Friends and family in Winter Garden; Loganville, Georgia; and the U.S. Army are grieving the loss of one of their own. Mark C. Allen died Saturday, Oct. 12 — 10 years after being severely injured during a military mission.
Allen, most recently a resident of Loganville, grew up in Winter Garden, attending First Baptist Church Winter Garden and graduating in 1991 from West Orange High School, where he was an officer in the ROTC program. He joined the Army right out of high school and rose through the ranks to master sergeant, devoting more than 20 years of active duty to the military. He also served as a drill sergeant and was a member of the Georgia National Guard.
In 2009, Allen led a team into Afghanistan to search for missing Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Allen was shot in the head and left with a traumatic brain injury that rendered him speechless and confined to a wheelchair for the next decade. He died of complications at age 46.
In West Orange County, friends were reeling from the news of Allen’s death.
Maggie Cuddy Guard went to school with Allen and recalled many conversations about his desire to serve his country. In a post on her Facebook page, Guard wrote: “I remember you always telling me that you could not wait to serve your country, and then the day came that I was there at the house when you left for boot camp. I knew you would make a great soldier.”
Guard traveled to Loganville last week for the funeral, as did others, including childhood friend Leslie Suggs Meyers.
Meyers has known Allen since childhood, and both were members of the youth group at First Baptist Church Winter Garden.
“Mark was always an uplifting, fun person to be around and destined to join the military,” Meyers said. “He always talked about becoming a ranger or paratrooper.”
Earlier this month, Meyers wrote a Facebook post thanking Allen for the positive effect he had on her life.
“Some people will never really know the impact they have on their friends,” Meyers wrote. “The first person I called post 9/11 about my desire to serve in the Army was Mark C. Allen. A trusted childhood friend, he answered my questions, calmed my fears and was going to look over my contract. Unfortunately, he was injured before that happened.
“At that moment, all I wanted to do was take care of my friend and others like him,” she wrote. “Since then, I have taken care of countless heroes, actively serving or retired. We have also recruited more than 100 other health care professionals to ensure they get the best medical care possible. One could say that Mark is still influencing greatness and ensuring our country's success. One person had that big of an impact! Thank you, Mark.”
Five days after she posted her message, Allen was gone.
Will Blaine was the middle school youth pastor at First Baptist when Allen was a student. He remembered him and his zest for life and his determination, but he also recalled Allen could fill a room with his laughter.
“He was the kind of kid that made you glad you served in the ministry,” Blaine said. “He was enthusiastic and eager to learn. He loved following Christ and knew God had a plan for his life, even as a middle-schooler. I knew — like everyone that knew Mark back then — that he would have a career in the military. It was his calling. He had the rare conviction early on to know and follow his dream.
“I would have wanted to be under his command; I imagine the men under him felt complete confidence in his leadership,” he said. “Such was his dedication.”
Blaine said Allen’s friends feared he would get injured in combat because he frequently put himself in harm’s way to protect others.
The funeral service was held in Snellville, Ga., Friday, Oct. 18, with military honors. He was interred at Corinth Memorial Gardens, Loganville.
Allen is survived by his wife, Shannon; son, Cody; daughter, Journey; a grandson; his parents, David and Valerie; and two brothers, Joey and Phillip.
The family is requesting memorial donations be made to The Independence Fund (independencefund.org), Folds of Honor (foldsofhonor.org) or Semper Fi Fund (semperfifund.org). An online guest registry has been posted on the funeral home website, stewartfh.com.
“Even in his debilitating injury he was strong and battled the odds,” Blaine said. “Mark will always be an inspiration to me — a man that served his God and his country without second thought of the cost to himself. He is a true hero to so many, and it is an honor to call him friend.”
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.