Allen Affolter was sent to Korea in the Spring of 1953 after serving in the Marine Corps Reserves for four years. He details his assignment as a Regimental Accountable Officer and recounts an unusual trade of equipment between the US and Commonwealth soldiers. He recounts the evening before the ceasefire in 1953, detailing that leaflets were dropped by Bed Check Charlie and comments on the message they contained. He speaks highly of the people he served with and describes in great detail his opportunity to return to Korea with a Korean War Veterans Revisit Program. He is proud of his service and of the progress South Korea has made since the war, and he offers a final message to younger generations.
Entering the Marine Corps
Allen Affolter describes how he earned enough money to attend college before joining the Marine Corps Reserves in 1947 while earning his degree in Education. He shares that the Marine Corps offered the program as a means of avoiding the draft, and he recounts spending several weeks training during the summer months of 1948 and 1949. He recalls finishing his degree in 1951, eventually entering the Marine Corps, and being sent to Korea towards the end of the war despite being deaf in one ear.
Allen Affolter describes an event leading up to the ceasefire in 1953. He shares that Bed Check Charlie dropped leaflets the night before the ceasefire at Panmunjom stating that the North Koreans always knew where the US positions were and that they could have annihilated them at any time. He recalls that he and other soldiers were instructed to turn in all of the leaflets. He recounts that the leaflets had little impact and that he and others were glad when the ceasefire was announced.
Sharing Equipment and Exchanging Tea for Coffee
Allen Affolter details his assignment as a Regimental Accountable Officer. He describes having to know what equipment every battalion had as well as the provisions needed for resupplying them. He states that equipment was often shared amongst the units and comments on an unusual exchange of tea for coffee among the US and Commonwealth soldiers.
Allen Affolter describes South Korea as an amazing country. He recounts the progress made since the war after returning to Korea with a Korean War Veterans Revisit Program and comments on its differences compared to North Korea. He shares that he was greeted warmly by the citizens of South Korea and left the trip proud of the contributions he and his colleagues had made to the success of their nation.
Message to Younger Generations
Allen Affolter offers a message to younger generations. He states that they should appreciate what they have and should take full advantage of the opportunities available to them. He shares that sacrifices must be made in order to obtain something and that they should limit their distractions in order to obtain what they want. He adds that they should practice being respectful of their elders, doing what they are told, and being punctual.
I was born in in Mankato, Minnesota March 1st, 1930. My Dad died when I was three. I had a younger brother who was six months old. It was before Social Security and my mother was left with nothing but two boys, so I grew up on welfare. Her welfare funds were $25.00 a month and $7.00 of that went for rent so were all the other people in the neighborhood. It wasn’t that I felt that different.
Periodically she would help out at the golf club to make a little extra money. The golf pro asked her about her family. She said she had a boy 8 and a boy 10. He said the boy 8 would be too small but maybe the boy 10 could caddy. Well that started a career for me. I caddied for four years and then I got the job in the locker room for $5.00 a week. I could shine shoes. It was 10 cents for black and brown and 15 cents for white and two-tone. That was the era of the wing tipped shoes.
I earned enough money to be able to go to the local teachers college and obtained a degree where I majored in Math. It was during that period the Marine Corp had a program where you could sign up and avoid Truman’s draft at the time, so I did. I spent six weeks in the summer of 1948 and six weeks in the summer of 1949 in Quantico, Virginia. When I got my degree in 1951, I was a Reserve Lieutenant in the Marine Corp Reserve.
When I signed up originally in 1947 the Korean war wasn’t on but the Korean War started in June of 1950 and that changed the whole world for many young people. I‘ve always been deaf in my left ear. I was surprised to have been accepted and when I was called to active duty in 1951 I promptly flunked the physical and was given the impression I wouldn’t be subjected to the draft so I got a good job with a banking Semite Crew. The draft board sent me to the physical and they didn’t care that I was deaf in one ear. I appealed to the Marine Corp and signed a waiver on Defective Auditory Acuity, this was 1952. I did get in the Marine Corp, but again I never thought I would be sent to Korea because a person deaf in one ear cannot tell where the sounds originate. Well that was wrong. I was sent over to Korea with my MOS (Military Occupational Specialty). I was an Regimental Accountable Officer. I served with the 5th Marine Regiment which was on line when the cease fire came. We stayed there during the period of the Demilitarized Zone. I didn’t get hurt, scared but never got hurt, just uncomfortable. We weren’t allowed any heat at night because the tents were old. So that’s the story of my military career.
Q: What unit were you a part of?
The 5th Marine Regiment. We had the sector just south of Pamunchon Chung the far western sector. When the war ended, well the war never ended, when the cease fire came we spread out for the responsibility for the whole regiment so we had one regiment forward and two regiments back across the Imjin River. We were between the Imjin River and the Demilitarized Zone and there were no civilians allowed in the area. I could just as well spent a year in a tent in North Dakota for whatever I had to relate to as far as civilians.
Q: So what was the date that you went over to Korea?
I went over to Korea in the spring of 1953. The war ended in July of 1953.
Q: What was the last few months like leading up to the signing of the armistice?
Well the activity was primarily at night. I was in a regimental headquarters, so I was sheltered from that. The action was still deadly. They fought over hills that were a good observation. In the event of the cease fire, they wanted control of those hills. They, meaning both the United Nations and the North Korean or Chinese Forces. That’s where the action was primarily at night over those hills that were good observation of the enemy on both sides.
Q: When you enlisted with the marines what was the training like?
The training was in Quantico, Virginia, and it was in the summer. It was brutal, it was hot, it was humid. When we went on our training, we always had ambulances following us because fellows passed out from the heat. That’s the common bond with all marines that we served with some very difficult training, physically and mentally.
Q: So once you were in Korea, what kind of friendship and camaraderie did you have amongst yourselves.
Well I was very fortunate. I lived in a 12X12 tent with two other people. One of them was a career marine. He was a Warrant Officer, and he was an Ordinance Officer, meaning he was responsible for having adequate ammunition for everybody and the condition of all the weapons. The other fellow was a United States Naval Academy graduate. He was a Captain and a career Marine. None of us smoked, that helped. Ironically we were all protestant, but that didn’t really mean anything. The Captain stayed in the Marine Corp and became a Brigadier General. They were just the greatest people really. When you are only a few feet from each other for a year, it’s an association that is difficult to duplicate or for other people to understand.
Q: Are there any stories or experiences that stand out for you at that time?
Well we had a, they called it a fly, like an awning on the front of our camper. When the weather was right we’d take our stand and put it out there and we’d wash and shave out there. About a half a block down hill, hills everywhere, was the graves registration tent. That’s where they brought in the casualties from the action the night before. You would see the truck back up, you knew their had been some casualties. We were in a draw about 200 or 300 yards for the remainder of the command post where we went to eat. Well we would go over to eat and ask the S1, he’s like a personnel manger. I would ask the S1, John was it anybody I would have known? He says, “No, nobody you would have know.” So that brings on the reality of military action. That probably stands out. Then the other historic item that stands out was when the night before they signed the cease fire at Panmunjom, Bed Check Charlie, now that’s a small plane that comes down underneath the radar. He’d drop leaflets over our head quarters company that said to the effect that they always knew where our positions were and could have annihilated us anytime they wanted to. We were instructed to turn in all those leaflets. I wish I had at least written down the full content of the language on that leaflet. That was the second rather unusual experience for me.
Q: What kind of effect did those leaflets have?
None really. None really, you know. Our guess was that we also knew where all their positions were, you know. They had been in a stalemate for a year and a half to two years. Fortunately the next morning the cease fire was signed.
Q: What was the atmosphere like when the cease fire was announced?
We were just glad it was finally come to a halt. It had been where neither the United Nations Forces, please appreciate there were sixteen other countries involved, neither of them advanced, and neither did the Chinese or North Koreans advance. They were in a stalemate. Something like WWI where they were in bunkers. The men that were online they lived in bunkers which probably were a little warmer. They had problems with rats. We could get rat traps but we couldn’t get mouse traps. One of the exciting events for me was I had a mouse. We didn’t sleep with our sleeping bags zipped up because we wanted to get out of em if we had to. We didn’t want the zippers to get caught while we were trying to get out of the sleeping bag. I felt this in the middle of my back, he crawled up my back, and snuggled up to my left cheek. I blew with the intention that he would go away, but he didn’t. I did the ole gymnastic kip they call it where you pull up your knees and spring on your feet. I did that coming out of the cot and here it was a mouse. I didn’t know until years later that the rats and mice were the cause of Hemorrhagic Fever. We had some men in our regiment that died from Hemorrhagic fever. They got very sick and in two to four days they were dead. Nobody had any idea where the origin was. The origin was the rats and mice. I just have one humorous thing for which the people with a military background will understand. I had to sign a waiver on Defective Auditory Acuity to stay in the Marine Corp. I had no hearing in my left ear. As and officer trainee we rotated responsibilities. One day you might be a company commander or a platoon commander or a squad leader. This one day I had the responsibility of Right Guide. With the name like Affolter I’m in the First Platoon of a company formation of three companies. One of our people is a Company Commander calling the commands. I didn’t hear him call a com left. I’m out there all by myself. They will understand what that’s like. They couldn’t flunk me out because they had accepted my waiver. I couldn’t claim any VA claims for being deaf in my left ear because I was already deaf in my left ear. But being out there all by myself when everybody else went one direction and I went the other.
Q: What were some of your assignments?
My assignment, was as a Regimental Accountable Officer. I was to know what every battalion had for equipment and know how to have provisions for resupplying them and also the distribution of food for upwards of 6000 men. Everybody who’s in the military they always had somebody who had equipment they weren’t authorized to have. Everybody knew they had it. There were times when some other unit needed it, but I knew that this other unit had it. They would give it up to the other unit. Although they didn’t officially report it to me. So I didn’t have it in my books, it was just something I knew they had. There was a little game playing with equipment among all military units. When it came to equipment we had tea, the men would make tea, just about like tar, they would boil the dickens out of it. They drank it. The Common Wealth, which is the Canadians, the British, the Australian’s and New Zealanders were on our right flank, and ironically they had coffee. They wanted the tea and we wanted the coffee so we swapped with them. We had what they really wanted. That was kind of interesting. We had a Canadian Liaison Officer, he happened to be Canadian, but he was a Liaison Officer with the Common Wealth attached to our regiment because they were on our right flank. Most of the people I served with were from the south, or from Texas or some place like that or Georgia. The closest one to me ironically was the Canadian Liaison Officer, he was from Winnipeg. I had more in common with him then the other people I served with in the Marine Corp.
Q: What types of things?
Well just the way you live, the weather. It’s kind of hard to explain to somebody from Alabama how cold it is here. We weren’t allowed any heat in our tents in Korea because the stoves were old and they weren’t very well designed to be left safely anyway. It wasn’t much different then the way I grew up. My mother couldn’t keep heat in our house either all night, but these people from Alabama or some place like that. We were on the west end of the military sector and it didn’t get as cold there. It would get maybe five above, but five above with no heat is still kind of cold. The people from the south had never experienced anything like that.
Q: When did you rotate home?
In May of 1954. Ironically my brother was getting married. Then he asked me if I would be best man because his college friend had qualified for a national track meet, and he couldn’t do it. I had returned to the Banking Semite Crew. I had just been home from Korea a month. I went to the wedding and at the wedding I was dancing with all the dollies. Now please appreciate for a year I hadn’t seen women at all much less white women. I was dancing with all the girls. While talking to them, I met this young lady who worked in Minneapolis. Ironically I worked in Minneapolis. A year later we got married and she’s my wife of 59 years today.
Q: What was your date of military discharge?
That’s kind of a technical term. I don’t remember when it was? Technically I was released from active duty in May of 1954. I was technically in the reserves I believe until 1956. That doesn’t show up in any of my records. I didn’t keep the information. I should have turned it in. It would be added to my military records in the courthouse, but I didn’t so I really don’t know when it was. I believe it was 1956.
Q: What have you done since then?
I returned to a Banking Semite Crew, traveling seven states. That wasn’t something I wanted to do after I got married because I grew up without a father and I didn’t think it was proper for me to have a family without a father. As nice as the living was when you‘re staying in all the nicest places and eating all the best food. So I returned and I was in life insurance sales and administration until I retired.
Q: What is Korea to you now?
Korea is an amazing, amazing country. When I left Korea, Seoul, again I wasn’t in the civilian area, no towns or anything like that. When I left, Seoul and flew back there was hardly a two-story building in Seoul. My wife and I returned to Korea about 20 years ago on a Korean War Veterans Re-Visit Program where The Korean Government and Korean War Veterans Association paid for everything while you were there, you just had to fund the trip over there and the return trip. We stayed on the 18th floor of a nineteen story Soffa Hotel in Seoul. The transformation since the end of the Korean War was absolutely astounding. What the opportunity that these people had and what they did with it. Without the United Nations efforts, Korea would not be a Christian nation which they are nor would it have the freedom of development which they have used, and the comparison between South Korea and North Korea is so astounding. Yet there are, you feel badly for the Koreans on both sides because they have relatives. It would be like cutting Minnesota in half. You’ve got relatives across the line, on the other half and you haven’t seen them in forty years. That was a startling thing for me in returning to Korea was that the families are still split. But the development of South Korea is just absolutely astounding. And they are so thankful. They are so thankful. We went to a cultural village which was Korea like when we served over there, mud huts and the thatched roofs and all that type of thing. They take Korean children through it to show them what their grandparents or great grandparents lived like. Those little kids quickly identified you as returning American Korean War Veterans. They’d want your autograph and if they didn’t have paper they would want to write it on the back of their hand, they offered you candy and gum and what not. All the people were so nice to us. Now Seoul has a tower like Calgary and Seattle and Toronto. It didn’t happen to us but one of the other groups went up there. It cost about $40.00 to get a taxi ride up there. He wouldn’t take a fee because we were returning American Korean War Veterans. Seoul was very clean, no graffiti, all the young people were dressed neatly. No matter where you went, that’s the observation and the impression that I got from the Korean War Veterans Revisit Program.
Q: How did your wartime experiences affect the rest of your life?
Very thankful to be an American. After that revisit program I was so very thankful to have aided the Korean people. So thankful and so has everyone else that I have know who has made that return trip. They were very thankful that they gave up 2-4 years of their life and some of them got hurt, frost bite on your earlier stages, they have paid the price their whole lives, but they were so thank for what the Korean’s have done with their opportunity.
Q: Is there a piece of wisdom you would like to pass on to younger generations?
Younger generations should appreciate what we have, they should take full advantage of it. Remember that you have to sacrifice to obtain something, and if you are going to obtain and education you have to sacrifice, throw away the television, and all the other distractions and just do your work. If you are working for someone be respectful of your elders and do what you’re told, be punctual and be on time. I thought they already knew that, but maybe it’s a generation gap. I don’t witness that amongst the younger people now, it should be practiced.