Tracing his roots back to Akron

Posted August 10, 2017 at 5:00 am

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Editor’s Note: In early July, Ken Allen, of Las Vegas, Nev., came to Akron searching for information on his ancestor, Byron Allen. Here is his journey in his own words.

I first became interested in family genealogy thanks to my grandfather on my mother’s side who filled in the family tree the old fashioned way. He traveled to his ancestors’ towns, visited the local historical museums and societies, combed through newspaper archives, and even used the local phone book to knock on doors of possible family members. After many years of hard work, he traced the family back to Nova Scotia.

I hoped to accomplish the same thing for my father’s side, but family history’s sparse and reliant on relatives’ fading memories. Thankfully, our modern internet has helped me fill in the gaps, and that is how I came to learn of my dad’s uncle, Byron Kidd Allen.

Many years ago, I met my paternal grandfather who lived in Waterloo, Iowa, and as far as I knew, he was an only child. But while searching census records of HIS father, one Ernest Lee Allen, I learned branches of our family tree extended into Akron, Iowa, and even to a possible local war hero from World War II.

I learned that Ernest Allen, from Castalia (near Waterloo) came west, possibly in search of work during the post-war era of World War I of the 1920s. With World War I ending a year earlier than predicted, Iowa farmers had previously ramped up the farming industry for the war effort, and in the late 1910s and early 1920s, found themselves in a farming crisis with more crops than they could sell and more farmland than they could pay for. Many farmers faced bankruptcy, and common laborers, like my great-grandfather Ernest, could find no work.

It is still unknown how he ended up in Akron, but Ernest found and married Emma Nettie Kidd, and together they brought Byron Kidd Allen into the world. The family resided at the southwest corner of Dakota and Third Streets, and Byron attended the local schools and graduated from Akron High School in 1942. Soon after, he joined the Army Air Corps as a combat cinematographer.

One of the most intriguing facts I learned in my research is that Byron received training in cinematography and camera operations and repair at Hal Roach Studios in Culver City, Calif., just outside Hollywood. Hal Roach donated the use of his studio to the war effort where many propaganda films were produced starring the likes of Alan Ladd, Clark Gable and Ronald Reagan.

In November of 1943, PFC Allen was transferred to England and assigned to the 4th Combat Camera Unit of the 9th Air Force.

On July 5, 1944, PFC Allen and crew flew on a mission over German-occupied France to bomb the location of the HQ responsible for coordinating the efforts to protect the launch sites of the V1 “flying bombs.” Allen was a gunner on the mission but he was also the photographer to record the events of the mission.

On the return leg, his Douglas A-20 Havoc suffered so much damage from enemy flak fire, that a crash landing was imminent. PFC Allen was ordered to bail out with his precious photographic cargo. Sadly, he perished when his chute failed to open but the film survived. Allen is buried in the American Military Cemetery in Cambridge, England, and his mother, Emma, received all of Byron’s medals, pins and honors, including his Purple Heart.

Emma Allen, by this time a practical nurse, became active in the local Order of the Purple Heart, often organizing events to support fellow military mothers. When she died in 1967, her belongings were sold in an estate sale in Akron. Unfortunately, the whereabouts Byron’s Purple Heart remains unknown.

When I learned of great uncle Byron and his residence in Akron, I found the city’s website and decided to call the Chamber of Commerce. Angela Price, owner of Akron Gold and Silver, took my call and told me about the local museum and local historical society, introducing me to (Akron Historical Society President) Rodney Anderson.

I work in the casino industry and my job is to manage the installation of casino management software, which means I travel a lot. One such job had me traveling to the Kansas City area, so I decided to take advantage of this serendipity and drive to Akron.

Rod was a very gracious host and took me to see the local sites, including the museum (where I found yearbooks featuring Byron’s school days), the cemetery (where I finally found the headstones of Ernest and Emma as well as Emma’s parents, William and Anna Kidd) and the American Legion Post where I was thrilled to see Byron K. Allen honored with other fallen heroes of Akron, Iowa.

I think the most exciting part of my visit was just walking among the storefronts and residential streets, touching the trees adjacent to the lot where Byron’s home once stood, standing outside what was once the Empress Theater where he worked as a projectionist, imagining him growing up in this idyllic setting. It has touched me in a way nothing else could.

I wished I could have met Byron and his parents, but visiting his town and breathing his air has been the next best thing.

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