Photo courtesy of Colonel Al Allenback, USAF (Retired) (Private First Class Al Allenback, 82nd Airborne, jump wings at Omaha Beach, Normandy)
My father, Al Allenback, was one of that “Greatest Generation” that came of age in World War II. His first taste of flight was as a young teenager on a $5 ride in a Ford Tri-Motor at Trenton, NJ. He always said he wanted to be a fighter pilot, but the story he told was that his eyesight was so poor he got in the wrong line and ended up in the Airborne. Even after suffering a traumatic leg injury during a night jump at Fort Benning (he was one of those “Band of Brothers” fellas) that put him in traction for 6 months at Valley Forge VA Hospital, he always had a strong interest in flight. I was four years old and vividly remember when he excitedly called me outside one crisp CAVU October weekend morning and pointed out the brightly polished silver Cessna 140 flying over our suburban Philadelphia home. It was that moment when I became enthralled with flight. Through those formative years, even though he did not have a desire to fly himself, he always fired up my imagination buying me “Dave Dawson and the RAF” books and Popular Mechanics and flying magazines.
I soloed at 18 at College Park when I really should have been paying more attention to my first semester academics at UMD. But inspired by Dad’s story about “…getting in the wrong line…” and the stories of others of his generation, including my father-in-law, Don Currier (Author of “Fifty Mission Crush”), a B-24 navigator who showed me faded black and white pictures of “…all the great cities in Europe I visited…” (every picture had a stick of 500 lb bombs falling towards their target), I joined the Air Force and had wonderful “Warthog” career in the A-10 “Thunderbolt II”. When I was stationed at Myrtle Beach AFB, SC, and we were building the first A-10 fighter wing (354th Tactical Fighter Wing, “Valor in Combat”, I volunteered for every factory delivery from the Fairchild-Republic plant in Hagerstown, MD (Thank you, Fairchild workers, for building such a rugged aircraft!) because the rules were you had to be VFR for the first twenty minutes after takeoff…and what better place than to be VFR than 10 miles east over Dad’s farm! I carried his jump wings with me on every sortie for 25 years. But I could never, ever get him up in an airplane, until after his much-to-early passing when I had just pinned on Captain’s bars. I rented a Cessna 172 and took his cremated remains aloft and released him over his farm, a thin white contrail his final salute.
I wish I had a great “Flying with Dad” story, like going to Oshkosh or swooping over Kitty Hawk at his beloved Outer Banks, but it didn’t happen that way. But he was with me on every flight I ever took, combat or civil. That morning mission over his farm in the 172 was his last jump, and my first, and last, flight with Dad.
Thanks for the memories Dad!