Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
VA Celebrates World War II Veteran’s 100 Birthday
On June 4th, World War II Veteran James Allenbaugh thought his visit to the Ernest Childers VA Outpatient Clinic would be routine.
But as he exited his primary care appointment with Dr. Vara Udupa and his son Joe, VA staff anxiously waited to greet Allenbaugh with balloons, a birthday cake and gifts, including a new U.S. Army Veteran hat.
“This was a surprise,” said Allenbaugh, who turned 100 on January 1st. “I can’t believe this happened. I can’t believe that people care anymore, but they do. I found that out. A lot of people care.”
Born in 1918, Allenbaugh grew up on a farm in Chandler, Okla. In a century, Allenbaugh has experienced war and many technological advances.
“It’s been a wonderful world,” he said. “It’s changing every day. It’s changed a lot in my lifetime. From the old dirt roads we had years ago and the horse and buggy to all these automobiles. You can’t believe how much it has changed.”
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Allenbaugh wanted to volunteer for service and tried to enlist as an Army paratrooper.
“They said I had sinus trouble and they wouldn’t take me,” he said.
In 1942, the U.S. Army changed their mind and drafted him into the 90th Infantry Division. After training in Texas and Arizona, the 90th was sent to Camp Dix, New Jersey where they waited to cross the Atlantic.
“After we were there awhile, we boarded a ship and went to England,” said Allenbaugh. “I believe it was Liverpool where we landed at. We stayed down there until we made the invasion.”
On June 7, 1944, D-Day plus one, Allenbaugh crossed the English Channel and landed at Utah Beach, Normandy.
“We were in those hedgerows quite a while,” he said.
For Allenbaugh, the battle of Normandy was only the beginning. According to division history, the 90th took part in the battles of Pont L’Abbe, Foret de Mont-Castre, Periers, Falaise Gap and Metz.
In December, the 90th Infantry Division, which was part of Gen. George S. Patton’s 3rd Army, crossed the Saar River north of Saarlautern, Germany.
During the crossing, Allenbaugh said the Saar River was flooded and Gen. Patton become frustrated when the advance into Germany stalled.
“The Corps of Engineers were trying to build a bridge across,” said Allenbaugh with a laugh. “Patton told them, get them damn tanks over there if you have to fly them. They put them on barges and they got them over there. He was a real general.”
That same month, Allenbaugh served in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium where the 90th helped stop a massive German offensive. Then, the division also crossed through the fortified Siegfriend Line and took Mainz, Germany.
Following Operation Plunder, the crossing of the Rhine River, Allenbaugh said the 90th could have taken Berlin if they had been given the chance.
“We could have ended the war if they had listened to Patton and let him go on north into Berlin. Instead they turned us down south into Czechoslovakia. We were in Czechoslovakia when the war ended.”
On their advance to Prague, Czechoslovakia, the 90th liberated the Flossenbürg concentration camp.
After 11 months of combat, Allenbaugh lost a lot of his friends and many of the replacements who took their place.
“I was one of the lucky ones,” he said. “I just went along with the ride. There’s a lot of boys who never got to go home to their families. I felt sorry for all of them and for their families.”
Following the war, Allenbaugh raised cattle and operated several gas stations.
“I have raised cattle all my life, except when I was in the Army for about four years,” said Allenbaugh, who lives in Pawnee, Okla. “I ran cattle at night and worked at the service station during the day.”
As a business owner, he said he frequently let people fill up their gas tanks and pay later.
“I ran a service station for 53 years, but never turned but one guy down on credit” he said. “People were honest then. They would pay. The handshake was your contract.”
What is his secret to life?
“I don’t know,” he said with a laugh. “I guess I tried to be good to everybody.”