General Allen Hal Turnage—Hero, Brother, Cousin and Friend to many in Farmville

July 5, 2024 / Peg O’Connell

For a small town, Farmville has produced more than its fair share of senior military leaders.  Of course, there was the first, Major Benjamin May, the revolutionary militia officer who was one of the early settlers to western Pitt County. There were also Lt. General Teddy Allen [United States Army], Major General Benjamin Otto Turnage [United States Army] and General A.D MacArthur [Army National Guard].  But the four-star general, and the one who is remembered on a state historical marker in the town for his service in the Pacific theater during WWII and the subject of this blog, is General Allen Hal Turnage [United States Marine Corps].

 

Like the other military leaders listed above, General Turnage was not only a great hero to the people of the Farmville but also a member of the family—literally.  He was Uncle Hal, cousin Hal and early in his life he was brother Hal.

Allen Hal Turnage was born in Farmville on Jan 3, 1891, one of three sons of William J, and Ora (Smith) Turnage.  He and his brothers were 7th generation descendants of the “Emmanuel Turnage Clan” of Pitt County—noted in the North Carolina section of the first United States Census in 1790.  He was born in the ancestral home of his great, great, great grandfather, which is still located at the corner of Contentnea and Church Streets and one block away from the historical marker noting his birth.

General Turnage graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1912 [and in 1946 his Alma Mater conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws].  In 1913, Turnage was one of 105 university applicants designated by the Marine Corps Commandant to compete in a 10-day examination for 21 vacancies in the grade of second lieutenant. He finished ninth in the group and was commissioned November 17, 1913. In 1920, Turnage married Hannah Carr Pike of Widewater, Virginia in a military wedding accompanied by a large delegation of Marines from Quantico.

Turnage’s long and distinguished military career covered service abroad in both world wars, in Haiti, China, Nicaragua, Santo Domingo, Hawaii, three years sea duty and the usual domestic assignments.  During WWI, he commanded a machine gun battalion in France. 

However, he is best known for serving as commanding general of the Third Marine Division during the Bougainville and Guam campaigns for which he earned the Navy Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal.

The Navy Cross was presented to Turnage “for extraordinary heroism as Commanding General of the Landing Force of the Third Marine Division (Reinforced), during the establishment of a beachhead in the Solomon Islands Area from November 1 to November 27, 1943. Leading his command with intrepidity and daring aggressiveness, major General Turnage frequently exposed himself to heavy enemy gunfire throughout the landing and operations essential to the attainment and consolidation of the final beachhead line at Empress August Bay, Bougainville Island. His conspicuous courage, distinguished leadership and resolute devotion to duty throughout this period were an inspiration to the officers and men in his command and in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

Peg O'Connell