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The Sanctuary of the Faithful Heart – Thomas Calabrese

By   /  June 16, 2024  /  14 Comments

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 There Are No Old People in Heaven

Thomas Calabrese – Danny Allison grew up in the small farm town of Carlsbad, California in the 1930’s. The entire country had been going through some difficult times starting with the stock market crash of 1929 and his family was luckier than most. His parents had steady employment at the Carlsbad Hotel and Mineral Springs, a favorite getaway for Hollywood royalty. Business increased dramatically at the hotel after the Del Mar Racetrack opened on July 3, 1937 and Dan was able to get part-time work as a bellboy even though he was only twelve years-old.

For the next four years, the ambitious young boy worked in various department of the hotel and got to know many celebrities including, Bing Crosby, Pat O’Brien, Jimmy Durante, Bob Hope, Mickey Rooney, Red Skelton, W.C. Fields and Joe E. Brown and Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball who often stayed in Carlsbad while patronizing the racetrack.

Life was good for the amiable and free spirited teenager and when he wasn’t working at the hotel, Danny could usually be found at the beach surfing or hanging out with his friends at Jim’s Cheeseburger Palace on Tip Top Street.

Things changed for everyone in the world on December 7th, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. On December 8, 1941, Congress approved President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s request for a declaration of war on Japan with only one dissenter. The vote was 82–0 in the Senate and 388–1 in the House.

On December 9th, 1941, Danny Allison was sixteen years-old, but lied about his age saying he was 18 so he could enlist in the Army and defend his country. After finishing his basic training at Camp Roberts near San Luis Obispo he was assigned to the 82nd Division, a regular infantry division in Camp Claiborne in Louisiana. On August 15, 1942, the US Army transformed the 82nd Division into the 82nd Airborne and placed under the command of General Omar Bradley and his deputy, Brigadier General Matthew Ridgway.

Initially composed of a parachute infantry regiment (PIR) and two Glider Infantry regiments (GIR), the 82nd Airborne was sent its new premises of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. At its new location, the 82nd Airborne added the following units to the division; 504th and 505th PIR, 325th GIR, 319th and 320th Glider Field Artillery battalions (GFAB), 376th and 456th Parachute Field Artillery battalions (PFAB), 80th Airborne Anti-Aircraft Battalion (AAAB), 370th Airborne Engineer Battalion (AEB) and various supporting elements.

After many intense training sessions, the 82nd Airborne Division was sent to Casablanca, Morocco and arrived on 10 May 1943 to participate in Operation Husky. It was a major campaign of World War II in which the Allied task force of 3,000 ships, 4,000 aircraft and 150,000 troops participated in the invasion of the island of Sicily in July 1943.

Private First Class Danny Allison was assigned to the 1st Battalion of the 504th PIR, led by Colonel Reuben H. Tucker. The paratroopers boarded 143 C-47 aircraft and took off for Sicily from the dusty airstrip near Kairouan, Tunisia. Near the Sicilian coast, a nervous Allied naval anti- aircraft gunner mistook the C-47’s for German aircraft and fired upon the formation. Immediately, all other naval vessels and shore troops joined in, downing friendly aircraft and forcing planeloads of paratroopers to exit far from their intended drop zones in one of the greatest tragedies of World War II.

Twenty-three of 144 USAAF transports were shot down by friendly fire and a total of 318 American paratroopers were killed or wounded in the mishap. Danny’s plane had 2,000 holes in its fuselage and limped to the designated drop zone with sputtering engines. His adrenalin was coursing through his veins and his mouth was so dry that he couldn’t swallow. Danny didn’t even realize that he had received two wounds from shrapnel until he parachuted to the ground and excruciating pain shot through him. A medic removed two chunks of metal from Danny’s left leg, disinfected and bandaged the wounds. By morning, only 400 of the Regiment’s 1600 soldiers had made it to the area.

Colonel Tucker had no other choice, but to carry out his assigned mission with the available personnel. The men of the 82nd were split into squad and platoon size units to carry out their dangerous missions. Their objectives included demolition of strategic targets, severing lines of communications and ambushing German and Italian motorized columns. The Americans caused so much confusion that the German high command estimated the number of American parachutists to be ten times the actual number.  

Even though Danny and his fellow paratroopers were vastly outnumbered, they used raw courage and an indomitable fighting spirit to block the steel behemoths of the Herman Goering Panzer Division from reaching Torre di Gaffe, (Red Beach) where the 3rd Infantry Division had landed under the command of Major General Lucian Truscott.

The actions of the warriors of the 82nd Airborne saved the lives of thousands of Americans. After major losses of non-commissioned officers in his unit, Danny was promoted to Corporal. After Sicily, Danny fought in Salerno and Naples during the month of September, 1943. He was wounded at the Battle of Anzio on January 25th, 1944 and was taken to a field hospital in England.  While recovering, Corporal Allison was promoted to Sergeant and received the Army Distinguished Service Cross and his third Purple Heart.

On March 16th, 1944, Sergeant Danny Allison returned to the 82nd Airborne Division as a seasoned and decorated veteran. The paratroopers trained extensively during April and May for the invasion that they knew was forthcoming. Shortly after midnight on 6 June, over 18,000 men of the US 82nd, 101st Airborne Divisions and the British 6th Airborne Division were dropped into Normandy. Their objectives included the capture of Sainte-Mere Eglise and securing key approaches to the Allied beachhead.

The 507th and 508th Parachute Infantry Regiments were spread across the countryside west of the Merderet River. Sergeant Allison had trouble with his parachute and it did not fully deploy and he would have been killed from the impact of the fall if he had not fallen into the Merderet River. Paratroopers carried an average of 70 pound of equipment and with their parachute they were between 90 and 120 pounds over their body weight. Danny was knocked unconscious from the impact against the water and he quickly sank beneath the surface with all the weight he was carrying. Luckily for him, members of the French Underground were nearby. Christine Pare’ was only 16 years-old at the time and did not hesitate to enter the river. She took a deep breath and dived beneath the surface with a knife in her hand.

Danny was somewhere between life and death, but much closer to the everafter when he saw many of dead comrades on top of a hill calling to him. He started walking in their direction.

Christine found the paratrooper at a depth of 20 feet and working by touch, she cut the parachute and his pack straps away. Her lungs were bursting, crying out for oxygen, but she refused to leave. Finally, when it looked like she might also drown, she got Danny free and pulled him to the surface. Christine gulped mouthfuls of air and pulled the unconscious American to shore. With the help of two men from the French Underground, Christine got the Danny on the bank of the river and collapsed on the ground. This would be one of the many miracles that occurred on this historic day.

One of men told Christine, “He’s dead…the Germans are close by…we need to go.”

Christine quickly composed herself and got to her feet, “Not yet,” and worked furiously to get the American’s heart pumping again. In the distance, gunfire and explosions could be heard growing closer. Finally, Danny spit out a mouthful of water and looked up at the most beautiful woman he had ever seen leaning over him and asked, “Are you an angel…am I dead?”

Christine spoke softly, “We will be if we don’t get out of here.”

The men from the French Underground picked Danny up and carried him through the forest to their hidden underground bunker. He was placed on a cot and Christine said, “You can rest here, I’ll get back as soon as I can, but if I am killed…you are on your own.”

The only word that Danny knew was, “Merci.”

Christine responded, “Je vous en prie.” (You’re welcome)

As Christine walked off, Danny thought he saw a halo over her head.

Christine and her fellow French Underground fighters met up with Lieutenant Turner Turnbull and his 40 paratroopers at Neuville-au-Plain to fight against German counterattacks to buy critical time for the rest of 505th to solidify the town’s defense. From there the French Underground helped Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Vanderroot’s 2nd Battalion defend Sainte-Mere-Eglise’s northern boundary. Christine returned to the underground bunker the next day to check on the paratrooper and hide from roving German patrols.

 Soon afterward, Danny told her, “I’m ready to return to the fight.”

            “Good,” Christine said, “We need every man.”

For the next week, Danny fought with the French Underground against the Germans. 2,499 American paratroopers became casualties on D-Day and in the 82nd Airborne, 15 of the 16 battalion commanders were killed or wounded. Despite these massive losses, the Airborne Divisions accomplished their missions and secured a place in the annals of US Army history.

As much as he hated to go Sergeant Danny Allison knew he had to return to his unit. He had only known the French girl for eight days, but one thing was certain, he had fallen deeply in love with her. However, there was a war to fight so Danny told Christine, “Au revoir.”

Christine kissed Danny on the cheek and embraced him, “Bonne chance.” (Good luck) We will meet again if God wants.”

They parted on a French country road and went their separate ways.

No ground gained was ever relinquished back to the Germans following the invasion of Normandy. While the invasion accomplished many military objectives, it did not end the war in Europe. It would take eleven more months and during that time Sergeant Allison received a battlefield commission to first lieutenant.

Germany surrendered on May 7th, 1945 and Danny returned to France in June to find the French girl who saved his life and to tell her how he felt. Some French people told him she had been killed. Brokenhearted, Danny returned to the United States, but hardly a day passed that he didn’t think about the French girl.

Lt. Dan Allison decided to stay in the Army and two years later he was promoted to Captain. When the Korean War broke out, he became a company commander with the 8th Cavalry Regiment. Dan received his fifth Purple Heart and a Silver Star for his actions on April 23rd, 1953 in the battle of Pork Chop Hill.

Major General Dan Allison commanded the 82nd Airborne in the Vietnam War as the legendary division fought battles in Hue, Phu Bai, Mekong Delta, Iron Triangle and along the Cambodia Border. Dan retired from the Army on July 1, 1977 as a Lieutenant General with 35 years of distinguished service to his country. Over three and one half decades he accumulated 28 personal medals and sixteen unit commendations that spanned three wars.

All his accomplishments came with a heavy price, Dan lost many friends over the years and he never married because he could never find anyone that he loved as much as the young French girl that he hardly knew, but could never forget.  Lieutenant General Dan Allison had invested wisely over the years and with a monthly pension that was almost $20,000 per month, it was much more than he needed. Dan didn’t want to buy a house and he didn’t want to travel, he had done too much of that in his life. He considered moving to a foreign country like Singapore, Thailand, Portugal or Italy like so many veterans had done, but couldn’t convince himself to leave the country that he spent most of his adult life defending. With no family, Dan set up a trust to leave his wealth to several charities after he passed away.

He decided to embrace the simplicity of retirement, focus on his health and help those less fortunate than himself. Most people would have never guessed that when speaking to the humble unassuming man, they were speaking to a war hero.  Dan bought a motor home and alternated living in Camp Pendleton’s two motor home parks, one in Camp Del Mar and the other at Camp San Onofre. Dan volunteered his services at the base animal shelter and the local USO in downtown Oceanside.

The years passed and Dan returned to Normandy, France for the 50th anniversary of D-Day on June 6th, 1994. He was walking between the crosses on the graves of fallen soldiers at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer. It was an emotional time for Dan, this was his sixth time at the cemetery and each one was more emotional than the last.

Suddenly a hand touched Dan’s shoulder and he turned around and even though it had been 50 years, he instantly recognized the woman, “Christine!”

            “I thought that was you,” Christine smiled.

            “I came looking for you after the war, people told me that you had been killed,” Dan said.

            “I was badly wounded and many thought I would not survive.”

            “What are you doing now?” Dan asked.

            “I went to medical school, got married and raised two daughters,” Christine said, “What about you?”

            “I stayed in the Army and retired about 15 years ago.”

            “Did you ever get married?” Christine inquired.

            “Only to the Army,” Dan shrugged, “Are you here with your family?”

            “They understand that this is my time to be alone with my memories. I would have tried to find you, but you never told me what your last name was.”

            “I guess we had other things on our minds back then,” Dan felt a lump in his throat.

For the next two hours, Dan and Christine did their best to bring each other up to date on what had happened in their lives over the last five decades. Christine commented, “So many memories, but yet June 6th, 1944 only seems like yesterday.”

            “I think that anybody who fought in the war and survived, feel that they’ve been living on borrowed time after that,” Dan pondered the perennial survivor’s question, “There was so much death and destruction and no logical reason to believe why we made it when so many others didn’t.”

            “So true.” Christine said, “Would you care to join me for dinner?”

            “I would like nothing better,” Dan smiled.

That night Dan and Christine dined on fine cuisine at Le Baligan in Cabourg and were totally captivated by each other’s company. It was as if they were the only two people left in the world. For the next two days, they spent every waking moment together.

Neither wanted to break the magic spell that they were under, but reality could not be ignored. It was a bittersweet reunion for Dan and Christina, they were eternally grateful to find each other after so many years, but sorry it had to end.

Dan and Christina stayed in touch on a regular basis like loyal friends do and made a vow to meet every June 6th in Normandy to honor their fallen comrades and spend time with each other. They kept that commitment.

 On December 17th 2023, Christine husband’s passed away and when she met Dan at the cemetery the following year at Normandy, he was 98 years-old and she was 96. They decided to do something irrational and spontaneous, but at their age they were allowed such frivolities.

 They got married on the sands of Omaha Beach.

While sitting on a bench with the beach to their right and the cemetery to the left, Dan leaned and kissed Christine on the cheek, “It took a while, but we finally made it. I don’t remember ever being this happy.”

Christine looked up to the sky and responded, “The sanctuary of the faithful heart is a joyous place to be.”

Thunder rumbled and dark clouds started to form off the coast. Dan said, “It looks like a storm is coming.”

Before they could move, a lightning strike hit where they were sitting and the area was engulfed in smoke and flame.

When Dan awakened, he was an eighteen-year-old boy lying on the bank of the Merderet River. He looked up at the beautiful sixteen French girl, “Am I dead?”

            “I think we both are this time,” Christine smiled.

A man in a military uniform walked up and asked, “Are you ready to go?”

            “Something tells me the answer is yes,” Dan said.

As Dan, Christine and the man walked up the flower-lined path, Christine asked, “Why now?”

            “The Supreme Commander didn’t want to separate you two again,” The Man replied.

            “I don’t know if this is a stupid question, but why are we young again?” Dan asked.

The Man smiled. “It’s not a stupid question at all, it’s very simple….There are no old people in heaven.”

                                                              The End

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14 Comments

  1. Thomas Castle says:

    Really enjoyed this one! Thanks Tom really liked the Ending! Young Forever! No more Pain! God Bless!

  2. John Michels says:

    Very nice story with a lot of history

  3. bob wolf says:

    well done
    great history lesson
    and perfect to honor the D Day current events

  4. Robert says:

    Great story, very enjoyable. Thanks

  5. Tom says:

    This has to be one of your best…if not THE best! To commemorate DDay and the sacrifices of our soldiers in such a magnificent story is marvelous. I have visited many of the battle sites you mentioned. And the gravesites of true heroes. When PFC Allison said “His adrenalin was coursing through his veins”, had it been me, it would have been piss and not adrenalin!

    Even more disheartening than the loss of these brave soldiers from enemy fire is the tragic friendly fire incident you mentioned. 83 KIA and 318 Wounded…a travesty.

    Christine and Danny were destined to spend eternity together…and by the grace of God…they did!

  6. Clyde says:

    Great history lesson. They don’t call them the Greatest Generation
    for nothing. Heaven has a special place for heroes!

  7. Steve says:

    Great story. I loved it.

  8. Marty says:

    Great short story Tom. Another movie or series for you to work on.

  9. Bart says:

    Thanks for writing a history lesson and life lesson.

  10. Skip says:

    I loved the romantic story! True love!

  11. Joe says:

    Very touching amid some very terrible acts of warfare.

  12. Tony says:

    Wow, another heart warming and romantic story written by Mr. Thomas Calabrese in this Sunday Vista Press for our enjoyment.
    This is truly another great story that should be made into a movie.
    It held my interest and surprised me with the ending.
    What a entreating and fantastic story. I would love to watch it on the big screen. There are very few good stories like this story that is a movie one can bring the entire family to see.
    Very nicely written Mr. Calabrese and thank you.

  13. Lloyd M Thorne says:

    Tom, once again you wrote a great story. I admit I had a small tear formed when I got to the end.

    Semper Fi

  14. Jon Gregory Nielsen says:

    “Top Cat” Calabrese,

    Well, you have done it again. I was really hoping you would write a story this month commemorating the weeks surrounding D-Day. And yes, you have done me proud again.

    If this story of yours becomes a movie sometime soon, just like my dad, I want to audition for a small part in the Coast Guard where he served near Normandy during the days before and after D-Day.

    THANKS again for another gem of a military-action story interwoven with U.S. history, romance and a new set of heroes for us readers to remember.

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