|James Albert Allen was born on August 14, 1918, in Monroe County, Missouri, on a small farm. His mother and father separated when he was seven, reunited when he was eight, and then finally separated permanently when he was 11. He has two brothers, Billie and Jerald, and a sister, Hazel. James and his siblings were raised by their mother Viola and her father Amos. James and his family came to California in the fall of 1929, where he graduated from grammar school in Chico, California. James attended high school in Alhambra and El Monte, and finally graduated from Downey High School in January 1937 (as the only graduate). James had various jobs in construction, starting with digging foundations for houses and working his way up to carpenter. James was hired to be a carpenter on Wake Island, a United States Territory, in the summer of 1941.
On September 6, 1941, James left for Wake Island to work as a carpenter building an airstrip for the U.S. military, on what he thought was to be a nine-month contract. His first day of work on Wake Island began on October 2, 1941. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor -- Wake Island was attacked later the same day (December 8) at noon. During the battle of Wake Island, James volunteered to aid in the defense of Wake Island alongside the U.S. Marines. During the attack, he was wounded by shrapnel. The battle for Wake Island lasted for 16 days, and early in the morning of December 23, 1941, James surrendered to the Japanese along with the rest of the U.S. forces.
The new Prisoners of War (POWs) left Wake Island on January 12, 1942, on a ship called the Nita Maru, to arrive at Woosung, China on January 25, 1942. James and his fellow POWs stayed there for about a year, then moved to Kiang Wan, China, where they stayed until the spring of 1945. In the spring of 1945 the POWs were moved to Susui, Japan. On July 2, 1945 at 9 p.m they were removed to Niigata, Japan, where they stayed for the remainder of the war. Allied personnel liberated the POWs on September 6, 1945. James Allen returned to the United States in San Francisco, October 2, 1945.
Upon returning to the United States, James spent a month traveling the United States, to see the Capitol. "After spending so much time as a prisoner, it meant so much to me to see this great country..." James got married on April 7, 1946 to Margie Glitten. He returned to work as a carpenter on April 15, 1946. (His carpenter's union had paid his dues while he was a POW.) James had a son and a daughter. James was Carpenter Union Local 1507 president in 1951, serving over 2,800 members. James retired on December 24, 1973. James was made an official enlisted serviceman in the U.S. Navy in 1983 in recognition of his help in the defense of Wake Island. He has five grandchildren: Stefani, Amanda, Natalie, Paul, and Tiffany, and one great grandchild, Austin. James now lives in Redlands, California.
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