Korean War Legacy Project

Leo Ruffing


Leo Ruffing was born August 3, 1931 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  He enlisted in the army on September 1948 and then enlisted in the US Air force in February 1952. He arrived in Incheon in the Spring of 1951, and was stationed on Chun Cheon as a part of the “M” Company, 32nd regiment, 7th infantry division. He was a PVT, in charge of heavy weapons (4.2 mortars) and the infantry guard duty. He would later volunteer to return to Korea in the 1970s as a missionary and shares some of his happiest moments helping the orphans. While he was fearful during his first time in Korea, he later believed that he was fulfilling the will of God and spent the rest of his life in the ministry. He is proud of his service in Korea.

Video Clips

Missionary Work in Korea

Leo Ruffing shares how he became a minister after retiring from the military. He changed his mind about his future plans after helping friends and even himself with alcoholism. He would later return to Korea for ministry, including helping young children.

Tags: Busan,Chuncheon,Incheon,Impressions of Korea,Living conditions,Orphanage,Poverty

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A Happy Moment

Leo Ruffing describes one of his “happiest moments” as it relates to Korea. He shared about his work in orphanages with his mother’s friend. He remembers that this woman then made dolls with matching dresses for the girls.

Tags: Food,Impressions of Korea,Orphanage

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This was God's plan

When Leo Ruffing first went to Korea, he was very frightened. He remembers crying in the compound. However, after that first night of crying, he never had that kind of fear again. He shares that he believed that he was fulfilling the will of God.

Tags: Fear,Impressions of Korea

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of recorded material]

L:         My name is Leo Ruffing.  I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania August 3, 1931

I:          Um hm.

L:         in a section called East Liberty.

I:          And how do you pronounce your last name?

L:         Ruffing.  R U F F I N G, but in Germany where my family come from, they had an umlaut over the U

I:          Uh huh.

L:         and my father said they pronounced it with a Roofing, you know?  But they were so poor they could not afford to bring the umlaut with them.

I:          [LAUGHS]


L:         So the name became Ruffing.

I:          Ruffing.

L:         Yeah.

I:          Okay.

L:         My mother’s parents come from Ireland 1847 during the famine.

I:          Yeah.  Oh, that, that famous famine.

L:         Yes.

I:          How did Irish and German get along each other?

L:         We got along very well because where I lived, it was a, in, in the days that I grew up, Pittsburgh was divided ethnically.

I:          Uh huh.

L:         You know where the Pittsburgh Steelers stadium is?

I:          Yeah, yeah.

L:         That was Chinatown.

I:          Uh.

L:         So now it’s a football field.    Where I grew up,


up at the upper part of Lincoln Avenue

I:          Uh huh.

L:         was German.  They spoke German and Latin in the church.  At the bottom of the hill was Italians.  They spoke Italian and Latin, and where I live was Irish, and so they spoke English with Irish accent and, uh, English.  Well, I, I’m one of nine.  My oldest brother was a


world class engineer; worked for Allied Electric.  My next brother is a, well next is a sister.  She’s a retired college professor, taught Computer Science, and she’s older than I am.  My next sister was a business lady.  She’s passed on.  She was a real estate manager.  The next one is a Clinical Psychology, has a PhD, then myself and then

I:          Veteran.

L:         Well, I’m a minister, yeah, Disciples of Christ.


Do you serve in the Korean War Veterans Association?

L:         Yes.  I’m the

I:          Tell me.

L:         National Chaplain.

I:          National Chaplain?

L:         Yes.

I:          Since when?

L:         For about five years now.

I:          Um hm.

L:         I replaced, uh, Leonard Stegman who was the Chaplain for some years, and I took, he retired, and I took his place.  Must be about five or six years now, I’m not sure.

I:          Um hm.  Okay.  What were you doing when the time that the Korean War


broke out?

L:         When the Korean War, I was in, I was in Japan in the Army of Occupation form 1948, and my time run out in March of 1950.

I:          Um hm.

L:         So I was in the 7thInfantry Division at Sendai, Japan, you know, where the tornado, earthquake hit,

I:          Um hm.

L:         tore up Sendai?

I:          Sendai, yes.

L:         Yeah, Sendai, where the nuclear power plant, the, the tsunami


I:          Uh huh.

L:         See, I was in Sendai from the end of 1948 until March of 1950.

I:          Wow.

L:         And, uh,

I:          Sendai was beautiful, right?

L:         Oh, yeah, beautiful place.

I:          Um hm.

L:         And so my time ran out in March, and I came home, and I was in the States, I was at Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania training basics.

I:          I see, training basics of [INAUDIBLE]

L:         Basic training.  No, I was trainer.  I was a

I:          Okay.


PT instructor.

I:          I see.

L:         And, uh, I had a very strange military career, and, and so I was a PT instructor for basic draftees, and then I volunteered to go to Korea.

I:          When?

L:         In, well in, in 1950 when, uh, I want to go back and join my unit, but fortunately the Army works very slow sometimes.  So by the Army being slow,


I missed the Chosin campaign.  I’m, I’m glad I missed it.  It was very for, so I didn’t get back to Korea until 1951.

I:          Um.

L:         And as strange it may seem, I, I do not remember what month I went back.

I:          Um hm.

L:         Uh, it seems like it was in the spring.  My records were burned in St. Louis in the fire,

I:          Um hm.

L:         so I, I tried to find out what month I went there, but I could not find out.

I:          Um hm.  So let’s go back


uh, before 1948. When did you join that military?

L:         September 1948.

I:          And, why?

L:         I have no idea.

I:          You enlist or drafted?

L:         I enlisted.

I:          Uh huh.  Why did you join the military?

L:         I have no idea.

I:          You just did it?

L:         I, I, I was, I was a trouble, I was a black sheep in my family.

I:          Are you sure?

L:         I’m sure.  I had trouble


with alcohol.

I:          Oh.

L:         Very, very young.

I:          When did you start to drink?

L:         About age 13.  When I finished the ninth grade in school, they told me don’t come back for the tenth.  In those days, that’s what they did.  They didn’t, now they, they do all kinds of stuff now.  But in those days, they’d tell you, you know, don’t bother coming back.

I:          But didn’t you required to have a parents’ permission to join the Army at the time?

L:         I don’t, I don’t remember.  I was 17

I:          Uh huh.

L:         So they must have, my mother must have given, my father was dead.


So my mother musta give me permission.  But I joined the Army at 17.

I:          Um hm.  So you wanna get away of those

L:         I, I, I have no idea.  I just, I just did things on impulse.

I:          Um hm.

L:         Like I said, and I had trouble in the Army.  I went in the Army a Private.  I served four years.  I come out a Private.  I went over to Korea in the Spring.

I:          Yeah.

L:         I

I:          And then you came back in December.

L:         come back in December.

I:          Uh huh.


L:         Okay.  I got discharged.

I:          Right.

L:         In February 1952

I:          Um hm.

L:         I enlisted in the Air Force.

I:          Um hm.  Did you take the troop ship, or how did you get to Korea?

L:         Troop ship.

I:          Okay.  From where?

L:         I, I went, okay, I went, I went to Japan first on a troop ship

I:          Um hm.

L:         I came home from Japan on a troop ship.  I went to Korea in ‘51

I:          Um hm.

L:         on a troop ship.


I:          Directly, not by way of Japan?

L:         Straight there.

I:          Straight to Korea.

L:         Yes.

I:          Huh.

L:         I came back from Korea on a troop ship.

I:          Uh.

L:         That’s the time I met Pete.

I:          Uh huh.

L:         Okay.  Now, in 1954

I:          Um hm.

L:         I went back on a troop ship, and I flew home.

I:          Um.

L:         So I crossed the Pacific on a troop ship five times,

I:          Five times.

L:         flew back once.

I:          Um hm.


Tell me about Keith, who later because the husband of your younger sister, Alice.

L:         Okay.  When, when I left, I was up at, in Chuncheon.  That’s where I spent most of my time in Korea.

I:          Um hm.

L:         I only went to the front one time, and when I came, when my time was up, I went from Chuncheon to Inchon on the train.  When I got on the train,


this, this great big Corporal, cause Pete was a big man, he got on the train, and he walked back and he looked around. There’s plenty empty seats, and, and he sat down beside me and put out his hand.  He said I’m, Pete, and so we got to talking, and we found out I’m from Pittsburgh, and he’s from a place called Butler which is a suburb, and so we, you know, started lying to each other, you know, how GIs do, and we talked and talked, and we went to Inchon, and


we was supposed to get on the train, on the boat, but during the night, a British freighter had swung around and knocked a hole in the boat

I:          Um.

L:         we was supposed to come home on.  So they put us back on the train and took us to Pusan. Then they put us on, we stayed at Pusan a couple days.  They put us on a, uh, ferry, and we went to Sasebo, Japan.  We stayed at Sasebo some period of time, and then


the boat with the hole in it, it was a J.C. Martinez was the name of the boat.  They put us on the boat and went up to Yokosuka, to the, uh, Navy yard, and they repaired that boat, welded on it.  And then we come home on that boat.  Then we got a troop train and went to Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, and I got discharged first.  I got discharged the 13thof December.

I:          What was your specialty actually?

L:         Well, my specialty was a


4.2 mortar, uh, you know what a mortar

I:          Right.

L:         And I was assigned to a 4.2 mortar company, but, but, uh, all I did, I did guard duty and, uh, stayed, I only went to the front one time.

I:          One time?

L:         One time.

I:          When was that, and where?

L:         We went up, it was up somewhere east, I don’t even remember.  It was somewhere east of the, uh, Punch Bowl.

I:          Um hm.

L:         And, and we, I remember vividly, uh, what I saw


was we were at this base camp, and I say F86s dropping Napalm on this mountain and these guys getting ready to go up there.  And that’s as close as I got to the front lines.

I:          Um hm.

L:         I, I did not, uh, I don’t know why.  I don’t know if you know anything about it.  That period of time, uh, Margaret Chase Smith

I:          Um.

L:         was a United States Congresswoman.

I:          Um hm.

L:         And she may have


been the first one. Well, she was leading some committee, you know, to, to end the stuff in Korea

I:          Um.  Margaret

L:         Chase Smith I think her name was.  I believe that’s right.  And they were really pushing for reservists and National Guard to come home

I:          Um hm.

L:         and leave this business to the regular Army. I think one of the other guys who was in there talking said he was only in Korea about six


weeks, you know. That was all part of the same stuff. But she pushed for the people, the reservists and the National Guard.  See, I was a reservist because when I got out of the Army, I transferred into the Reserves.

I:          Um hm.

L:         So, but they, they, she was pushing for, and, and so I didn’t stay my full tour in Korea.  But whatever was going on, I don’t know much, you know.


I was high school dropout.  I didn’t know anything about politics.

I:          Um hm.

L:         But I just remember that, reading that.  And so I came home, uh, so I spent my time, we had the Ethiopian troops with us, and I spent my time at Chuncheon.

I:          Um hm.

L:         And I only went, I remember, I’ll never forget that. I remember so vividly we went up the mountains, and you could look down and see clouds, you know, up in, way north and, and when, uh,


when the tanks were coming down the mountains, they made us get out and stand on the edge of the road cause the tanks get too close to the edge, and they might break off

I:          Yeah.

L:         fall down in.  But it was okay if we fell down, you know.

I:          Yeah.

L:         They didn’t want to lose a tank.  But I remember that.  I remember going up there, and I, I’m stayed a little while. I, I’m, not sure how many days. Like I said, I was, I was drinking a lot

I:          Um hm.

L:         and, uh.  But I

I:          At that time, too?

L:         Oh, yes.  Yes.


Uh, that’s not a good place to be drunk

I:          Um hm.

L:         but, but I was up there and, uh, but anyhow, I, I didn’t stay long.  I remember the First Sergeant telling me, you know, go back to Chuncheon, and then I went back to Chuncheon, and then they told me it was time to go home.

I:          Where did you get all this drinks?

L:         Well, uh, it was very cheap at that time.

I:          Beer?

L:         Beer, whiskey, uh

I:          They provide you whiskey, too?


L:         Yes.  You could buy it in the clubs

I:          Oh.

L:         and, uh, or you could steal it, you know.  If you drink like I did on a Private’s, pay, you don’t have a whole lot of money.

I:          Right.

L:         So sometimes you steal it.

I:          How much were you paid?

L:         I think, I figured out one time it was $18.75 a week.

I:          You are the pastor here, right?

L:         No.  I have never,

I:          [INAUDIBLE]

L:         I have never been a pastor.

I:          Okay.

L:         I’ve been, I’m a minister.

I:          Minister.

L:         All my work has been with alcohol and drug programs, street people.


I went to seminary

I:          When?

L:         I, um, 1971, ’72, after I retired from the Air Force.

I:          Um hm.

L:         I got a doctor in Ministry.

I:          Why, what made you to get into the ministry?

L:         Well, it’s a funny story.  I was in college

I:          Um hm.

L:         in, uh, in, in, Missouri, in Parkville, Missouri, and I, I went with a bunch of friends, and I tried to help a fella, uh, what was his, Al was his name.


And, and we got to talking one time, and Al had a problem with alcohol, and he never got sober. He died drunk.  He was a PhD Clinical Psychologist, could not stay sober. But before he died, we were talking, and I was gonna go, at that time, the merging nations in South Africa were doing a lot of developing air forces and stuff like that, and they were


looking for people like my background by this time was electronics and business, you know, ground navigation.  And so I was gonna go to South Africa and get, make money.  Uh, that was my plan.

I:          Um hm.

L:         And one day Al talked to me, and he said you ought to be ashamed of yourself.  I said why is that?  He said you should be going and doing work in the field of alcoholism, trying to help these people instead of making money because you have the skill, you have the experience,


and so Al changed my life.

I:          What school did you go for Seminary.

L:         Lexington Theological Seminary in Bethany.

I:          Um hm.

L:         But while I was in Korea, I did, before I got sober, I did a lot of work with the children and the missionaries,

I:          Um hm.

L:         and, and some of them impressed my life, uh. Some of the missionaries, early missionaries in Seoul and the Seventh Day Adventists had a hospital outside of Seoul. I went there, and I worked with some of the


local missionaries. But that, they all impressed my life.

I:          Hm.  That’s when you were in, uh, Korea, in Chuncheon.

L:         No, that’s when I was in, in, uh, Pyeongtaek.

I:          Pyeongtaek?

L:         When I went back, in 1954

I:          Um hm.

L:         I volunteered to go back to Korea

I:          You did?

L:         with the Air Force, yes.

I:          Um hm.

L:         And so I went back, and they sent me to Pyeongtaek. And Pyeongtaek, uh, there were, were a lot of refugees,


a lot of little children, and we had kids, we had little boys living on the, on the, on the, our base, and I remember when, I may have told you about when the order came out to get rid of them, we, we sent, they sent them all to orphanages, and one boy came back, and he told the Colonel, he said I’m not a Gook.  I’m a GI.

I:          Huh.

L:         He thought he was one of us.

I:          Uh.

L:         He said at the orphanage,


he said they have, no he said here they have one boy, two blankets.  Down there at the orphanage, they have two boys, one blanket, and you know, everybody’s crying, you know, the Colonel and everybody else, but we had to send him back.

I:          Ah.

L:         But that’s, that was, uh, the, uh, very interesting work, very rewarding work, working with the orphanages.

I:          What do you think God’s plan was for you


in the past and now?

L:         For me to get my attention.  It made me do the right thing, you know.  I was ashamed of what I was doing, you know.  My mother, uh, she was a awesome lady.  When she was 92 years old

I:          Um hm.

L:         she was still doing volunteer work in the, in the VA hospital and at a senior citizens center, and people would say what are you doing, Catherine?  She said oh I’m helping them old people.


And, you know, my family, I come from a good family, and, and here I am the black sheep, uh. I just didn’t fit in.  So, so I didn’t want to live like that,

I:          Um.

L:         and I don’t think, one of my friends said sometime back, he said we’re all God’s kids, and our job is to take care of other kids.

I:          What do you think was the will of God on Korean War?

L:         I don’t, may, maybe to maintain the South


free, you know. Sometime, when I first went to Korea, first time, I was in the Army compound, and I’m 17 years old, 18 years old, and, and, uh, I, I don’t understand all this. I read, I’ve always been a reader, and my oldest brother was in the Second World War.  My uncle, you know, I knew, but I was scared,


and I set down in the compound one night in the corner and I cried.  I was so scared.  And then I, I got quiet, and I thought, I didn’t know about plans or anything, but I thought my responsibility is to go north.  No matter what happens, I’m gonna go north and do what I’m supposed to do. And so I went.  I, I never had that kind of fear again.  I mean I, I’m


not crazy, you know. I don’t want anybody shooting at me. But I never had that kind of fear again.  And so just do the next right thing.  That’s the way I, I’ve tried to live my life, you know.  Uh, God let, let’s me know as I go along what I’m supposed to do.  Like, you know, I, I really believe, uh, Dr, Han, you remember the story about the burning bush?

I:          Um hm.

L:         Moses

I:          Oh yeah.

L:         and the burning bush?

I:          Yes.


L:         After he saw the bush and talked to God, God told him go talk to Pharaoh.  You know, that’s a bad position he was in, and he said who should I say sent me, and God said I am, okay?  I am. So when I think about God, I think about I am.  When Phillip stopped Christ and he said where is this kingdom you talk about, he said that God, Christ said the kingdom of God is within you.


I:          Um hm.

L:         So the kingdom of God as far as I’m concerned, is within you and me and these other guys you talked to, and what is the plan? Well, God said I am, okay.  The plan is right now for you and I to be sitting here talking.  There’s nothing else in this world that matters

I:          Um hm.

L:         except you and I sitting here talking to each other. That’s this God’s plan.

I:          Yep.  What was the happiest moment in your


service, in Korea?

L:         One, one of the, one of the happiest moments I remember, there was a lady in Pittsburgh named Alda Gettings, and she and my mother were friends, and my mother told her, cause we, Mother and I changed letters all the time, and I told Mother about this one orphanage where I was going, you know, taking cereal and whatever I could get for


the little kids. It was girls. I think there were 20 of them, about so big, and Mother told Miss Jennings about those little girls, and Mrs. Gettings, I got a newspaper somewhere about it, but Mrs. Gettings took these, and made dolls about 20, 24” high out of cloth and made a little dress for each doll, and made a matching dress for each girl.


I, I remember when I got this box, it was in late 1954 right before Christmas, big box, and I opened it up and there was   20 dolls and 30 dresses.

I:          What is the legacy of Korean War and Korean War veterans? What is the importance of it?  What is the legacy of Korean War?

L:         Well, the, the whole thing about if you forget the history, you’re gonna repeat it.  If we, if we don’t take it serious what’s goin on over there right now, there’s gonna be some bad stuff happen.

I:          Um hm.


L:         We need to pay attention to what’s happening. We need to pay attention to what’s going on, uh, you know, everywhere.

I:          So how would you say to this question that the impact of your service in the Korean War on your life?

L:         On my life, changed my life.  Uh, it, it helped me, it helped me understand other people. Now, I grew up in a multi-cultural


organization that mixed schools, you know, blacks and whites and everything.  But I never really understood that, that we grow up, you know, some of my playmates when I was growing up come from countries that didn’t speak English.  A lot of the, the, the black kids,

I:          Um hm.

L:         their grandparents could not read or write. Their parents couldn’t read or write. And so I come from a literary


culture, and these kids from an oral culture.  Gotta understand that, how could that mesh and be like, when I went to eastern Kentucky the first time,

I:          Um hm.

L:         I come to understand what a, what a oral culture that it.

I:          Um.

L:         The story teller, that’s where I learned to tell stories

I:          Um.

L:         course my Dad was a storyteller.

I:          Um hm.

L:         But in, in eastern Kentucky my, my best friend, he’s dead now, but, uh,


Boyd introduced me to Jesse Stuart, you know and Harry Caudill and theses other writers, Edgar, uh, Edgar, uh, Edgar Sweeney, these other mountain writers.  And, and it just so, so, so, as a matter of fact, in, I got in a heated argument with my major professor at graduate school.  He was talking about Appalachia, and


talking about them pe, people being culturally deprived.  I said that’s a sick term.  That’s a ter, this, these people have their own culture. It’s extremely rich.  It’s, it’s oral and, and to say that they’re deprived of a culture is ridiculous.

I:          Um.

L:         My, my wife’s family came to this country in, in, 1713, and they settled, uh, in North Carolina, and in 1750 they migrated up into Appalachia,


in eastern Kentucky. They were the first settlers up there. Nobody lived there at the time. The Indians migrated from New York to North Carolina, Algonquins.  Nobody lived up there.  So these people, mostly Scotch and Irish,

I:          Um.

L:         Scot and Irish, and they settled up, and they developed tremendous oral culture.

I:          Um.  Do you have a plan for the rest of your life?

L:         Just enjoy it.  I’m gonna enjoy it.  I have a 11 month-old granddaughter


I:          Ah.

L:         And she’s awesome.  I say if I’m still around when she’s 16, she’ll take my car away from me.

I:          [LAUGHS] Alright.  Uh, any message to the young generations of America?

L:         Well, under, understand the Korean people. When, when we look at each other, you know, we may look a little different, but in our heart and soul there’s no difference, you know.  We’re human beings, and, and


the human, the human history just, I’ve read a lot of, you know, what they theorize about what happened, think about the first person, you know, first they wrapped themselves in animal skins

I:          Um hm.

L:         and then one of them thought about the idea let’s put some holes in here and we put this on.  Then another one said maybe we could button it up.

I:          Um hm.

L:         That was a human being, you know, sitting there thinking of, you know, how to survive, how to keep warm,


and, you know, John, uh, oh, John Dill’s story that just died, one of our veterans.  He was in North Korea at the Chosin, and, no, he was with the      3rdDivision when they went up to keep the mountain pass open, and a Chinaman got him with his rifle, and, and John put up his hands, and they guy said, uh, no, Bill, I’m sorry, Bill, the guy said



I:          Um.

L:         and he, you know, here’s a, here’s the enemy up there in that freezing winter trying to survive, so John took, or Bill took his jacket off and threw it to him

I:          Um hm.

L:         and turned and ran.  The guy didn’t shoot him, did not shoot him.

I:          Um hm.

L:         But there’s a human something that was exchanged. You give me your jacket, I’ll give you your life.

I:          Um hm.  Um hm.

L:         Two human beings trying to survive

I:          Um.

L:         That’s, that what I guess the war was all about.


I:          Um hm.  Anything that you want, you didn’t say?

L:         No, no.  I just, I just appreciate the opportunity to go back to Korea.  Uh, I’ve met, uh, [INAUDIBLE] several times and, uh, I, I’ll, it’s a pleasure I look forward to meeting Madam Park.


[End of Recorded Material]