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For Robert O. Allen, who grew up on a farm in rural Rostraver during the Great Depression, joining the Army during World War II and volunteering to be a paratrooper to make extra money was a deal he could not pass it up.
It was a choice, however, that changed his life.
Mr. Allen was a member of the famed 82nd Airborne Division that parachuted into Sicily as part of the July 1943 invasion of that Italian, said his son, Robert Allen of Rostraver. Three days into the battle, Mr. Allen was wounded by a mortar round, his body sprayed with shrapnel. His left hand was mangled so badly that it had to be amputated aboard a medical ship before he was sent to a hospital in Virginia, his son said.
Mr. Allen returned home from the war a wounded veteran, he married, raised a family and worked all his life.
“He had courage. He was a very productive member of society,” Robert Allen said of his father.
Mr. Robert O. Allen, 95, of Rostraver, died Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in The Residence at Hilltop in Carroll Township, Washington County.
He was born March 17, 1921, the son of the late Roland and Jennie Forsberg Allen. With the country mired in the deep economic recession, he dropped out of school in the eighth grade to help on the family farm along Route 201.
Mr. Allen married Sara E. “Betty” Allen, a girl from nearby Webster. The couple remained married until her death in 2010.
The loss of his hand didn't stop Mr. Allen from becoming a pilot. He earned his private pilot's license at Thompson Field, a grass airport strip that would become Rostraver Airport. He was an avid pilot and enjoyed flying for many years, his son said.
Mr. Allen also loved to ride a motorcycle and had the former Cerini's Harley Davidson dealership in Donora customize his so he could operate the gears with his right hand, his son said.
He ran an excavating business, digging foundations for many homes, including one for George R. Sweeney, a political power broker for decades. He drove a school bus for the former Rostraver School District and worked as a janitor for the Belle Vernon Area School District.
Before retiring, Mr. Allen and a partner operated a hardware store near the Rostraver Airport, where they sold fencing materials and glass made in Jeannette.
In his leisure time, Mr. Allen and his wife loved to travel, going to Florida to visit family, Robert Allen said.
Mr. Allen is survived by his sons, Robert Allen and wife, Nancy, of Rostraver, and Gary Allen and wife, Terri, of South Huntingdon; six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
A funeral service will be held 1 p.m. Saturday at James C. Stump Funeral Home Inc., 580 Circle Drive, Rostraver. Interment with military honors will follow in West Newton Cemetery.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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