Anzio Beach, Monte Cassino, Normandy: To most, these are names from a map or history book. To Charles Phallen, emeritus professor of technology education, they are places he served valiantly in World War II and visits now, at age 94, to receive honors from a grateful populace or pay respects at the graves of fallen comrades.
Last year, France honored him with the Chevalier Legion of Honor. The Legion of Honor is the highest award France can bestow, and it was presented to Phallen for his “personal, precious contribution to the United States’ decisive role in the liberation of our country.”
Phallen was a senior at Otterbein College in Ohio when he was called up to military service in 1941, and had to leave without graduating. After training at Fort Knox, he went on to serve as commander of the 3rd Infantry Tank Destroyer Unit. “The only thing worse was carrying a rifle,” he says. Phallen would take part in five D-Days, and in four of them, was among the first wave in.
He began his war experience in North Africa, where temperatures could reach 120 degrees. “The Germans beat us up,” he says of the inexperienced Army of that campaign. From there he and his unit went to Anzio Beach, where Phallen was seriously wounded. As he lay on the beach waiting to be taken to the hospital ship, it was destroyed by German artillery. He would recuperate for four months at Naples before rejoining his outfit at Rome, just as the Germans were leaving. The Americans’ casualty count of 26,000 in that campaign was the highest toll of any division in the war.
His service would lead him through the Alps and France, over the Rhine and into the heart of Germany.
Phallen’s military career included the life-affirming, like delivering a baby for an Italian housewife, to the horrific, discovering Dachau concentration camp while searching for housing for his men.
After the war Phallen would finish his bachelor’s degree and earn a doctorate at Ohio State University. His adviser suggested he apply to Oswego, for some “good experience.” President Foster Brown hired him at the rank of associate professor, leading to a 25-year career in the technology education department, teaching mostly graduate courses.
Today, in his cozy home a block from the campus where he taught from 1958 to 1983, Phallen is surrounded by memorabilia of his war years: scrapbooks and photos of the battlefields and cemeteries, a tiny replica of his tank destroyer, and medals. He travels to Italy, France and Germany, where he has placed liberation plaques at battle sites and participated on panels with military historians. Last year the mayors of Augsburg, Munich and Salzburg hosted the veterans for lunch.
Wanderlust is nothing new to Phallen, who after retiring became a “caravaner,” traveling the world in his Airstream. He would roll through 27 countries in Europe, and visit South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and China.
Closer to home, he loves spending time with his family, which includes daughter Annaliese Phallen Kieskowski M ’75 and her husband, Joseph; son Iver ’70 and daughter-in-law Phyllis Lamonica Phallen ’70. Sometimes former students visit and his first great-grandchild was born this summer.
“It’s been a good retirement,” he says with a smile.