ENTERPRISE - Retired rancher Steve Allison, 83, has reason this week to look back and remember an intense period of his life six decades ago.
While a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II, Allison spent one of his five years in the service ferrying fighter airplanes from Great Falls, Mont., to Fairbanks, Alaska, for delivery to the Russians, then key allies in the war against Hitler. The 2,500-mile route was considered extremely dangerous, especially during the winter. "The weather was the biggest hazard," said Allison. "Once I flew out of White Horse when it was 54 below."
This part of Allison's life story will be one piece of "The Untold Story of the Eastern Front," an episode airing at 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 10, on the Fox News channel program, "War Stories with Oliver North."
"I call it the luck of the draw," Allison said about the fact he ended up flying all over the world during the war and surviving it without even a close call. For example, because his name started with "A" he ended up in Air Transport Command, instead of becoming a fighter pilot with a bomber unit.
Allison, who dreamed of ranch life and being a rancher throughout the war, moved with his family from southern to central California not far from Yosemite after the war, established a cattle ranch, and then moved with his wife, Trudy, and sons, Mike and Steve, to ranch in Wallowa County in 1965. He retired from ranching around 1990 and now he and Trudy live in a comfortable log house on Alder Slope in rural Enterprise.
Allison enlisted 10 days after Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 17, 1941, and served for five years, spending his last year of war service flying transport, carrying everything from food to Chinese troops, in Burma and southern China.
"I think I flew to all but five states during the war," recalled Allison. He also flew around the world, and remembered one two-week period he flew from Fairbanks, when snow was still on the ground to England, via the Amazon jungles, Africa, and the southern coast of Portugal. In the midst of war he managed to spend two of his birthdays, May 15, consecutively in London and Paris.
In all Allison qualified in about 21 different types of aircraft in the war. "You'd get out of one, and into another," he said. He had a standing offer to fly after the war for up-and-coming Delta airlines, which he trained with for a time. "But all I wanted to be was a rancher," said Allison.
Many of the planes, like those he ferried to the Russians were brand new, with maybe 15 hours of flight. The fighter models he delivered, 75 in all between December 1943, and March 1945, were at first P-39 Air Cobras, which were succeeded by the next generation, P-63 King Cobras.
Allison became part of the Fox News story by same "luck of the draw" that made him a war pilot. During a visit to the Reno Air Races a couple of years ago, he noticed a new book titled "Cobras over the Tundra" by a man named Everett Long in an avionics shop, printed in both English and Russian.
He mentioned to the man behind the counter he was one of the pilots who flew the Cobras described in the book, and within two weeks the author had contacted him. They stayed in touch, became friends and last year got together at the air races in Reno in September.
When Fox News decided to do a story on the Russian Lend-Lease program and the Eastern Front of World War II, they based part of it on the book by Long. The author in turn told Fox about Allison, and in April they flew Allison to Reno for an hour-long interview by the producer of the Eastern Front segment, Greg Johnson. Oliver North was unable to conduct the interview because he was in Iraq at the time.
Also interviewed was Betty Shea, a WASP pilot who ferried the Russia-bound single engine plane from the manufacturer in Buffalo, N.Y., to Great Falls, Mont.
Allison will be the only American pilot on what was called Alaskan-Siberian (ALSIB) route interviewed for the show. Since the pilots who did what he did all worked independently, instead of part of a close-knit unit, Allison said they never had reunions or similar gatherings. "We just scattered after the war," he said. Allison had been hoping fellow pilots of that northern route would also be found by Fox.
"There weren't very many of us, I'm guessing around 200 in all," he said. In two years they delivered 8,000 airplanes for the Soviet Union. Russian pilots picked up the planes in Fairbanks, and some of them were interviewed for the Fox News program.
Sunday's "Eastern Front" segment will tell the story about how the secret plan to arm Russia, started before the United States entered the war, evolved, and how the United States delivered $10 billion of vital supplies to the Soviets. It will also go inside the battle for Stalingrad and tell the story of an American soldier escaped from a German POW camp and joined the Red Army.
"His war service was exemplary," said producer Johnson about former First Lt. Steve Allison. "He is a charming, vibrant World War II veteran."