World War II

William R. Allen

World War II Oral History Interview
US Navy, Corpsman
Date: December 4, 2002
Interviewer: Michelle Carrara
Summarizer: Irving Bauman
Veterans History Project


William R. Allen was born in October, 1926 in Teaneck, New Jersey.  Allen was a high school student with an after-school job selling newspapers when he learned in December 1941 of the Pearl Harbor attack that brought America into World War II.  In October 1943 he left high school in his junior year to join the US Navy.  Following six weeks of boot camp at Newport, Rhode Island, Allen attended another six weeks of training at Portsmouth, Virginia to become a hospital corpsman. 

After serving in several stateside hospitals where he handed out medications and cleaned wards, Allen volunteered for service with the US Marine Corps and was assigned to a two week Field Medical School at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, where he received training in the duties of a field medic as well as some combat training. On completing the course, Allen was sent to Camp Pendleton, California, where he shipped out for overseas deployment in the Pacific Theater of War on a Dutch ship.  He recalled that he shared quarters with six other medical personnel in the hold, next to two tons of food, which had to be rearranged frequently to maintain the ship’s balance. Allen recalled that he spent two months at sea and ate a lot of potatoes.

The ship made stops at Hawaii, Midway, Guam and the Marshall Islands, picking up and treating wounded Americans.  Allen debarked on Guam, and recalled that many of the native children were suffering from skin ulcers, which he treated with sulfa drugs. Although Guam had been recaptured by the Americans, Japanese holdouts remained in the jungles, foraging for food. When discovered, many would kill themselves with hand grenades rather than surrender. Allen thought Guam a beautiful island, although it rained for eight straight days while he was there.  The surf was treacherous, and during a patrol along the coast, three Marines were sucked away by an undertow. Two drowned but Allen managed to save a third.

Allen’s unit left Guam and then went on to Iwo Jima, where he remained on the ship, assisting surgeons operating on badly wounded Marines who arrived in landing craft returning from the beach. He recalled that amputated body parts were placed in containers and buried, along with the dead, at sea.  One man had a piece of cellophane stuck in a hole in his chest as emergency treatment for a gunshot wound that pierced his lung.  It worked and he survived.  Another had the parts of his almost severed arm held together with an improvised shovel splint. He could see the battle for the island from shipboard, with Japanese shells dropping on American positions, and American rockets blasting Japanese held caves.

The medics treated more than gunshot and shell wounds aboard the ship. Marines also suffered from “jungle rot” fungal infections, hearing damage, dysentery and other ailments. Allen was assigned to instruct classes of replacements on how to maintain their health in a combat environment.  He recalled hearing of President Franklin Roosevelt’s death and later, the news that an atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. The troops reacted to the bomb drop with celebrations, during which much “distilled fermented cocoanut juice” was consumed, followed by a meal featuring ham and ice cream.

With the war over, Allen was shipped back to the United States aboard a troopship that weathered intense storms. He recalled that several “Liberty ships” broke in half on the trip home. He was discharged from the US Navy Separation Center located at Lido Beach, Long Island, New York.  After his return home, he ate and drank voraciously, gaining forty pounds in short order. Allen married and then shared his military experiences with his wife, and he has also answered questions about his role in the war from schoolchildren. He has been a member of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.  Allen showed the interviewer photographs of Marines both in the field and in transit, and treatment on his medical ship, which were taken by a friend who has since passed away.

As a result of his service, William R. Allen received the Asiatic-Pacific medal with one battle star, American Theater Medal, WWII Victory Medal, Navy & Marine Corps Medal, and Rifle Marksman Qualification Badge.