Berlin Allen, 97, of Mount Clifton, a World War II Marine veteran, recalls his time driving a tank in the South Pacific. He plans to attend Mount Jackson's Memorial Day presentation with his family from 5 to 6 p.m. on Monday, organized by the Mount Jackson Hometown Partnership Group along with the Edinburg chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

MOUNT JACKSON — Berlin Allen was 17 years old when he joined the U.S. Marine Corps shortly before the U.S. entered World War II.

He was in Washington, D.C., to see a movie when he decided to sign up on what he said “must have been” a whim.

Asked if any of his friends joined him in enlisting, he said, “Not with me. They were smart.”

Now 97, the Mount Clifton resident looks back on his time in the military with a mixture of humor, stoicism and gratefulness that he’s still here to tell the story.

Two pounds too light for the Marines to accept him at the time, he said he was told to go home and eat all the bananas he could.

“That’ll put the weight on you,” he remembered the commander telling him.

He followed orders and returned the next day to sign up, and “Then I was gone,” he recalled.

Allen spent the majority of his nine years in the Marines stationed in the Pacific. He said he was training in a Florida tank school when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

“When they hit Pearl Harbor, we got out of there fast,” he recently recalled from the kitchen of his daughter Heidi Buchanan’s house in Mount Jackson.

Allen was sent by train to Camp Pendleton in southern California.

He later learned that two of his good friends from boot camp in South Carolina had been killed at Pearl Harbor.

They were two tall Italian men from Baltimore, he recalled, calling them “fine men.” When he struggled to carry his pack and rifle on a 5- to 6-mile hike, they situated themselves on either side of him and carried it for him.

During his time overseas, Allen was stationed at Okinawa, Kwajalein Island (part of the Marshall Islands), New Caledonia, Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, the Palau Islands, and Guam.

His placements found him in the midst of major battles, said his daughter Barbara Jett, of Mount Jackson.

“A lot of things he said he’d like to forget,” she said.

Guadalcanal was especially rough going, Allen recalled. He was there for a month, and the battle was intense enough that for every yard they gained, they would lose two or more.

He was assigned to guard an airstrip, and each night after the Japanese took control of the airstrip, he said the Marines would take it back each day.

From Guadalcanal, he traveled to Guam, where he contracted lymphatic filariasis, a parasitic tropical disease that is spread by mosquitoes and which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is “caused by microscopic, thread-like worms.”

He recovered on a hospital ship, where a doctor told him the disease stays in the body for eight years, but he recovered enough to return to battle and suffer more injuries.

“I got that old malaria too,” Allen recalled.

He was also shot and recovered in Seattle and then Portland, Oregon, before being moved to a hospital in central Pennsylvania. He was later moved to Quantico and discharged. He left the Marines on July 20, 1950.

“I’m just glad to be alive,” he said.

However, it “didn’t come into my mind at all” that he wouldn’t make it back.

After returning home to Mount Jackson, he married and had four children — Jett and Buchanan along with Cindy Ritter, of Edinburg, and George “Ike” Allen, of New Mexico.

He drove a tractor-trailer for 40 years before retiring, also working as a deputy for the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office, mainly patrolling Bryce Mountain, and doing security for various private companies.

Allen has a soft spot for old western movies, and Jett spoke of her father's lifelong passion for the county fair.

“He would normally take his vacation from other jobs to work at the fair because he loves the fair,” she said. “He has gone to every fair that he can remember except while he was in the service.”

She also praised his willingness to help people over the years, such as by keeping extra gasoline in his garage to help stranded travelers.

“I still keep it in there for my mowers and stuff,” Allen said on Thursday.

He admits that he still mows and weed-eats the property he's called home for 55 years and has lived alone since his wife died in 2013.

Though he doesn’t readily revisit his experiences at war, Allen inspired his son to fight as a tank man with the U.S. Army during Vietnam.

He also tries to make it out to the town’s annual Memorial Day presentation, which will be from 5 to 6 p.m. on Monday at Memorial Park at the intersection of Main and King streets.

The Mount Jackson Hometown Partnership Group along with the Edinburg chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars will lead a ceremony that includes presentations, bagpipes and food. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Contact Josette Keelor at

(2) comments


This man is a national treasure even though he will claim he did only what his country needed him to do. Such a shame to see such dwindling numbers in WWII Vets.


A superb story on one of the few remaining of the Greatest Generation. Mmany World War II veterans are no longer with us and as time passes on the ones that are here will soon be gone and along with it their individual stories of self-sacrifice and service in a time when America’s very survival was in peril.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.