When the news last month broke about U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld seeing a "long, hard slog" through Iraq, East Valley veterans like Gold Canyon’s Lyle Ethan Allen knew just what he was talking about.
Allen, 83, was a tank driver in the U.S. Army’s 3rd Armored Division, which helped spearhead the Allied drive through occupied France and into Germany after the Normandy landing in 1944.
In the winter of 1944, Allen also participated in the long hard slog through miles of frozen, mud-caked German territory and weathering skirmishes with German Panzers in the famous Battle of the Bulge.
The dangerous circumstances facing U.S. troops in Iraq today ring all too real for thousands of veterans such as Allen who will commemorate their service this Tuesday, Veterans Day.
"I tell you one thing — there is no glory in war. War is cruel," said Allen.
But, he added, "We’ve got to support these troops."
On Tuesday’s 62nd annual Veterans Day, the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 8 in Mesa will honor Allen for his service in World War II, along with several Mesa police officers who are serving, or have returned from serving, in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For his service with the U.S. Army from January 1944 to March 1946, Allen was awarded the Purple Heart after he caught some shrapnel in the head during a shelling attack near Lipstadt, Germany.
Born in Minnesota in 1920, Allen moved around a lot with his family in the years of the Depression, finally settling down near Seattle. Allen had a history of tinkering with mechanics and machinery, which made him eligible for a tank crew.
Allen said he sailed to Europe and landed at Omaha Beach some time after the Allies took Normandy. He met up with the 3rd Armored Division by Aachen, near the border with Belgium and the Netherlands, and set out east with a group of five tanks.
The tanks took the lead to soften the way for advancing infantry, Allen said.
A small pilot plane would also scout ahead and call in airstrikes on German Panzers, Allen said.
"It would spot the German tanks before we got hit — we hoped," Allen said. "The air force would go in and dive bomb."
At times the Allies made some great advances — including a one-day drive of 101 miles of German terrain.
"We drove day and night," Allen said.
With the Russian Red Army closing in on Berlin on the Eastern Front by late 1944, Germany was losing the war. Adolf Hitler and his generals planned one more great offensive to get back into the war.
Hitler sent about a quarter million troops that advanced miles into Allied lines in deadly cold winter, forming a "bulge" to force into the Allied defenses beginning Dec. 16, 1944.
"All at once the Germans concentrated in one area and attacked," Allen said. "Then we had to chop them off."
The offensive failed, and soon to would the rest of Hitler’s war machine.
Allen makes no qualms about how he feels about the war in Iraq.
"I don’t think our government is going to do anything but continue to send our boys over there," he said.
"I’ve seen what mines can do to a tank," Allen said of the almost daily attack on the troops. "They have little ways of protecting themselves."