Terry de la Mesa Allen TIME Magazine August 9, 1943
Return to previous pageAllen and His MenLast June 23, when the invasion of Sicily was 17 days away, Major General Terry de la Mesa Allen wrote a letter from North Africa to an Army friend at home. Of himself, General Allen wrote nothing. Of his men in the 1st Infantry Division, which he commands, Terry Allen wrote: The Division has been fighting hard and has done well, I am happy to say. They fought through the gloomy, defensive days in the Ousseltia Valley, led the American counterattack in the Kasserine Pass, started the American offensive with the seizure of Gafsa, fought through 21 days at the grueling battle of El Guettar, and closed in for the 'kill' at the final drive on Tunis. Particularly in their last drive, they managed to knock the hell out of the best units the Germans put against them. But enough of bragging about our fine division.My best regards to you, Old Top... P.S. We are busy as hell again.
Last week, somewhere along the Germans' last line in Sicily, General Allen and his division were very busy. Also on this line were at least four other U.S. divisions, at least as many British and Canadian divisions. All of them fought well. Over General Allen was a whole hierarchy of corps, army, group and theater commanders. Yet upon Terry Allen and his 1st Infantry Division, as upon no other commander or unit in Sicily, there had fallen a special mark of war and history.
This mark was not the blazing glory won by the British Eighth Army's General Sir Bernard Law Montgomery in Africa. It was not the distinction won by the U.S. Seventh Army's Lieut. General George Smith Patton Jr. (TIME, July 26). Nor was it the high glow of fame now accruing to General Dwight Eisenhower and to his Army Group commander, British General Sir Harold R.L.G. Alexander. It was, instead, a mark reserved for front-line fighting men, and esteemed by them. It was the mark of a great division in being, and of a great division commander in the making.
These inseparable reputations—the reputation of the division and that of its commander—are the first of their kind to be made and publicly recognized in the U.S. Army of World War II. To all soldiers there is food for thought, and to many there is satisfaction, in the fact that the joint reputation was won by a division of infantrymen, the men who fight on foot and who, up to now, have finally had to win the battles and the wars.
The division was great before World War II began. Strictly speaking, it was founded in World War I, when it was the first U.S. division to land in France, by its own claim the first in combat, the first to suffer casualties, the first to win a major American offensive (at Cantigny), the last to come home from Occupied Germany. One of its regiments, the distinguished 16th Infantry, is the successor of a unit founded in 1798. Terry Allen's reputation was founded on April Fool's Day, 1888, when he was born.
The BratGeneral Allen began life as "an army brat"; he was born into the Army at Fort Douglas, Utah. His mother,and the donor of his spectacular middle name, was Conchita Alvarez de la Mesa Allen, of Brooklyn. She also was an Army child, the daughter of a Spanish colonel who fought for the Union in the Civil War. Her husband was Samuel Edward Allen, a professional artillery man and quietly competent officer who served 42 years in the Regular Army, raised his boy to be a soldier, retired as a colonel in 1919, died in 1926. His most spectacular achievement was his son. Mother Allen now lives in Washington, with fading memories and many pictures of Terry, mostly on horseback. One of her memories is of Terry Allen as a little boy, legs akimbo on a horse, riding off to maneuvers with his father and his father's men. One of Terry Allen's memories is of himself learning to ride, smoke, chew, cuss and fight at the earliest possible age. According to his biographer, The New Yorker's A. J. Liebling, Terry once found a playmate crying. The playmate explained that his mother had just spanked him. "Why?" asked Terry. "Because I was playing with you," said the other boy. "My opinion of myself went up like a rocket," observed Allen. When Terry Allen was growing up, the cavalry and the horse artillery were the elite services of the Regular Army. Saddle-hardened before he was ten, never doubting for a moment that he was and of the Army, Terry proceeded naturally from horseback and post life to West Point and (as he assumed) a commission in the cavalry. Most of the boys who entered with him (in 1907) were frightened strangers to the Point and to the Army, prepared to slave and die to stay in both. Allen knew West Point as well as he knew the Army. For four years (1892-96)his father had taught philosophy there. This background, a certain contempt for labor in its common forms, and an honest genius for trouble nearly deprived the Army of Terry Allen. At the Point, everything but graduation happened to him. For one month, he was at the top of his class. Events then overtook the alphabet. His contemporaries remember him as a slender, dark, fiery-eyed youngster who rode beautifully, could do anything with his hands and did nothing with his mind. Also he stuttered. Some of his classmates admired his dash. Others, of the sober sort, considered him thoroughly worthless. They made a play on his name: Tear-around-the-mess-hall Allen Within the limits of honor, West Point cadets are adept at concealing their own and their fellows' misdemeanors. Allen invariably made concealment impossible; he committed his crimes in public glare. Once, during a drill, a puppy appeared. Under the eye of his sergeant, Allen whistled, broke ranks to kneel and pet the puppy. When the cadet adjutant responsible for posting demerits made up his lists, he automatically included the name of Allen, T. In his yearling (second) year, Allen failed again. The Point tries to save its cadets, especially the sons of Army men. But a faculty board decided that he was beyond assistance. He had to leave West Point and the Army. Terry Allen then buckled down to a year of mental labor. He entered Catholic University of America in Washington, took a B.A., won a competitive Army examination and was commissioned a second lieutenant Nov. 30, 1912. Less than a year afterward, on border duty with the 14th Cavalry in Texas, he saw his first action. In official words, he "pursued and captured a party of ammunition smugglers Sept. 13, 1913, near San Ambrosia Creek."
First Blood In June of 1918, 14 months after the U.S. entered World War I, Terry Allen was a captain, a passionate and accomplished poloist, a drinker and bachelor of considerable renown, a cavalryman without a war where horses were required. In that month he went to France, where he soon got his first infantry command. At a school for infantry officers in France, Allen arrived the day before a class was to graduate. He lined up with that class. Said the commandant, passing out certificates "I don't remember you in this class." "I'm Allen—why don't you?" Allen brazenly replied. He got his certificate, and as a temporary major he led a battalion of the 90th Division into battle at St. Mihiel and Aincreville, won a citation and a Silver Star "for distinguished and exceptional gallantry" got a bullet through the jaw and mouth.(His friends noticed soon afterward that be had lost his stutter, and surmised that the facial wound had cured him.) His acquaintances of that period still yarn about his Paris operations, remember more about his escapades than about his combat achievements. After the Armistice, Allen served with the Army of Occupation. One night, at a party in Occupied Germany, Allen arrived late and paired off, without introductions, with a charming British officer. They slapped each other's backs, swapped drinks and stories until the shank of morning. Next day someone asked Allen whether he knew who the Briton was. "No, who?" said Allen. "The Prince of Wales," was the reply. "Oh, my God," said Allen. Later, the Prince invited Allen to another party. Allen announced that he had disgraced himself sufficiently and he was not going. The Prince insisted. Allen went to the party; again had a satisfactory evening. But Allen's brother officers remember other qualities. In the same period, Allen once said "I wish the war hadn't stopped when it did. It's a damn shame—I was just beginning to get good ideas about commanding infantry battalions. I wish I could go back to the front and try them out." Instead, in 1920, he returned to the U.S., twenty-one years of more or less peaceful Army life and the kind of luck which so often favors the bold.
First Star Allen knew his Army. He returned to the cavalry. That service had many advantages: it was ideal for a practicing poloist; it was socially remunerative, and it was a branch from which officers frequently moved to the top in other branches and in the Army at large. During these years, many regular Army officers went softly to seed. A few—a very few—burned themselves out and annoyed their colleagues with pioneering studies in tactics and a rude espousal of modern forms of war.(Two examples: the late Billy Mitchell of the Air Corps; the late Adna Chaffee of the armored force.) Many cavalrymen, sensing the end of their service, went into the embryo tank service. Terry Allen did neither. He made merry at Fort Bliss, Fort Riley, and Fort McIntosh. He endured two years at Fort Leavenworth's Command & General Staff School, an all but indispensable preliminary to senior rank. In his class of 241 members, he finished 221st. General (then Major) Eisenhower finished first. At the staff school a disgruntled colleague asked Allen "Why in hell are we training cavalry officers in peacetime when they won't use them in wartime?" Retorted Allen "Because they make the best infantry division commanders in wartime." In 1928, to the astonishment of the Army, he married. His wife was pretty, dark-haired Mary Frances Robinson of El Paso. They have a son, Terry Jr., 14, with whom Terry Sr. delights in riding and playing tennis when he is at home. In 1932, Allen made another pitch for the future; he took a course in the Infantry School at Fort Benning. Lieut. Colonel George Catlett Marshall, Chief of Staff, was assistant commandant, and the careless, casual Major Allen was one of the men whom Marshall marked down for later remembrance. Brainy, perceptive George Marshall sensed in Terry Allen a soldier likely to be mighty useful in wartime. Allen in these interim years demonstrated his No. 1 quality as a commander: his men came first. At home in El Paso, he was forever getting up in the middle of the night to get them out of jail. "My men never keep me waiting," he would say. "I won't make my men wait for me." Said an officer who served with him: "He was absolutely loved by his men. He always believed he could give his men all the hell they needed without help from an body else." In 1940, a year after General Marshall had become Chief of Staff, Terry Allen received his first star. Over the head of many a colonel who had rated him a rather dumb and charming rake, he was jumped from lieutenant colonel to temporary brigadier general. Soon afterward one of his bartender friends congratulated him. Allen pointed to his star and said:"You know who is responsible for that—the enlisted men, that's who." After another interval of cavalry duty, and an interim course in infantry command with other divisions, General Allen moved to meet destiny last year. In early 1942, he was promoted to major general and given command of the 1st Infantry Division.
The Infantry, The Infantry When Allen took over the 1st, the division had no superior in the Army, and in the opinion of its men it had no equal. Its boast, when Allen was ready to take it to Britain early last year, was that all but six of its 13,000-odd men were volunteers. They were already calling themselves"the first team." They drilled, maneuvered, played under their shoulder patch (the figure "1" in red) with a special swagger, and they roared out the infantry's song with a special gusto:The infantry, the infantry, With the dirt behind their ears, They can whip their weight in wildcats And drink their weight in beers. The cavalry, artillery And the goddamn engineers, They'll never catch the Infantry In a hundred thousand years"(The men of course, improved the song with unprintable addenda.)Most of the division's men were from the eastern seaboard, particularly from the New York areas, and Allen's first impression was that they were smaller than the soldiers he was used to. But he soon learned that they were tough and good. In Scotland and England he drilled them incessantly for war: a 40-mile march in 24 hours, with full field equipment, was required of every unit. They trained in amphibious war (although they then lacked the landing craft which they would actually use, and missed practice in the precise timing of real invasion). Allen had a divisional staff to his liking. Brigadier General Teddy Roosevelt Jr. was his second in command. Third of a convivial and efficient trio was Colonel Henry B. Cheadle, commander of the famed 10th Infantry Regiment, now a brigadier general and assistant commander of another division. His personal aide was Major Kenneth Downs, a former newsman whom Allen met and adopted at a party shortly before the division sailed for Britain. At Oran, where the 1st landed and met some of the hardest fighting of the early campaign in North Africa, Allen demonstrated the quality which had sometimes been confused with casual impetuosity. The French held a strong position at St. Cloud, a suburb of Oran. Rather than lose men in frontal assault, Allen, on a spur-of-the-moment decision, sent two units around the town, into Oran. As his men told it later, it sounded obvious and easy, but they knew it was the act of a resourceful and flexible commander. For the men on the spot, these early operations were not the easy matters which the censored accounts then made them seem to be. Men were killed. Men were wounded. Most of the officers in the 1st and other divisions got their first combat test. At that time, not one division in the new U.S. Army (excepting the lost men of Bataan) had been thoroughly schooled in battle for more battle. But, everything considered, the divisions engaged in Sicily did well. and the 1st division did very well. Once the landings were over and consolidated, Allen entered the blackest period of his Army life. The 1st Infantry Division found itself in a situation remarkably similar to that which the 1st Division of World War I faced in early 1918. It was broken up. Its battalions, with those of other divisions, were scattered over a 100-mile defensive front, under British and French command. These arrangements may have been unavoidable at the time, but they graveled Terry Allen. "I blooded them, didn't I?" he would say in aggrievement when he thought of his lost battalions. Finally, fuming at his divisionless division headquarters in the rear, he went to see General Eisenhower. "Is this a private war, or can anybody get in it?" In March he did get in with his division, intact once more. At Gafsa and El Guettar, on hills held and bloodied by the men of the 1st, Terry Allen and his division did superlatively well (TIME, May 24). After he had taken Gafsa, he was ordered to "hold"the town as a supply base for the British Eighth Army. "But the orders don't say anything about what steps to take to hold it," said Allen with a grin. So he attacked.
In A Hundred Thousand Years Correspondents with Allen at this period discovered a commander whom his prewar acquaintances at home would have hardly recognized. At times he was shy, quiet. He never bragged,in public,of his own division; he never slighted the others. Once, when the 1st Armored Division was late on one of his flanks, Allen said: "I guess they had motor trouble." On an interim afternoon, during El Guettar, Allen sat at tea with another officer and a TIME correspondent in the oasis that was his headquarters. He talked of home,of his wife, of Terry, Jr. and of how he wanted the boy to be a polo player, of his men and of how "all this talk about Division spirit just means that the men won't let the other men down." His philosophy of the war he gave in four words "It's crazy, this war." The correspondent jotted down these notes: "The distance from the flat of Terry Allen's feet to the top of his skull is about five feet, ten inches, but his stiff, straight hair stands up far enough above that to bring his total height up to six feet. His hair also sticks out on the sides. It is blue-black, flecked with gray, and his bushy brows are the same color. His eyes are deep brown and gentle. He is a gentle man. He does not like the fact that men will be killed carrying out his orders, but he has accepted the inevitability of it. He will spare or spend his men as military necessity demands; while they live, he will see that they get every comfort and consideration. That is one reason why the spirit of the 1st Division is second to none in the U.S. Army."Terry Allen and his division were ready for the final days in Tunisia when (with other units of the U.S. II Corps and the British First Army) they smashed through to Tunis and final victory in Tunisia. They were ready for Sicily, for Gela, where the Germans counterattacked to the beaches and Terry Allen said: "Hell, we haven't begun to fight. Our artillery hasn't been overrun yet." They were ready for the inland march, for battle at Ponte Olivo and Barrafranca, for fierce and clever battle with the Germans at Nicosia last week. With his division, sobered and hardened Terry Allen was gaining a personal luster. But now, as he did when he was with his bartender in El Paso, he would certainly point to his stars and his fame and say: "You know who is responsible for that — the enlisted men, that's who."