LISTEN to Allen Rasmussen on Hometown Heroes
92-year-old Allen Rasmussen of Fresno, CA appears on episode #349 of Hometown Heroes, debuting January 10, 2015. Rasmussen, a native of Applegate, CA, served as a combat medic with the 71st Infantry Division During World War II.
As his family tried to get by in the midst of the Great Depression, Rasmussen moved from school to school in Merced County, getting to know hamlets like El Nido, Livingston, Cressey, and Winton. He spent his first two years of high school in Chowchilla, where his industrial arts teacher helped him line up after school work, and encouraged him to become a teacher someday. By the time he graduated from Merced High School in 1939, Rasmussen had saved up a whopping $269 from all that work, and he headed to the University of California at Santa Barbara to pursue his dream of becoming an industrial arts teacher.
Santa Barbara is where he was on December 7, 1941, and you’ll hear Al remember how he found out about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The news motivated him to serve, and he went to enlist in the Army Air Corps. Listen to Hometown Heroes to find out what it was that prevented him from becoming a pilot, and also what kept him out of the Navy. You’ll also hear how he ended up working for Northrop Aircraft in Hawthorne, helping to construct P-61 Black Widows.
Al is quite thankful the Army Air Corps and the Navy turned him down, because without his time at Northrop, he never would have met a “Rosie the Riveter” named Mildred Machula. Al and Millie would be married for 70 years before she passed away, but as you’ll hear Al recall, it took a great deal of persistence on his part to convince the Canadian import that he was the one for her. An exemption for war-related work would have kept him home for the rest of the war, but Rasmussen was determined to serve, and he volunteered for the Army. Before he headed overseas as a medic with the 71st Infantry Division, Al learned that his wife was expecting their first child, and he says he’ll never forget having to say goodbye to her. “I left that lipstick on my mouth for as long as it stayed on there,” Al remembers. “I never washed it off.”
Among the wartime memories you’ll hear Al share are a couple of interactions with General George S. Patton, including the personal impact that one of Patton’s orders had on Al. “He was the greatest,” Rasmussen says. “He loved his men.”
You’ll hear Al explain how he carried out his duties as a medic, and your jaw might drop when you hear him relate the tie between one man he helped in battle, and the woman who processed both Al’s enlistment and his discharge. The odds were about 16 million to one, which is one reason why Al believes this incredible connection was more than coincidence.
That story centers around Lt. James E. Tarbell, one of 260 UCLA students and alumni who were killed during World War II. Listen to Hometown Heroes to catch Al’s memories of Lt. Tarbell, and what he was able to share with the fallen soldier’s family. Rasmussen also relates why he remembers one Army doctor as an “angel,” why the words “mustard” and “cluster” are unforgettable for anyone who took his classes at Chowchilla HS or Capuchino HS in San Bruno, and why he doesn’t feel deserving of his Bronze Star medal. “I saw more heroic things done by our soldiers,” Al says. “They didn’t get any medals.” He came face to face with the horrors of a concentration camp when the 71st liberated Gunskirchen, and you’ll hear his memories of that as well. The high point for Al was getting home to see Millie again, and meet his infant son for the first time. Through it all, Al says, his faith sustained him. “I have always felt that the Lord has had me in His hand from the day I was born,” Al says. “Because I’ve gone through things that I cannot explain how I made it.” If you run into the guy with the cowboy hat at the Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens in Fresno, make sure you thank him for serving our country, and compliment him on his homemade belt buckle.