by drawing out world maps.

"She did one hell of a job on that book. And she did a lot for me," said Allen, who has come to view life much differently than he did as a brash, bold 20-something pilot.

"When you're younger, you take everything for granted," he said. "But I think I did it right."

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