When 2nd. Lt. Jerry Allen of Punta Gorda graduated from aviation cadet training in the Air Force in the early ‘60s his timing was perfect. The “Cuban Missile Crisis” erupted and he became a navigator aboard a KC-135 transport supplying fuel to the Strategic Air Command’s B-52 bombers poised to bomb Cuba.
In 1962 Fidel Castro, the new dictator of Cuba, working with Premier Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union, snuck nuclear missiles into the island nation by ship. This almost set off a nuclear calamity during 13 days in October. The offensive rockets were discovered by American U-2 spy planes.
“We flew a number of missions over the Atlantic refueling SAC bombs,” the 78-year-old retired aviator, who lives in Water’s Edge RV Resort, recalled. “Although the newspapers said the whole thing lasted a couple of weeks it was more like two months for us.
“It was a stressful time for a brand-new second lieutenant preparing for a nuclear war. We flew three days a week and were on alert the rest of the week. During those two months you could talk to you wife over the phone, but you couldn’t tell her were you were even though you might only be a few miles from home.”
After Castro and the Cubans, Allen spent the next six years flying out of Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, New York. He was a navigation instructor who taught young aviators how to do their job. It was a less stressful situation than flying fuel to the bombers.
His next duty station was Castle Air Force Base in northwest California near San Francisco. The most interesting happening involving Allen took place while he was training a group of cadets aboard a KC-135 when one of the plane’s engine fell off.
“When it happened we were probably 10 feet off the ground,” he said. “I’ll never forget the look on the pilot’s face. Just as he said, ‘Gear Up,’ the plane jogged to the right and the engine fell off. The 5,000 pound motor landed right on the runway.
“A KC-130 can fly just fine on three engines. Right after we lost the engine the pilot dumped some fuel, swung the plane around and landed without incident.
In 1972 Allen was headed to Vietnam. By then he was a captain who joined the Southeast Asian war that was starting to wind down. He was flying KC-130s Transports all over Vietnam from their base in Thailand.
They picked up this huge bulldozer at Ben Hoa and flew it to where it was needed. It took them three hours to get it in the plane and 10 minutes to get it out because they were unloading the dozer in a combat zone.
“I was also involved in helping get the prisoners out of the Hanoi Hilton,’ POW camp,” Allen said. “We were on the ground the whole time during the prisoner exchange. Our job was to pick up control tower operators who spoke English and fly them south. During the four or five hours we were in Hanoi the North Vietnamese tried to feed us cold cuts. I don’t think anyone ate cold cuts.
“I remember during the Christmas bombing in 1972 a B-52 flying over our base in Thailand was shot down. We watched them jump,” he said.
“We had four squadrons of C-130s flying out of Thailand. We flew troops and fright all over Vietnam during the end of the war. In addition, each squadron had specific duties. Our task was to drop specially-constructed 1,500 pound bombs to clear the jungle of brush for a landing zone.
Allen said the three brush-clearing bombs he dropped hit their mark perfectly. Each bomb slid out the back of a C-130 on a pallet. When the thing went off it looked like a small A-bomb, he recalled.
“When I came back from the war in Vietnam I got a job in SAC headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska. I briefed the general on his upcoming missions,” he said. “If nuclear war had started I would have given the general regular reports one what nuclear targets were still available. I was thankful I didn’t have to do that.”
On his 40th birthday, in 1980, Allen retired. He had served exactly 20 years in the Air Force and retired a major in Air Force navigation.
Following his service career, Allen and his wife were originally hired as care-takers for a YMCA camp located between Omaha and Lincoln, Neb. They did that for six years. Then they got a job working in a mobile home park 50 miles from Buffalo, N.Y.
“That was snow country. We made our own maple syrup,” he explained. “I discovered it takes 40 gallons of syrup to make one gallons of male syrup. It’s a long process.
“Then my wife and I bought a small camp ground in central Nebraska,” he said. “It had 60 camp sites and required a lot of work from both of us night and day. It was challenging but we loved it.
“At this point, in 1997, our daughter, Lyn-Marie, was killed in an auto accident. We were devastated,” Allen said. “We sold our campground, took our mobile home and went on the road. Eventually we came down to Port Charlotte. That was in 1998.”
The couple lives in their 37-foot motorhome in the RV park near the Charlotte County Airport. It’s their eighth motorhome in the last 40 years.
Name: Gerald Nathan Allen
D.O.B: 29 June 1940
Hometown: Rutland, VA
Currently: Port Charlotte, FL
Entered Service: 27 Jan 1961
Discharged: 29 June 1980
Commendations: Air Medal w/10 Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal w/10 Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Force Expeditionary Medal w/10 Oak Leaf Clusters, Combat Readiness Medal w/20 Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, Air Force Longevity Service Award, National Defense Service Medal, Two Bronze Service Stars, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Nov. 19, 2018 and is republished with permission.
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