Richard Allen joined the Marines during the Vietnam War because he grew up in an American Indian community where many of the men were World War II veterans. His stepfather, who raised him, had an uncle and a brother who were both Navajo code talkers. Allen spent most of the war analyzing photos for military intelligence, and though his position was extremely important, he still wishes he had seen action during his stint in the Marines.
Like many Cherokees, Allen was born and raised in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. He spent a semester at Northeastern State University, in his hometown, where he was an English major. “I grew up knowing that there were veterans in the community and I felt like I should also join and become a part of that particular community. Back then there was a draft; I had a student deferment, so I wasn’t concerned about getting drafted, but I decided to join the Marine Corps.” He joined in February, 1966.
Allen says he wasn’t that good of a typist in high school, they gave him a “D” to pass him through, but when the Marines found out he could type he was sent to school to become a clerk typist. “This Major evaluated my typing skills and he had me stay with him. Back then you could not make any mistakes. We had to use whiteout and we used carbon paper to make copies.”
At one point Allen had to deal with confidential files and he received a top-secret security clearance. A Lieutenant told him about an intelligence school that the Army ran and that the Marine core was looking to send some of their people to it; he recommend that Allen check it out. “They gave me a math test, and apparently I could count to ten, so I was sent to Maryland for 3 ½ months to United States Army Intelligence School,” Allen said. “From there I was sent back to North Carolina. Then from there I had temporary duty in Jacksonville, Florida. I worked with aerial photography and maps. I spent six months there and I was promoted to Sargent. They needed to replace one of the troops at the intelligence center at Norfolk, Virginia, so they sent me there for 2 ½ months working with aerial photography. While I was there I got orders to Vietnam. In February 1966 I went to a staging Battalion to prepare for Vietnam, but then my orders changed; rather than Vietnam they sent me to Okinawa, Japan, to an amphibious brigade. I was there for about five months and then I was finally sent to Vietnam where I was part of the Special Landing Force Bravo, working with the Battalion Landing Teams aboard ship. I ended up initially working with 3rd Battalion, 26th Marines and the 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines. I was there for seven months and I didn’t do a whole lot, I was just on a couple of operations here and there, I picked up materials, things like that. I was never engaged in anything. I hated office work; people don’t join the Marines to become clerks.”
Allen got out of the Marines early as part of President Nixon’s troop withdrawal. He was scheduled to get out on February of 1970 but instead he was sent home in November of 1969. He went down to say goodbye to some of his friends who were leaving in the withdrawal, then after lunch he was told that he had orders to leave Vietnam also. “I wasn’t quite ready to leave, so I went to the Colonel and he said ‘You got your orders, the only way you can reverse that is to stay for six more months.’ I thought about it and I did not want to stay.
“I came back in November 1969, but I did not go back to school until December of 1970. I just had to regroup when I came home. In all actuality, you know what happens when guys come home, you have to get acclimated to civilian life, and it’s difficult. My intent was to go back to school that spring, but I just couldn’t get myself organized to do it at that time. Ultimately, I ended up getting back in and I graduated in May of 1973 and then jumped right into a Master’s program in Emporia, Kansas. I eventually got my Education doctorate from the University of Arkansas, but that wasn’t until 1999.”
Allen has been married to his current wife for 28 years. He has two daughters who are 26 and 24 years old and both are currently in Masters Programs. Allen himself is currently a policy analyst for the Cherokee Nation and he also works with their repatriation program, where he is the contact man for the military. “I consult with the Corps of Engineers and the National Guard commands throughout the 11 states of our old homeland ranging from Virginia down to Georgia and Tennessee, all those areas that we once occupied. Any time the Army does the ground disturbance in those areas they have to notify the Cherokee nation or the other tribes that once occupied that area.”
Allen is still at a desk.