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Terry de la Mesa Allen’s mother was the daughter of a Spanish officer, and his father was a career U.S. Army officer. Despite this impressive martial heritage, success in the military seemed unlikely for Allen as he failed out of West Point—twice—ultimately gaining his commission through Catholic University’s R.O.T.C. program. In World War I, the young officer commanded an infantry battalion and distinguished himself as a fearless combat leader, personally leading patrols into no-man’s-land.
In 1940, with another world war looming, newly appointed army chief of staff Gen. George C. Marshall reached down through the ranks and, ahead of almost a thousand more senior colonels, promoted Patton, Eisenhower, Allen, and other younger officers to brigadier general.
For Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, Allen, now a two-star general, commanded the Big Red One, the First Infantry Division, spearheading the American attack against the Nazis. Despite a stellar combat record, however, Major General Allen found himself in hot water with the big brass. Allen and his troops had become notorious for their lack of discipline off the battlefield. When Seventh Army commander George Patton was pressed by his deputy Omar Bradley to replace “Terrible Terry” before the invasion of Sicily, he demurred, favoring Allen’s success in combat. At the end of the Sicily campaign, with Allen’s protector Patton out of the way (relieved for slapping a soldier), Omar Bradley fired Allen and sent him packing back to the States, seemingly in terminal disgrace.
Once again, however, George Marshall reached down and in October 1944, Terrible Terry was given command of another infantry division, the 104th Timberwolves and took it into heavy combat in Belgium. Hard fighting continued as Allen’s division spearheaded the U.S. First Army’s advance across Germany. On 26 April 1945, Terrible Terry Allen’s hard-charging Timberwolves became the first American outfit to link up with the Soviet Union’s Red Army.
Terrible Terry Allen was one of the most remarkable American soldiers of World War II or any war. Hard bitten, profane, and combative, Allen disdained the “book,” but he knew how to wage war. He was a master of strategy, tactics, weaponry, and, most importantly, soldiers in combat.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Gerald Astor is a critically acclaimed military historian and author of such books as The Mighty Eighth, A Blood Dimmed Tide, The Right to Fight, The Greatest War, and Bloody Forest. He lives near New York City.
From the Hardcover edition.
Terrible Terry Allen: Combat General of World War II — The Life of an American Soldier
By Gerald Astor
Chapter 2: Terry Allen’s West Point
Sam Allen settled into the role of a garrison officer without the credentials conferred upon those who actually went to war or commanded troops in the field. After his tour at Fort Monroe during the Spanish-American War, he served at a number of field, and then coast, artillery posts, which became a separate bunch in 1907. He oversaw coast artillery unites in the harbors of Boston, New York, and Pensacola; slowly he rose up in rank. In 1901, the Allens had their third child, Mary Conchita de la Mesa Allen.
Terry Allen’s acquaintance with West Point began with his father’s tour as a teacher. Between the ages of three and seven, he feasted on the panorama of smartly uniformed young men amid a citadel that crowned the scenic splendor of massive fortress-type buildings ensconced on the shores of a magnificent river. There was pomp and circumstance aplenty to seduce the imagination of a boy, and over the years Samuel Allen undoubtedly transmitted to Terry his nostalgic affection for his life as a cadet.
When the family then moved to a series of army posts, the child indulged himself in a passion for riding. As an artillery officer, Samuel Allen frequently pursued his duties while in the saddle, and it was natural for his offspring to emulate his style. In her fading years, his mother, Concepcion Allen, recalled her small boy in the saddle, proudly riding off to accompany his father on maneuvers. By age ten, Terry felt totally comfortable in the saddle.
Sam Allen — the somewhat free-spirited, joking, dancing, gregarious cadet and young officer captured in the memories of Fish and in his own letters — had become a more reserved man with considerable respect for the dignity and discipline of the army. Terry Allen recalled that while his father was a captain he refused to have a telephone installed in his home. “I don’t want to telephone my seniors and I won’t have my junior officers calling me.” But, for all of the parent’s concern for decorum and the code of “an officer and a gentleman,” the enlisted personnel of the day were cut from a different cloth, and their children likewise.
The rough-and-tumble log of youngsters Terry’s age, many of them the spawn of enlisted personnel, were his natural playmates. Even at an early age he showed signs of leadership, coupled with a reputation that was less than salubrious. Allen reported that he once came across a contemporary in tears, and the boy explained that his mother had just spanked him. When Allen inquired why, his companion explained “Because I was playing with you.” According to Liebling, Allen said, ‘My opinion of myself went up like a rocket.” Aside from his adventures with other army brats, Allen spent considerable time with the lesser ranks stationed at the camps, giving him a lifelong empathy toward enlistd men, not to mention a taste for some of their habits. He informed Liebling that along with horsemanship, he had learned at a tender age how to smoke, chew, cuss, and fight. He also surely became aware of how much the soldiers favored drinking.
Terry never doubted the kind of career he would follow. Having lived at West Point for four years and enjoyed his life at army bases, he expected to follow in his father’s footsteps. While he took for granted that as the son of a graduate and a colonel on active duty he would receive an appointment, he apparently had not foreseen that the U.S.M.A. demanded a disciplined behavior and a certain academic proficiency.
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