Ed Allen knows a thing or two about building houses and what it takes to turn a house into a home.
The World War II Army veteran built close to 300 houses in Bradley County over four decades, but turning his house into a home for his wife and children proved to be the foundation of his accomplishments.
Allen, 83, said he was drafted into the military in July 1945 as a naive, young 18-year-old who arrived for combat just as the war in Europe ended.
“They dropped the atom bomb just as I was going in,” he recalled. “I was looking forward to it. I was afraid the war was going to be over before I got into it. I was stupid. But a lot of our heroes were teenagers — just boys who were in the service. The war was all over by the time I got there.”
Allen said he was trained in field artillery to be a forward observer who directed artillery fire but never saw any combat in his service.
“I was disappointed until I saw what an automatic weapon could do,” Allen admits. “It made you wonder how anyone could survive it.”
Although the government had drafted and trained an excess of fighting men at the time, the military was now faced with a new problem, according to Allen.
“They had about 12 to 14 million men in the Army at the end of the war and they didn’t know what to do with us,” he said. “I went to Panama and wound up at a hospital. I thought I was going to be a bedpan commando (laughing). “I worked in medical supplies. I had one of the greatest officers an 18-year-old could work for.”
From July 1945 to his discharge date of Dec. 7, 1946, Allen served in Fort Bragg, N.C., and the 368th Station Hospital in the Republic of Panama. The excess of soldiers was instrumental in the early discharge of Allen and other soldiers after the war was over.
“They called me up one day and said, ‘You’re going home. We’ve got a replacement for you,’” said Allen. “I had passed the Officer Candidate School training and examination when I was at Fort Bragg and the lieutenant who replaced me tried to get me to re-enlist. But I had a little red-headed girl at home and I wanted to get back home.”
Allen, one of 16 million Americans who served in World War II, had married his wife, Ruth, six months after he entered the Army in January 1946. Allen said there was a 10-day delay in route after he completed his basic training which allowed him to return home to marry his sweetheart in a small wedding ceremony at his home. The newlyweds lived together nearly a week before he had to report for duty.
The attractive young couple met one summer when Ruth visited her first cousin, who was dating Allen’s first cousin in Cleveland. Allen was around 16 and Ruth was a year younger. On their first date they went swimming at Parksville Lake in Benton where their love flowed more than six decades.
In November 1947 the first of their three sons was born and Allen, who was now a civilian, became a husband and father who set an example of providing for his family through hard work and sacrifice.
“I was working at the post office before I started building,” said Allen, who was a rural mail carrier in the 1950s and into the 1970s. “That was my favorite job.”
“I got through about 1 or 2 p.m. and that left a lot of time. So I was painting, doing cable and other work to help support my family.”
Hard times came for the Allens when one of their sons came down with Rheumatic fever between the sixth and seventh grade.
“He had to stay in bed for six months,” said Allen. “I was having trouble paying for his medicine. That’s what encouraged me to go into construction. A friend of mine who was old enough to be my father but was a friend of my family — we went into business together.”
The two men built a few spec houses together and worked together several years before Allen went out on his own and formed Ed Allen Construction, Inc. a company that produced nearly 300 houses in four decades, until 2006.
“I always liked construction,” said Allen. “Most homes I built were custom homes. I had only one crew and two lead carpenters in my whole career. Besides my family, building houses was my biggest success in life. I can truthfully say I didn’t take a nickel I did not earn.”
After his wife died in July 2006, Allen admits her death robbed him of his happiness and played a major role in shutting down his business Oct. 1, 2006.
“I had a very happy life,” he said. “My wife was beautiful. It’s a shock when you lose your wife of 61 years. I wasn’t ready for it. I haven’t been happy since she died.”
Allen said he believes family is the most important thing along with one’s relationship with God, but making a decent living and making a house into a home is also very important and rewarding.
“The happiest periods of my life was after I retired from the post office and did nothing but build houses. I truly enjoyed it,” he said. “But I get to see my children and grandchildren. I also have two great-grandsons and one great-granddaughter. That makes me happy. I also have a lot of friends which I enjoy.”
The man who built houses for local residents, who also turned their houses into homes, said he enjoyed the families he worked for over the years.
“Some of them I’ll never forget and I doubt they’ll ever forget me,” he said. “It’s been a privilege and a real pleasure.”