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Chester County Press

What one Vietnam veteran gave for freedom

02/07/2022 10:45PM ● By Steven Hoffman
Jim Allen is one of 7.2 million Vietnam veterans still living today. Like many veterans returning to the U.S. from Vietnam, he didn’t get a hero’s welcome when he came home after serving his country. In fact, he really didn’t get a welcome home at all until the Wreaths Across America organization drove into Oxford in a mobile unit and welcomed him home.
On that day, Jim Allen came to the mobile unit and was presented with a pin and was welcomed home. His son, Rudy, his daughter-in-law Nikki, and the grandchildren were there to see it happen and, most importantly, Jim Allen’s family was able to view information about the war he was wounded in.
“I’m very proud of my father,” Rudy Allen said. “What he has done, serving our country in a war that was so controversial, has made me more patriotic. I see firsthand what price he paid for freedom. Freedom isn’t free. He has Parkinson’s Disease because he was exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam.”
To say the Vietnam War took a toll on a generation of approximately nine million members of the armed forces who served during a 20-year period from 1955 to 1975 is an understatement.
Nikki Allen said, “I can’t believe how badly people treated Vietnam veterans. It was so wrong. I just can’t understand it.”
Jim Allen looked at his daughter-in-law and said, “She is my hero.” He is 74 now, and he has had Parkinson’s Disease for over 20 years. He doesn’t like to dwell on it. It is a progressive disease and since his diagnosis, it has progressed. Parkinson’s has made it difficult for him to do the simple things in life most of us take for granted—things like talking, walking, or sleeping.
The Veteran’s Administration only officially recognized Parkinson’s as being associated with exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides during military service back in 2010. The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) advocated for passage of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, and it was signed into law in that year.
Despite the difficulty created by Parkinson’s, Allen has not stopped working and doesn’t plan to.
“I like to work,” he said.
Allen, worked at Pinno Pontiac where he sold and repaired cars. He retired after 42 years. He then went to work for his son and his excavation company in 2011. Five years later, he came to work for his son when he started a new business called the Soap Bucket. That business has grown and is now called Nella Naturals.
Although Jim Allen has difficulty talking, both his son and daughter-in-law have learned to understand him and are quick to meet his every need.  Rudy Allen stays with him to keep watch over him at night. During the day, he can often be found at his son’s business in the town of Oxford. They are a close family by choice. The young Allens have five children who can also be found at the business or working with their parents. They are always close, all supporting each other. The relationship between this family is like no other.
Jim Allen has always been a gentle man. The wounds he received in the war have not changed that. He came back, and many other U.S. soldiers didn’t. Like many veterans, he didn’t talk much about his experience in the war.
“I didn’t want to complain. At that time you didn’t talk about your feelings. I didn’t want people to know how I felt,” he said.
Like many veterans, his only son knew little about what his father had gone through.
“It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that Dad said anything,” Rudy Allen explained. “And the first time I did hear him talking about it was when he was talking to a guest at our house.”
Remember, Allen was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1966. That was a troubled time in America’s history. Inflation grew as part of the effort to fund the war in Vietnam. Both the U.S. and USSR continued in their space race to see who would be the first to land a man on the moon. Race riots took place in cities across the country and National Guards were needed to bring back law and order. And the National Coordinating Committee to End the War in Vietnam helped sponsor the “Second International Days of Protest” in the United States on March 25 and 26 in about 100 cities and in several places outside the U.S.
This was the backdrop for many veterans who were drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. Protests continued as Allen went off to fill his military commitment.
Allen completed basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
“After basic training, I went to Keesler Air Force Base to Air Traffic Controller School
for four months. I came home for a brief visit, and then went to California. From there, I flew to Cam Ranh Bay,” he explained.
And so a young gentle man left the farming community of Oxford and landed in Vietnam. From Cam Ranh Bay, he went on to the Mai Cong Delta.
“I remember landing and wondering what I was doing there. At that point you don’t have any fear of death. You are young and naïve,” he said.
He moved on to the Mai Cong Delta. The difference between Oxford and Vietnam were night and day, and make no mistake, the night and the darkness was what he encountered in Vietnam.
The Mekong Delta, is located where the Mekong River, fans out and empties into the South China Sea. It was one of the most economically and strategically important areas of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Six million people, nearly 40 percent of South Vietnam’s population, lived in this humid wetland region south of Saigon.
Allen was assigned to an air base along with civilians located in a pre-fab building. Originally, he was going to be assigned with an infantry unit. However, when they discovered he could type, he was placed as a clerk.
“I remember it was hot and steamy weather,” he said. “They were constantly bringing in new people. I worked with a First Sergeant and other officers. I remember the first couple of months there were mortar attacks. Sometimes I would fly off base in a helicopter and a helicopter would fly in supplies and people. There were 40 or 50 helicopters at the base.”
They also had a couple of medics at base. The mortar attacks were increasing and getting closer to the base.
He remembers he had personal contact with the Vietnamese people. 
“The trouble was, we had North and South Vietnamese people on the base and you never knew if they were friend or foe. We could have been working with the enemy. You could never let your guard down,” he explained. “After four months mortar came into the barracks. Some nights it was just aircraft. Those nights, I took cover under a mattress. The night I got shot I just fell down. For a moment I couldn’t walk. Then I got up and ran about 50 yards. I was shot in my leg and hip. It was only the adrenaline that enabled me to run.”
He was flown to base to a field hospital, and then was operated on in Japan. From there, he went on to Walter Reed Hospital back in the United States. He spent three weeks there while he was recovering.
“I remember getting shot at every day,” he explained. “When I came home I never talked about Vietnam. I felt like I was expected to come back and be normal, the same guy I was when I left. We didn’t talk about PTSD. I didn’t talk about my experience with my family.”
He remembers Mr. Pinno, his former employer, fondly.
“He gave me a convertible so I could drive back and forth to Washington,” he said. “I had seven months left in the military. The military was the best and worse thing that happened in my life. I remember Mr. Pinno taking me under his wing.”
It was years later his son Rudy, would hear his father speak about Vietnam. 
“All I knew was my father was patriotic and served his country. As I got older, he would slowly share stories with me,” he said.
Rudy and his wife Nikki are only too happy to take care of the older Allen. They feel it is an honor and can’t understand why some veterans have no one.
“He will do occupational therapy at his house and then we bring him here to our store for physical therapy. We just make it work,” Rudy explained.
All of this happens while the Allen family and their five children operate their store, Nella’s Naturals. The name of the store is “Allen” spelled backwards and their logo is a five-pointed star to represent the five Allen children, Grace, James, III (Rowdy), Emma, Cricket and Roxton.
The store is located at 209 E. Locust Street, in Oxford and came about when Rudy Allen mentioned to Nicki that she might enjoy a hobby like making soaps and candles for their local community. It was just a suggestion. He probably didn’t envision the successful business that would come from it. They know Mother Nature, they know natural, and they know fresh: it’s hard not to when you come from a farming background in Pennsylvania agricultural country. 
They started making candles in their kitchen, then outgrew that and had to move to a shop. Then, they opened the store, first known as Soap Bucket Skincare and Candles, and they found themselves wrangling five kids and creating quality, handcrafted products. Their guiding principals were always to make products they could trust to use on their own family. 
 Now at Nella Naturals, three generations of Allens make organic candles, lotions, and skincare products that you can trust. 
It has been a great arrangement for the entire Allen family.