I liked and admired Mack Allen enormously.
He was from Lynchburg, Va., and joined the Marine Corps as a teen-ager, fought on Okinawa and then chased bandits up in North China and afterwards he came home and went to college at VMI and on to the B School at Harvard. When Korea came along in 1950, Mack resigned his army commission that people got at VMI and coped with all the red tape and testing to become a second lieutenant in the Marines.
I met him at Quantico and we went to Camp Pendleton as replacement officers and in November they flew us out to the First Marine Division then fighting up in the mountains of North Korea. By some fluke Mack and I were both assigned to Dog Company of the 7th Marines commanded by Captain Chafee, who's now a senator. The captain must have been disappointed in us because almost the first day we were there Mack damn near cut his ear off shaving with an unfamiliar two-edged razor and I came down with the runs. But Chafee got us shaped up.
We fought North Koreans all that fall and winter, Mack commanding one rifle platoon and me another and Bob Simonis the third. Mack's platoon sergeant got killed and Mack, the Virginian, promoted a black sergeant to the job. There was some grumbling. Mr. Truman had integrated the armed forces only a few years before and there weren't many black Marines. Not yet. I had only one; Mack and Bob may have had a couple. Mack told the Southern boys who were grumbling to just shut up.
And they did. When your accent is as sweetly redolent of Dixie as Mack's, good ol' boys tend to do what they're told.
In the spring they said we were going to jump off against the Chinese army. Mack and I both got promoted and I was kind of hoping to be sent off to some cushy billet inventorying toilet paper or the like. But Col. Gregory said he was going to keep us around in case we really did attack the Chinese army and began to run short of platoon leaders. So I became battalion intelligence officer and Mack the adjutant. "What does an intelligence officer do?" I inquired of Mack. He said when he found out what an adjutant did, we would take it up.
We never did attack but only fought local battles most nights in the low hills north of the double-bend of the Imjin River near Panmunjom, keeping the Chinese from getting back to Seoul. On the 4th of July, Mack and I were given orders to go home. No way, he said, he was going to re-up and try to get command of a rifle company, which was his dream the way other men might ponder on Cindy Crawford.
When I went up to say goodbye to him on the hill, some silly bastard took a shot at me and I thought, what a dumb way to die. Back in the States I got letters from Mack about the bad fighting and the Chinese human wave assaults. He sounded quite pleased.
He got home that autumn and came up to New York to see me. I was working at Macy's and the first day Mack was in Manhattan the inquiring photographer for the Daily News took his picture and put it in the paper. That never happened back in Lynchburg, he said, very impressed. He got married to Emma and had a daughter Janet and a son Christian and some while ago retired to Richmond. I was in England when he died. Emma called and left the message.
They held a service and his remains were buried in a little churchyard they have there in Richmond where Lee's men and Pickett's and Longstreet's sleep. Those fellows will like Mack a lot, I'm sure, just as I did.