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Desert maneuvers, then years of postwar moves

Published Sep. 4, 2005

Editor's Note: A group of Citrus County residents recently formed to raise funds for a Florida World War II Memorial. Ann Burch, chairwoman of the committee, has written a series of articles highlighting various people and events from that era in American history.

Last week, the first of two parts detailed Charles Allison's experiences as a soldier during World War II as shared by his wife, Thelma, now a Floral City resident. Mrs. Allison also shared family experiences about what happened on the home front and after the war.

Charles survived the harrowing trip with his squadron to the desert in late 1943. They were ordered to dig trenches or foxholes, anything to get into. After a day and night of relative calm, the next morning they had a formation of the squadron.

The first sergeant informed them that there would be no more formations because of the dangers of their being hit and the entire squadron possibly killed. Charles wrote to Thelma that, almost immediately, a JU-88 came out of the clouds and everyone scattered. The plane was shot down, and they figured they would have a quiet night.

But about 7 that evening, just as the sun was going down, they could see planes approaching. This time the squadron was totally prepared, with machine guns set up around camp, and the soldiers were in their trenches or foxholes waiting for the attack.

Eight planes in the attack were JU-88s, and five were lost before they knew what hit them. "All you could see was red streaks in the air," Charles wrote Thelma.

Only one bomb was dropped during this attack, and the French then shot one down, leaving two planes, which gave up the attack and left. Charles once recalled an attack that occurred when there was a full moon; he could see the moon reflecting on the glass noses of the planes, which could be heard when they went into their dives.

"Then you could hear that old familiar whistle as they released some of their bombs. I would hear that whistle and dig about 6 inches of dirt out with my hands. I can't explain how it was that night, but it was hell," he wrote Thelma.

They experienced six to seven raids per night. After a few days, they were on the move again, quickly arriving at a new base, where it snowed about 4 inches. The first night they went through another raid. This time, two pieces of shrapnel went through Charles' tent. He wrote that they had a quiet time for a while after that, and they hoped that they would be able to come home soon.

Thelma said that mail from Charles was sporadic, and once she didn't get a letter from him for two weeks. She later found out that he had been in the hospital for treatment of a snake bite.

Charles was a radio operator, and sometimes their mail was in Morse code because of his position. Once he flew back to the States with Gen. Carl Spaatz and acted as his radio operator. One experience Charles had while flying, a belly landing, shook him up a bit but the plane landed safely. He was later moved to Italy and was able to return home in May 1944.

Back on the home front, the Allison family grew. Charles and Thelma's first son had been born in 1941 at Tampa General Hospital. Charles received the news on a shortwave radio on the "News From Home" broadcast and received a cable one month later announcing the news.

When Charles returned home in 1944, he was sent to Dalhart, Texas, and Thelma and their 2-year-old son arrived by train from York, Pa., to welcome him home. Thelma recalled that it was a sweltering 121 degrees when they boarded the train for their return trip to Pennsylvania.

Charles was sent to Orlando, and Thelma arrived in Tampa to live with her mother. He was later transferred to Nebraska, and they drove in their 1941 Ford. While living there, they shared kitchen privileges with other roomers, one of whom was the sister of actor Lola Lane.

When they were transferred to Oscoda, Mich., the Allisons lived in an old town like those in westerns. They rented a small log cabin with only a small coal-burning stove for heat, and Thelma saw her first porcupine. Their second son was born, and soon after that they were sent back to sunny Tampa, where their daughter was born at MacDill Air Force Base.

The family moved again, this time to California, then returned once again to Tampa. Charles retired in 1958, then worked for the Tampa post office for 13 years. They moved to Floral City in 1973 after retirement. Charles died in 1986.

_ Donations to Florida's own World War II Memorial and Traveling Exhibits may be made directly to the Citrus County Ad Hoc Florida World War II Memorial Committee, P.O. Box 1253, Homosassa Springs, FL 34447. Commemorative World War II lapel pins are also available with a minimum donation of $10 and may be ordered from the Citrus County Ad Hoc Florida World War II Memorial Committee. Pins are also available at Nature Coast Tourism Development Inc. and Welcome Center, 521 SE Fort Island Trail, Plantation Pointe Office Complex, Crystal River. Contact Amy Virgo at 564-9197 for information.