Benjamin Allen enlisted in the U.S. Navy in July 1945, but with World War II ending just a month later, he was released from duty after only eight months of service. Still seeking the opportunity to serve, he reenlisted in the U.S. Army and was sent to Korea in September 1950. He remembers seeing Seoul burned by the North Koreans while he was in the city. In addition to service time with the Navy and Army, he would enlist in the U.S. Air Force following his time in Korea. He acknowledges his life and accomplishments are the direct result of his military career. As a proud member of the American Legion, he has shared his experience with local high school ROTC students.
First Days in Korea
Benjamin Allen shares he left for Korean in September 1950. He recounts his journey to Japan and then on to Busan (Pusan), Korea. He recalls riding a train towards Seoul which he remembers seeing burned as the North Koreans were retreating from the city. He offers his take on fear.
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Wounded - Sent to a MASH
Benjamin Allen speaks about being wounded and narrowly escaping becoming a prisoner-of-war (POW) like one of his friends. He recalls the cold weather and the frostbite he suffered due to being issued inappropriate clothing for the conditions.
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Surviving Winter in Korea
Benjamin Allen recounts the most difficult part of the entire war, the winter. He speaks about the gear he and other soldier had been issued which proved completely incompatible with the severe weather conditions. He jokingly recalls the extreme measure he might have been willing to go to in order to get his hands on a coat. He describes the severity of the frostbite he developed that impacted his health well beyond his time in Korea.
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Korea was War, Not a Police Action
Benjamin Allen remembers returning back to the United States and attempting to join a local VFW only to be told the Korean War was a police action, not a war. He shares how this official terminology kept him out of the VFW, but how he quickly became a member of the American Legion. He later speaks of an encounter with a Vietnam Veteran whom he had to educate about the Korean War.
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I: It is my great pleasure and honor to meet you here in Laughlin, Nevada for the reunion of (the) 24th division and I want to thank you for your precious time to share your story with me. I am Jongwoo Han, the President of (the) Korean War Legacy Foundation and my, my foundation’s main mission is to record the direct witness from the Korean War veteran on their service during the Korean War. So let’s start. Please introduce yourself, your name, and spell it for the audience.
B: My name is Benjamin R. Allen. B E N J A M I N A L L E N.
I: Mmm. What is your birthday, and where were you born?
B: Prescott, Arizona. Hm..Hm.. September 6th, 1927.
I: Tell me about your family when you were growing up, including your siblings.
B: There were six kids in the family.
B: Six. First there was three boys, and then three girls and uh
I: Including you?
B: I was the second boy.
I: How about your parents?
B: They um… uh what do you want to know about my parents?
B: He was a truck driver, dad was. And mother was a homemaker.
B: And uh, when I was not in school, I was on that damn truck….
B: … delivering groceries.
I: So what high school did you graduate?
B: Prescott High School
I: Mm hm, when did you graduate?
B: In 1945. I uh, played football for Prescott in 1944. We were honorary champs.
I: So you are the football player?
I: Good. Yeah you, huge, you’re huge.
B: Well, I’m not as big as I was. When I was in high school, I was 6’2.
B: But uh, old age is not for sissies.
I: So what did you do after graduate from high school?
M: Um, I went off to World War Two in July of 1945. I was seventeen and my older brother was in the Pacific on a gun crew. And I thought it was my turn.
I: So when did you join the military?
B: In July of 1945.
I: Uh huh.
B: And I went into the Navy. Went to San Diego to boot camp and in August, the war was over. So I, they kept me around a few more months to um, do the KP for the staff, then they sent me home after about 8 months of service.
M: And uh, I came home, and uh, I uh, got into a problem with my dad. I was bigger than him at that time and he was a disciplinarian and uh, I did something he didn’t like and he whipped that belt out and he was gonna lay into me and my mother told me “Don’t let him do it.”
B: I tell him “That’s it dad.” But uh, I couldn’t live there anymore because that was his home. And so I went off to the military during The.. I had in the meantime gone to Prescott Airport and got a private pilot’s license, I was a pilot. And I went into the um, Army and I tried to join the army Air Corps at that time, this was in ‘48
B: And uh, I saw in the regular army this big John Wayne type recruiting sergeant. Said “Son, enlistments in the Air Corps are closed at the present time, but if you’ll join the regular army as soon as their open we’ll transfer you”. And then I said “Fine”. So I joined up. And then that’s how I spent 4 years in the infantry and 13 months in Korea. (LAUGHS).
I: So when did you leave for Korea? What was your specialty by the way?
B: I was a sound locator. I had a machine I’d set out and an array of microphones and uh, in the infantry, and we would record the firing of artillery against us, mortars against us, and we would pinpoint their location with this machine and call in- calling answering fire to get ‘em, knock ‘em out.
I: Wow, so quite a machine. Did you know anything about that machine before you joined?
I: So how long did you have that training?
B: Uh. About 6 months. And then I went into, when I went to Korea, they didn’t have.. It was new to them and they didn’t even have the machine. So since I was big and ugly they made me a wireman. They needed big guys to carry wires, lay lines.
I: So when did you leave for Korea?
B: In July, September 1950
I: September 1950?
I: Belong to 21st division?
I: Wow. So where did you go- how did you- where did you arrive in Korea?
B: Uh. The military had contracted Pan-american air – airplane to fly over a bunch of infantry men, and I was one of them. And we flew into Tokyo, went by train to Sasebo got on to a um, very luxurious um, small boat that carried..
B: Ferry, that’s what it was it was, a ferry, but it had very thick tatami mats on it so we could stay on the deck. And it ferried us over to uh..
B: Busan, yeah.
I: So when- Do you remember when did you arrive?
B: No, just sometime in September. And uh, we rode a train up to south Seoul where the North Koreans had pushed and that’s when I joined the 24th division up there.
I: So when you were in Seoul there were many enemies there, right?
B: Yeah I saw the North… South Korean capital on Seoul burn when we pushed through there and pushed the North Koreans back, they set fire to it.
I: Were you scared?
B: Uh. In a situation like that you’re always scared.
B: If you’re not scared, you’re not human.
I: Were there any killings? I mean were there any dangerous moments to you?
I: Tell me about those. Where was it and how?
B: We got into a barrage of mortar shells several times and uh, and if the North Korean soldier, if he saw you he wore a uniform and carried a rifle and he’d shoot at you. And I’ve been shot at.
I: Shot you said. Were you wounded?
M: You mean my body?
B: It was artillery fire that got me. In the arm inside. And I was evacuated to Seoul, to a MASH unit. Now this happened just as the Chinese came into the operation.
B: Uh, last year my wife and I were at the reunion here of the 24th and at the banquet there were three people, uh or three couples at our table and uh, I found out that all three of us were at the same outfit at the same time.
B: Then I got hurt and was evacuated to the MASH unit in Seoul, and uh, one of the boys uh, the next day the Chinese came in and one of the boys was taken captive he was a P.OW., Prisoner of War for a year or so, and the other one, hid and was uh, worked his way out of there back on the lines, in the dark.
I: But Chinese came to North Korea around..
I: Yeah, so you were, I mean, when was that you were in Seoul? Actually the Chinese if they were in Seoul, that must have been December.
B: Ah it could have been, yeah.
I: So you just continued to stay in Seoul?
B: Yeah. Well no, I was with the front of the 24th infantry and we were pushing forward and we got, actually up into North Korea. Uh..
I: You were in North Korea?
I: After the MASH?
B: Yeah. I went back to my unit then we went up there. In Sinanju.
B: Yeah. That’s where I had my hands and feet frozen.
B: A terrible winter, that first winter there.
B: Yeah. And uh, just one day after another, one foot in front of the other. I can do- I don’t like to tell war stories. I really don’t think it does anybody any good.
I: Mm Hm.
B: And uh, To tell you a funny story..
B: When I returned from Korea I had just a few months to go in the army, and I would be released. So I was sent to, um, Camp Edwards, California to a triple a unit just waiting for my time, and uh, I was an NCO at the time, a staff sergeant, and I went down to the NCO club, and the bar was lined with all veterans from North, from South, in Korea. Korean War veterans and they were all telling whoppers.
I: They what?
B: Telling whoppers, whoppers. Real good war stories. And one after another they were telling stories till it got to be my turn and I told what I thought was a whopper, a good one.
B: And I soon learned that the first liar ain’t got a chance.
B: It doesn’t pay to brag about that kind of stuff anyway.
I: When did you leave Korea?
B: In October of 1951.
I: What was the most difficult thing during the Korean War?
B: That cold winter.
I: Tell me about it.
B: I had my- we didn’t have the proper clothing for cold, cold weather. The Canadians were at our flank over there. It was a UN operation as you know and uh, we had Canadians and Turks and a lot of people over there, and the Canadians had nice great big fur coats. I damn near shot one of them just for his coat. (LAUGHS)
I: (LAUGHS) So you had a summer uniform?
B: Well I had a field jacket is all I had, and I had regular fatigue pants and combat boots, and I had my feet frozen badly, and the VA has me rated quite high in disabilities because of that year I spent over there.
I: Yeah. So the cold winter was the most difficult thing for you?
B: As far as I was concerned, yeah.
B: I still had plenty of opportunities to shoot at somebody but…
I: Did you know anything about Korea before you left Korea – for Korea, I mean from the United States, When you left for Korea did you know anything about Korea?
B: Didn’t know anything about it didn’t even know where it was at. I knew it was in the Orient someplace, and we had to ride an airplane for a long time to get there.
I: What were you thinking? That you were in Korea, the country that you never knew before and you were there fighting, and you were wounded, what were you thinking?
B: Um. What in the hell am I doing here anyway? (LAUGHS)
I: Exactly, right?
B: Yeah, yeah.
I: Did you regret?
B: No, I was doing what I was trained to do. I wouldn’t have gone to Korea to a combat place, if I had a choice. I, I have 22 years of service in the military. When I got back out of Korea and out of the army, I joined the Air Force, it’s been 18 years. So, I am a retired Air Force Master Sergeant. But, I wouldn’t have uh…
B: I don’t begrudge any part of my military career. I had a lot of good times and I met a lot of good people went to a lot of places and uh, I really enjoyed it, but if I had a choice I wouldn’t have gone to Korea. But I had no choice. I like to tell people that I’ve been to the 13 colonies, 50 states, and 55 foreign countries.
I: 55 foreign countries?
B: 55 yes.
I: When you were in the Air Force?
B: Yeah. That plus uh, we did a lot of traveling after I retired from the military and married this lovely lady eh, we did a lot of traveling.
I: Why do you think the Korean War has been told as forgotten?
B: Well I’ll tell you a story about (COUGHS) when I came home from Korea to Prescott, Arizona when I first lived there and I was still in the military. I went to the local VFW, and I said I wanna join this outfit and he said, “What foreign war are you a veteran of?”, and I said Korea. He said I’m sorry but your congress….
I: It’s not the war.
B: … has labeled your, the combat unit, or the place as a police action, not a war. We can’t help you. So they wouldn’t do it, sign me up. I turned around, I went to the American Legion and signed up for them and I been with ‘em ever since.
I: What did you think when they said that I’m sorry it wasn’t war, it was a police action?
B: I said I hope the hell you’re never in a police action as bad as that was. (LAUGHS) It was a war as far as I was concerned.
I: Oh absolutely! Two million people killed during the police action? It’s ridiculous isn’t it?
B: We um, we took her to Boston one time, the wife and I.
B: Boston. And when we were on the bus, we heard from this driver and tour guide and he was complaining like mad to a bunch of tourists. And uh, he had lost his job and he was relegated now to driving tourists around a bus, and he was a veteran of the Vietnam War. A terrible war, and he thought things should be better for him. And, I got sick and tired of listening to this over a period of time, and one time at a stop I stood him at the side and I said
B: “You know, Vietnam was a terrible war, it lasted 10 years and they killed 40,000 Americans.” He says “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.” And I said did you know that the Korean War lasted three years and they killed 36,000 Americans? He didn’t know that, and I didn’t hear another word from him all the rest of the journey.
I: It wasn’t a war, it was police action, right? (LAUGHS)
B: It was the first UN sanctioned police action.
I: Have you been back to Korea?
I: Do you wanna go back?
B: I’ve had two letters from somebody who signed it as the South Korean president, and they asked me to come back but I felt so lucky of getting out of there the first time in one piece, and I really haven’t had a desire to go back there.
B: I’ve been back to the Orient , I was in the um, when I was in the Navy I was back in Japan for a couple of years in the 50’s, and uh…
I: What is Korea to you? And when you left did you have any hope that Korea would be like this today?
B: I never even thought about Korea in that way after I left, I was just so happy to be gone and um, i’m happy that they have done so well, and I really feel, it probably, it was the war, they are, and just ending the war that helped them, get them on their feet. And uh, but, I really don’t have a desire to go back. If my wife says we have to go back them maybe I will change my mind.
I: What is the legacy of the Korean War and the Korean War veteran, to you?
B: We were the first UN sanctioned combat unit in the world, and I think that’s probably about as much as you can say about it. Um, if they ever do it again, they’ll get the women and kids first before they get to me again, I’m only 87 years old , and I ain’t gonna go back.
I: You gotta go back! What do you think about the alliance between Korea and the United States. Do you know anything about it?
B: No, uh, not an official alliance I don’t know anything about it. I think that uh, South Korea gained a whole lot with our help and that they did well according to what I understand. They’ve uh, blossomed into a new age and uh, everything is bigger and better and whatnot over there now. Um, when I was there, you, this might insult you, but I had a problem with some of the South Korean people
I: Mm Hm.
B: I realize that they had nothing, they were very poor, but they would come into our camp and pat us on the back and tell us what nice guys we were, and then they’d steal everything they could get their hands on.
B: And it got to the point where they come around and I’d point my gun at them and tell them to get out. You don’t have to tell anybody that if you don’t….
I: No, no, no, I mean that happened, yeah, because they were really ..
(Female Voice): Well they were trying to survive too.
B: There were times when we were in a battle, and they were out picking up the brass. And that’s stupidity so you know?
I: That was really difficult time for all the Korean people and you know, I’m sorry that happened, but they had to survive somehow..
I: … and that’s what happened. Um, Were you able to write letters back to your family?
B: Oh yes.
I: Did you write?
I: What did you write?
B: I told my mother, because I didn’t want her to know where I was, I told her that My APO numbers are the um, Schofield barracks in Hawaii is where I was.
I: So to your mom you were in Hawaii?
B: And then when I got home, I could tell her where I’d been.
I: Very nice of you, huh?
B: Well I knew that she’d be very very concerned and worried about me.
I: Do you still keep the letters that you wrote back to your mom, and the letters that you received?
B: No, no.
I: Where is it?
B: I don’t know where they’re at, that was 60 years ago.
I: Did you take a lot of pictures?
B: Probably, but I don’t have them now, I don’t know.
(Female voice): Do you have just a few?
I: Just few.
(Female voice): One of you bathing in the river up there, I know.
B: Yeah, I wrote my memos, and I had a picture of me bathing in the Han river.
I: Do you regret your service?
B: Not a bit.
I: Are you proud?
B: I am very proud of what I am, and what I’ve accomplished, and uh, I know that I am, and everything that I have is a result of my military service.
I: So you have a high respect for military?
B: Yes, yes.
I: Do you have a message for the young kids in the United States?
B: I have a lot of kids asking me what should they do. They all go to high school, in Prescott. The ROTC commander is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force.
B: and he gets me, oh two or three times a year to come out there and talk to these kids, and I tell them, you know you’re gonna graduate from high school at 16, 17, 18 years old, and you’re still not gonna know what you wanna do for the rest of your life, and uh, you wanna go to college, and a hitch in the military wouldn’t do you any harm at all.
B: And uh, the credits you build up in the military will get you through college, called the G.I. bill, and it will make a man out of you and probably give you a trade.
(End of recorded material)