Once a Marine, always a Marine: Pa. native recollects service in WWII
SHAMOKIN, Pa. — The Black Diamond Detachment 846 of the Marine Corps League welcomed a new member this past April in Allen Grow, a nearly 91-year-old World War II veteran.
"I'm not much of a joiner," Grow joked in his Spruce Street home when asked why it took him so long to decide to join up.
Grow saw an ad in The News-Item for a recent meeting of the League at the Knights of Columbus, so he figured it was close and local, and he went and joined.
Grow, who is a life-long Shamokin resident, was drafted in 1943 along with "about 500 others they took out of Shamokin in three days."
At the time he was drafted, he was working for his father's, Allen Grow Sr., plumbing and heating business in the city.
He was bused to the recruiting office in Harrisburg where they examined the draftees. He did well in his evaluation, something that he attributes to playing football and wrestling in High School.
The Navy wanted Grow, but he didn't want any part of being a sailor.
"Being a plumber, they would have stuck me in the boiler room of a ship," Grow said. "I can swim good, but not that good."
So he chose the Marines instead.
From there he went to Philadelphia to be sworn in, was sent home for two days and then headed to Paris Island in South Carolina by train where he spent three months in boot camp; he was all of twenty years old when he finished.
"They cut your hair, put a pair of boots on you and from there your ass belongs to the drill instructor," Grow said of his time in boot camp.
He became an engineer in the 5th Marine Division, earning the rank of sergeant. He ran a water distillation unit that made fresh water out of salt water for troops.
Spending his military time in the Pacific Theater of Operations during the war, he was at the Battle of Iwo Jima from the start on Feb. 19, 1945.
Grow said they had the distillation units running day and night to provide fresh water.
After the Battle of Iwo Jima, his division regrouped in Hawaii. From there they were to head to the Philippines to join up with General Douglas MacArthur for the invasion of Japan.
That changed when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
After the bombings, Grow spent time in Nagasaki.
"I am proud of one thing. I was with the first group that went into Nagasaki after the bomb dropped," Grow said.
He spent three weeks there until the U.S. Army came and took things over.
"It was desolate, you can't imagine it. Just twisted steel all over," Grow said.
He said his time there was spent cleaning up and was "kind of like guard duty."
Grow was honorably discharged May 28, 1946.
Upon returning home to Shamokin he resumed working as a plumber in his father's business and shortly after married his wife, Irene.
The couple, who will be married 66 years this year, raised four daughters and have nine grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
Grow retired in 1995.
Grow and his wife still live in their home on Spruce Street, where they have built on additions and expanded over their lives, including a swimming pool.
"You see, I have been too damn busy to get into anything else," he joked.