Michigan Law grad participates in Soaring Valor trip to WWII museum

By Lori Atherton
U-M Law

More than 230 World War II veterans have visited the National World War II Museum in New Orleans as part of the Soaring Valor program. In early September, Tom Allen, a 1952 graduate of Michigan Law, joined their ranks.

Allen, a U.S. Navy veteran and retired civil litigator, made the three-night trip courtesy of the Gary Sinise Foundation. Allen was one of 40 Chicago-area veterans who were invited to participate in Soaring Valor, which included a tour of the museum and celebratory meals and entertainment, as well as the opportunity to meet actor Gary Sinise, who started his foundation to honor America’s military service members, veterans, and first responders.

“I’m glad I went,” Allen said. “As I understand it, the museum started around the year 2000 as a D-Day museum, and it expanded to a World War II museum. They have two large permanent exhibits — one on the European war and one on the Pacific war. There’s plenty to see; you could spend more than one day there and not see the whole museum.”

Allen, 92, volunteered for induction into the Navy after graduating from high school in 1944. He was stationed in Banana River, Florida, near Cape Canaveral, as well as in Tennessee and Mississippi.

“To a kid who grew up in the north and was thrust into the south, it was like going overseas,” said Allen, a Birmingham, Michigan, native. He became an aviation radioman, and was responsible for communicating with bases on shore via code messages. Allen trained on a PBM Mariner flying boat that was used primarily as a patrol bomber.

Allen’s training lasted until 1946, and because it was at the end of the war, he did not serve overseas. The G.I. Bill paid for Allen to finish his undergraduate degree at Northwestern University; he completed his first year of college at Ole Miss while still in the Navy. After graduating from Northwestern with a political science degree in 1949, Allen entered Michigan Law.

“It was as prestigious then as it is now,” Allen said of his alma mater. “And at the time, tuition for in-state residents was $200 a year, which was a pretty good deal.”

Like many of his peers from the Greatest Generation, Allen didn’t share much about his Navy experience with his law school classmates or with friends who were members of the new VFW Hall in Ann Arbor.

“We really didn’t talk about our service or tell war stories or anything like that,” Allen said. “We were more interested in getting on with our studies and our careers.”

At Michigan, Allen was a finalist in the Henry M. Campbell Moot Court Competition, which proved to be a defining moment for him.

“That kind of program really simulates the appellate experience,” Allen said. “I enjoyed it thoroughly, and that’s what led me to want to get into litigation.”

Allen wanted to work in Chicago, and spent Christmas and spring break of his 3L year visiting law firms in the Windy City.

“Back then the placement office consisted of one person, and she’d give you a list of firms in different cities that had Michigan Law graduates,” Allen recalled. “You’d go to the library, get out the Martindale-Hubbell, and check out the firms as best you could.”

He was offered a position with the Kirkland firm (now Kirkland & Ellis LLP) after graduating from Michigan Law in June 1952. Allen spent 15 years there as an associate and then as a partner, before leaving to start his own firm — Wildman, Harrold, Allen & Dixon — with three other attorneys, two of whom were Michigan Law graduates (Max Wildman, ’47, and Stewart Dixon, ’55.).

“We had over 200 lawyers at one time,” Allen said. “Eventually we merged with another firm to form Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP, which later became Locke Lord LLP.”

Allen retired as a civil litigator in 2012, almost 60 years to the day he started practicing.

“The interesting thing about litigation is that you are sort of the last generalist,” noted Allen, who began his career litigating insurance defense cases and went on to do commercial litigation. “You are working on one type of case one day, and the next you are looking at a completely different set of facts, but it’s all litigation-related. The variety was fascinating.”

These days, Allen keeps busy “with a good deal of travelling.” In addition to his Soaring Valor trip, he traveled to Mexico City last spring to participate in a World Scout Foundation meeting. Allen has been active in the Boy Scouts of America on the local, national, and international levels since 1953—almost as long as he practiced law.