By JAYNE THURBER-SMITH
Former member of the City Council of Chesapeake and one of the Navy’s most distinguished aviators, John Allen enlisted in the Navy in September of 1958. He attended Boot Camp at Great Lakes, after which he became an Airman and reported to NAS Pensacola. In November 1961 he was selected for the Navy’s NAVCAD Program. He completed Flight training and was designated a Naval Aviator with the rank of Ensign, USN in May 1963.
Allen then celebrated by marrying his high school sweetheart, Patty Mileski. Just like our City of Chesapeake, they are looking forward to celebrating their upcoming 50th anniversary.
After winning his wings, he underwent replacement training in the F-8 Crusader, joining Fighter Squadron 24 at NAS Miramar, San Diego. The squadron made three Far East deployments, and Allen flew 129 combat missions over Viet Nam.
He became a Blue Angels pilot in 1967 and performed death-defying maneuvers with them for three years in the following positions: Left Wing ’67, Slot ’68 and Lead Solo ’69. There were never any pilot errors when he flew with the Angels; however, there were some mechanical ones.
“I had a few airplane failures while performing but we’re trained to deal with those,” he says nonchalantly. “Fortunately for me I was able to land okay. It’s a machine, after all. When you watch the Blue Angels it looks like a smooth ballet in the sky, but I was flying a 40,000 pound machine. It makes noises, things bang around. When you have that much energy involved eventually things fail.”
“The Blue Angels shows were considered one of our best if not the best recruiting tool we had,” Allen comments. “We would always visit with the crowds afterwards. We signed autographs, held babies – it was fun. We heard a lot from the spectators on how much we contributed to the national spirit of the community.”
The Blue Angels pilots would reach out beyond the crowds as they toured, visiting hospitals and schools.
“That was difficult but rewarding,” Allen remembers, “and we all really wanted to do it, to reach out. It was hard to see kids in the hospital who aren’t as fortunate as we are, who don’t have the same good health. They would say that they would like to pilot someday, but you knew they wouldn’t ever be able to with their health problems. And then to see fellow comrades in the military hospitals all banged up was very sad, but at the very least we were able to thank them for their service.”
During their school visits, the Blue Angels stressed the importance of working hard and getting a good education.
“The kids were so enthusiastic about what we did, and I’m sure we encouraged them to achieve more,” Allen says. “They could aspire to be, if not a naval aviator, at least some kind of pilot.”
They also got to meet many celebrities while on tour. One of Allen’s favorite memories is spending time with Jimmy Stewart and a few of his friends.
“We got to fly at Fort Walton where we met General Jimmy Doolittle of the Doolittle Raiders,” he remembers. “(Actors) Jonathan Winters and Jimmy Stewart were also there, and it was as exciting a group as I’ve ever been around. Jimmy Stewart had been a military aviator from Pennsylvania, just like I was.”
Through most of the seventies, he served at NAS Ocean, first as a flight instructor, then as Executive Officer of Fighter Squadron 33. In June 1978, he became Squadron Commander of VF-33. From January 1980 through October 1981, CDR Allen was assigned as Chief of Staff to Commander Fighter Wing One. For the next two years he served on USS John F. Kennedy as Operations Officer. During this period, the ship made two Mediterranean deployments.
“When you’re on assignment, flying around the ship at night is very demanding but it’s rewarding,” he said. “Studies show the pulse rate is higher during night landings on carriers than during actual combat, and about 1/3 of my flying was night landing.”
From November 1983 through May 1985, Captain Allen served as the Air Training Officer for Commander, Naval Air Forces, Atlantic Fleet stationed at Naval Station Norfolk.
“Training is part of our business as naval pilots, you train like you fight and you fight like you train,” he says. “I enjoyed teaching.”
After a year on the staff of the Naval Air Warfare Directorate at the Pentagon, Captain Allen reported aboard NAS, Oceana as Commanding Officer. He retired in November, 1988 with thirty years in the Navy: 6,000 total flight hours (over 5,000 hours in tactical jets) and 1,006 carrier landings. After retirement, he worked as a civilian instructor at the F-14 Simulator Facility for 12 1/2 years.
“So enough with career questions. How’s your golf game?” he’s asked.
“With this bad March weather, it’s awful!” he laughs. “But even with the weather good, it’s still sometimes awful.”
Captain John Allen, The Citizen of Chesapeake salutes you and thanks you for your service to our nation.