Soldier’s widow got ‘the dreaded knock’

By Anna Webb

Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho — Christina Allton keeps a special “wedding shelf” in her apartment.

White bride and groom teddy bears, ceramic angels and a German wedding cup sit on folds of white satin. The shelf also holds the video of the ceremony when she married her husband, Eric, and her bouquet of artificial white roses.

Christina chose artificial flowers, she said, because as a military wife, she knew she wouldn’t be able to take perishable flowers when she crossed national borders. Her wedding bouquet looks as fresh as it did on Aug. 11, 2001, her wedding day.

Because of his military service, they were only together for one of their three wedding anniversaries.

Now Christina is forced to deal with a more profound separation.

Her husband, Eric Allton, a captain in the US Army, died in Iraq on Sept. 26 when a mortar round struck him. He was 34.

“There were only two ways Eric said he wanted to die,” said Christina, “either growing old with me, or dying as a soldier.”

Christina was born at St. Luke’s on Christmas 25 years ago. She got her picture in the paper for being the first Christmas baby born in Boise. That framed black and white photo sits near her wedding shelf, near her husband’s collection of framed ship prints and the wooden flute Eric had made for her, carved with a frog, her lucky totem animal.

She studies biology at Boise State University and wants to work for the U.S. Forest Service or the national parks system some day. She and Eric, who wanted to become a professor of military science, hoped to retire in North Central Idaho because they loved the mountains. She liked to tease Eric, a native Texan from the flatlands, about referring to the Boise Foothills as “mountains.”

Her husband also loved mint chocolate chip ice cream, Christina said, made delicious grilled cheese sandwiches and had a good ear when it came to playing the guitar.

On the way home from a trip to Stanley last weekend, Christina and her mother, Denisa Dennis, got a flat tire. At first, they were worried they wouldn’t have the right equipment to fix the flat. And yes, Denisa said, they’re military women — they fix their own flats. But then they remembered that before Eric left, he equipped the car. Sure enough, “There was the right sized lug nut wrench, and a full-sized spare,” Christina said.

They made it home, but later that evening, Christina said, “I got what I call ‘the dreaded knock.’ “

She opened the door to find a “casualty notification officer” in uniform. She didn’t believe the officer at first when he told her her husband had died. She fell to the floor. The officer held her, and they sat on the floor together for an entire hour, she said, until Denisa arrived from her home in Parma.

Allton’s stepfather, Dan Dennis, who raised Allton from childhood, is an active duty U.S. Army soldier who just returned from his own Iraq tour in February. It was his military career that brought Eric and Christina together.

In 1998, Dan was stationed in Germany. Christina was 19. She got a job as a cashier at a store on the base. She first noticed Eric as a guy who was “good looking in his BDUs,” she said.

Eric kept coming back to the store every day, even though it was pretty clear he wasn’t there to buy anything. Soon they were exploring castles on the Rhine River together and sharing pizzas — pepperoni and mushroom was Eric’s favorite — at the Pizza Hut near the base.

Two years to the day after Eric and Christina met on the base in Germany, he proposed to her.

Then he became the kind of husband, she said, who would have thrown his coat down over the proverbial puddle so she wouldn’t get her feet wet; who believed, Denisa added, in “traditional husband and wife values and taking care of his wife,” while encouraging her to finish her college degree.

Eric had two sons from a previous marriage and visited them regularly.

In the next week, Eric’s body will be flown out of Iraq to Dover Air Force Base, then to Texas. He’ll be buried in a military cemetery in Houston.

Eric’s last gift to Christina was a bouquet of white roses he sent to her the week before he died.

Anna Webb writes for The Idaho Statesman.

Boise resident killed by mortar in Iraq

BOISE, Idaho — A U.S. Army field artillery officer from Boise was killed Sept. 26 when he was hit by a mortar round, military officials reported.

Capt. Eric L. Allton, 34, died in Ramadi, Iraq, about 50 miles west of Baghdad.

“Eric was a dedicated husband, father and soldier,” his wife, Christina, said in a statement. “He took care of his family and his country. Eric will be deeply missed by his family and all who knew him.”

Allton leaves behind his wife, two sons from a previous marriage, his mother, father and two sisters.

“He was a career soldier; the Army was his passion,” said his father, Harry Allton of Houston. “He was a generous, open soul. He just wanted to serve. He was a fine Christian man.”

He was the ninth Idaho serviceman to die in the Iraq war.

“We have lost another Idaho soldier who was defending freedom,” Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said during an announcement in Boise of a promotion to raise money to help families of the 1,600 Idaho National Guard members now training for deployment to Iraq.

“Once again we have an outstanding American, a fellow Idahoan, who has paid the ultimate price,” Kempthorne said.

Allton entered the military in January 1994, Defense Department officials said Tuesday. He served five years in Germany, several months in Sarajevo and then Korea. Allton then was reassigned to a combat team in Iraq, his father said.

Allton was assigned to the Army’s 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division at Camp Hovey in Korea.

The Idaho National Guard is providing casualty assistance to Christina Allton, who is a longtime resident of Idaho, said Lt. Col. Tim Marsano, Guard spokesman.

— Associated Press