Veterans Voice: Harold Allison
Harold Allison was born near Weatherby but grew up in St. Joseph. He is now retired and lives in the Weatherby area. He just finished serving eight years as a DeKalb County Commissioner. Harold took Basic Training at Great Lakes Naval Station. Noting that December-January is not a great time to be in the Great Lakes area!
From there he went to Lakehurst, New Jersey where he trained to be a parachute rigger. As part of their training, and to emphasize the importance of doing the job correctly, each trainee had to pack their own parachute and sky dive from a plane. He said that making a jump themselves was effective in realizing the importance of the job. From Lakehurst he was sent to Pensacola Naval Air Station. While there, he spent a lot of spare time sky-diving.
After Pensacola he was sent to Miramar Naval Air Station and boarded the USS Constellation for Vietnam. The Constellation conducted airstrikes from the Gulf of Tonkin on an almost constant basis. The Constellation would sail back to the Philippines every 30 days to load ordinance. They were scheduled for a 6-month tour in Vietnam, but due to a problem with their relief ship, the USS Enterprise, they ended up with an 11-month tour in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Both the USS Constellation and the USS Enterprise are like floating cities, carrying about 5000 personnel. The ship had two full galleys and several snack shops. The Constellation was picking up ordinance in Hong Kong when he ran into a fellow high school graduate from St. Joseph. They had been on the ship for five months at the time without ever running across one another.
Harold’s worst memory of the Constellation was during a heavy storm. The Constellation flight deck is 100 feet above the sea, but sea water from the storm was damaging the catwalk along the flight deck. He described this as a very scary experience. Another bad memory was when they lost an aircraft, either on takeoff, or while conducting inland operations. Harold commented that he met a lot of great people in the Navy, and that the Navy was very good to him. Harold earned “Sailor of the Month” honors at one point during his career. Among his rewards was being in a mail service plane while it took off from the carrier, saying it is a “long way” from the deck down to the water, and the plane drops a little immediately after takeoff.
Harold returned home for four months of leave before returning to the Constellation and another tour of duty off the Vietnam coast.
After 4.5 years in the Navy he returned to civilian life for 12 years before enlisting in the Air National Guard at Rosecrans Field outside St. Joseph, where he spent 23 years prior to retirement. Serving as the Life Support Superintendent, Harold served in Desert Storm in the Middle East, mostly in the UAE and in Saudi Arabia. He clearly remembers leaving for the Middle East. All of the C130’s at Rosecrans were packed to the limit, so most of the personnel flew over on a large C-5.
A total of 64 C130’s, including the six from Rosecrans, made the trip. Harold was among the first to arrive and reports there was “nothing there” but a lot of sand. They set up a number of tents for personnel, and a large tent which served as a shop. The first thing Harold noticed on landing was the intense heat, 115-120 degrees on most days. Fortunately, the tents were equipped with air conditioning and were relatively airtight in a land where sand dominates.
Harold recalls seeing President George W. Bush three times during his tour. He said that George W. was very friendly and enjoyed mingling with the troops and shaking hands, thanking them for their service.
After six months, the Air Guard and their planes returned to St. Joseph from the Middle East. Some Cameron residents may remember that the C130’s continued to circle over Cameron until all were together, and that three fighter jets from St. Louis joined the group to escort them back to Rosecrans. There was a huge crowd waiting to welcome them home, and the planes opened their top hatches to display an American flag as they taxied toward the crowd. He says it was a very emotional moment.
Harold continues to live near the Weatherby area, and commented that his family is essentially a “military family”, as many have served, or currently serving in the military.