OHIO Archives

Ohio University Libraries Archives & Special Collections

New Accession: The Allen and Phyllis Knisley World War II Collection

By Greta Suiter, Manuscripts Archivist, and Jean Russo, Knisley family member and collection donor

I am happy to announce a new manuscript collection – The Allen and Phyllis Knisley World War II Collection. This recent donation documents the Knisleys’ experiences just before and during World War II. Both were graduates of Ohio University, Allen Holmes Knisley in 1940 and Phyllis Eileen Kuder in 1942. They did not meet until 1942 though after Phyllis graduated and was teaching in Bainbridge, Ohio. In fact, they only met twice before Allen went overseas to serve in World War II in 1943. When Allen returned from Europe in August of 1945 the two were married after only twenty days.

There are two scrapbooks in the collection, one belonged to Phyllis and documents her and her friends at Bowling Green State University and Ohio University, the other is from Allen and documents his military service. Phyllis attended Bowling Green for two years before transferring to Ohio University.

Originally drafted as a bandsman in 1942, Allen was sent to Artillery OCS and commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant before attending flight school in Texas with further training in England. After the Normandy invasion, he served as an Air Observation pilot for 221 days of combat spanning June 1944 to May 1945. Allen earned five campaign ribbons, an Air Medal with nine clusters, and the French Jubile de la Liberte medal. Throughout Allen’s service he sent letters to Phyllis and even named his plane after her. In the collection there are over a hundred letters that Allen sent to Phyllis during the war as well as a dozen or so of the letters Phyllis sent to Allen. These were housed for years in a small suitcase and are now being transferred to folders and archival boxes.

A small suitcase filled with letters to and from Allen and Phyllis Knisley during World War II

There are a few books in the collection. One is a military history of the Third Armored Division, giving context to Allen’s letters from Europe. The second is a history of liaison aircraft during the war titled The Fighting Grasshoppers which details the history of the kind of flying and reconnaissance Allen did and it provides even more context for his experiences. There are also more recent materials from ceremonies held in La Louvière, Belgium, in 2004. Residents of Haine-Saint-Pierre, a district within La Louvière, credit Allen with liberating their village in 1944. In honor of the 60th anniversary of the event, the community held public ceremonies that Allen and Phyllis attended.

Honorary certificates to Allen Knisley for the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Haine-Saint-Pierre

Allen wrote a memoir of his World War II experience. He contributed to the History Channel’s “Rolling Thunder – The True Story of the 3rd Armored Division” and the “When I Went to War” project. In addition to these reminiscences, Allen and Phyllis each wrote a memoir about their experiences growing up in Ohio, from their earliest memories through their first years of marriage. They included numerous photographs in their memoirs; most of the originals are in the collection along with many additional family photographs.

The Fighting Grasshoppers book by Ken Wakefield and DVDs of “Rolling Thunder” and “When I Went to War”

After World War II the Knisleys spent two years in Bainbridge and a year in Middletown. They settled in Fairborn in 1948 and lived there for sixty-two years. Allen retired from the Fairborn City School system with 39 years service as a teacher, track and cross-country coach, assistant high school principal, and assistant superintendent. He was inducted into the Fairborn City Schools Hall of Honor in 1995 and the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame in 2003. Phyllis taught English for 18 years before retiring in 1980. While teaching in Fairborn, she was named a Martha Holden Jennings scholar, and in 1968 she received the Lucille Loy Kuck Ohioana award for excellence in literary expression. As a published poet, she is listed in the Directory of Ohio Creative Writers. Allen and Phyllis were married for seventy-one years and died just seventeen days apart in September 2016.

“The Letter Writers” comic by Lucy Knisley

Allen and Phyllis had four children together, Patrick, Michael, Timothy, and Mary, all of whom came together to donate this collection to the Mahn Center. In addition, there is an original comic book created by Allen and Phyllis’s granddaughter Lucy Knisley for the occasion of their 60th wedding anniversary. The Ohio University Libraries also recently acquired many of Lucy Knisley’s graphic memoirs and novels for the general collection.

Thanks again to the Knisley family for their generosity in donating the collection to the Mahn Center. Users may access the collection by filling out a research request form and making an appointment to visit the Mahn Center.