Honoring those who have Served: Herbert Allen

Honoring those who have Served: Herbert Allen
July 23
00:00 2015

In above photo: Herbert Allen holding his medals (left) and holding his canteen (right)

 Local Veteran Looks Back at Vietnam Experience

By Judie Holcomb-Pack

When Herbert Allen volunteered for the Marine Corps in 1966, fresh out of Atkins High School, he had never heard of Vietnam.

As he related, “We didn’t watch the news on television. We were too busy doing things outside with our friends.”

He hadn’t even given joining the military a thought until his mother told him that his best friend had joined up.

He had planned to go to college after high school, but decided to follow his friend and join.

Hard work was something Allen was used to.

In high school, he was a member of the Atkins High School Marching Band where he was Drum Captain. He was in the Concert Band, the Jazz Band, and in several school clubs.

He also delivered newspapers for the Winston-Salem Journal and Twin City Sentinel.

And on Saturdays he frequently mowed grass for extra money.

Boot Camp Basics

When he arrived at Parris Island for boot camp, he had no idea what to expect.

In boot camp he was trained as a machine gunner, and then went to Camp Pendleton in California for additional training.

He didn’t think about the Vietnam War.

He was concerned with his military training and learning his job.

When he received his orders to go to Vietnam, he remembers thinking, “Where’s that?”

Tour of Duty

He arrived at Da Nang, Vietnam, and all that changed. He had just gotten off the plane when he heard booming noises and realized the airport was being bombed.

This was Allen’s introduction to the Vietnam War.

He arrived in Vietnam during monsoon season and remembers seeing the soldiers who were coming in from the front lines.

They were wet and caked with mud, from their faces to their boots, but were joking around and looked pretty comfortable despite the rain and dirt.

Allen had always had pride in how he looked, so he didn’t expect to ever look like that.

“The first two weeks were a joke,” Allen commented. “I tried to stay clean. I looked for a clean place to sit. I brushed dirt off my uniform. Then that was the end of that.”

Allen’s job as a machine gunner was to gain fire superiority over the enemy to protect his unit.

Twice he was wounded by shrapnel, was treated by medics in the field, and returned to battle.

During one particularly bad firefight, he felt something warm running down his leg and knew he had been shot, but didn’t have time to think about it.

He had to concentrate on his job – keeping the enemy from overpowering his unit.

When the firefight finally ended, Allen reached behind him to see how badly he had been wounded.

He didn’t feel any pain and when he looked at his hand, it was wet.

He removed his belt and looked at his canteen.

A bullet had gone through it.

Because it was full, the water deflected the bullet so it came out of the bottom of the canteen, probably saving his life.

He was almost to the end of his 13-month tour of duty when he was again injured and had to literally dive into a helicopter to be airlifted out of the fighting.

He had received two Purple Hearts for being injured and with the third, it meant he could no longer serve in a war zone. He was on his way home.

Always Learning

Allen served as a weapons instructor and came out after four years as a Sergeant E-5.

He continued in the Reserves and worked for Western Electric.

Later he went back to the Marines, got out, and then joined the Army.

After the Army, he went to Forsyth Tech and graduated with  Associates’ Degrees in Business Administration and in Marketing in Retailing.

Later he went to Davidson Community College to study computers.

He started his own business, the Beginners’ School of Computing, and wrote all the books for his classes.

After being diagnosed with PTSD, Allen was awarded disability in 2002.

He is a lifetime member of the Marine Corp League, the Military Order of Purple Hearts, Disabled American Veterans, and Vietnam Veterans of America.

Looking Back

“War today is different,” Allen says. “It’s all IUDs and such. You can’t fight using your skills. It’s an unfair war.”

Remembering his time in Vietnam, Allen said he never thought that he was fighting for anyone’s freedom or making America safe. He was fighting for his life.

Allen looks forward to the Purple Heart Dinner organized by the Northwest Piedmont Purple Heart Foundation on August 8 at the Richard Childress Racing Campus.
Allen will be there not to gain attention for himself, but to honor his comrades who, like him, know what it’s like to go to war.

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