How I Started Publishing Navy
Westpac Cruise Books In The Vietnam Era
My name is Larry Allen. Among the many hats I have worn, much of my passion involves writing and photography. Around 1967, back during the Vietnam War, I created Allen Publishing Company to utilize both of these skills along with my unstoppable drive to create lasting tangible works of every sort.
Shortly after being released from the United States Army, I asked a friend who worked for a large yearbook publishing company about producing books for military organizations fighting the war in Vietnam. He told me that several of the high school yearbook companies were doing it for Navy ships. However, they usually only engaged large aircraft carriers due to the size of the contracts.
I thought about this, about the neglect of sailors filling important roles on smaller vessels. I still felt bad over not being included in my boot camp group portrait due to KP duty and couldn’t imagine being denied a permanent record of a months-long Westpac cruise simply because the size of my ship was not sufficiently lucrative. As a business man, I realized this would be more work for less money, but also a void that could be filled by my small company. Sounded like a win-win.
Thus, living in Orange County, California at the time, I went to the Long Beach Naval Station and got permission to visit a squadron of mine sweepers.
One of the officers on a ship told me they would be interested; however, they had a very small crew and could not afford a large publication. I told him I would figure something out and get back to him. That small squadron of ships started the cruise book divison of Allen Publishing Company.
The squadron left for Westpac. I started knocking on bulkheads in Long Beach and San Diego. To my amazement, I was signing contracts.
Before the ships deployed to Westpac, I designed a kit with layout pages, type samples and an instruction book. Soon I hired a young lady, Cris, to help. We rented office space in Anaheim and together assembled the material as the ships’ cruise book staffs would send back the sections.
One of the ships had a crew of 40, and the contract was less than $350. Though it barely covered expenses, we worked as hard to create that small but meaningful book as we did books for the larger ships.
As the days went by, I leased more space and purchased typography equipment, layout tables, process cameras, and plate making equipment. Allen Publishing started taking individual portraits of crew members, and our staff would go to the Navy bases and photograph the crew members. Often we would ride a ship to Hawaii and photograph during the five day trip, and also fly to Honolulu and do it there.
We opened another office in Honolulu – and two other sales counselors to cover the West Coast and the East Coast of the United States. Our staff in Anaheim grew to over 40 full time young people who were artists, lithographic camera operators and strippers, and typographers.
One of our competitors who lived in San Diego told Navy people that “Allen Publishing will get you your book if Larry Allen can get his garage door open.” We laughed.
Allen Publishing expanded to have commercial accounts such as Disneyland and aerospace companies. We also produced documentary books on the manned Apollo Missions and books for the Navy recovery ships.
On occasions I would travel to Vietnam and work directly with Seabees, Navy vessels, and Marine Corps.
Allen Publishing had a great crew of very dedicated young people, most of which were in their late teens or twenties. We were open every day of the week and most of the time had three shifts on duty in order to meet the deadlines and produce quality cruise books. The staff worked diligently to get the books on the dock as the ships arrived in US port. Or shortly thereafter, if the crew wanted arrival activities in the book.
Several released Navy officers and enlisted men came to work for us after their active duty as an interim until they finished college or fulfilled their employment career goals. One of those wrote and edited the Apollo 14 Moon Book – USS OKINAWA.
There were good times at Allen Publishing – and occasionally there were difficult times. One of the difficult times – I walked by the art room and the young ladies inside pasting up the artwork for an aircraft carrier were crying. They were pasting up the photographs and copy for the memorial page, which had listed the men who were KIA and MIA.
We shut down the plant and all of us joined together for the afternoon. We talked about everything and how important it was that we all keep going as the men and women who were fighting this war were depending upon all of us to accurately document this part of their lives and the sacrifices they were making for all of us.
After the Peace Accord in Paris on January 24, 1973, it was time for all of us at Allen Publishing to pursue different avenues in our lives. Six years of the War was enough. I went on to produce documentary books for industry, such as the building of the Trans Alaska Pipeline and another documentary for NASA titled “Man’s Greatest Adventure”. That was followed by a book on water foul for Sea World, a book on coal for McGraw Hill, a wine book titled “The Winemakers of the Pacific Northwest”.
I married Linda, the love of my life, who is a Vietnam era Veteran in the U.S. Navy.
My father came to work for Allen Publishing in 1970 and did our accounting. After my father died in 1983, we remembered that he had kept boxes of the cruise book overruns. Linda and I have stored those books and transferred them with us every time we moved through several cities and states. (I don’t even want to think of the storage and moving costs.) A few suffered some from moisture, and after 45 years some of the covers are scuffed or corners dented. Most of the books are in pristine condition.
It has been 43 years since the Peace Accord. I am approaching 77 years old. It is now time to make these treasures available to collectors of military memorabilia, and especially to those sailors and their families, who might like to have them.