Korean War Legacy Project

Shirley Toepfer

Bio

Shirley Toepfer was born in Petersburg, Michigan in 1931.  Raised on a farm, she learned to work hard and persevere.  After going to college at Eastern Michigan University for two years, she left school and enlisted in the Army. During basic training, she was identified as someone who may be helpful to counter-intelligence and she was sent to Ft. Holabird in downtown Baltimore where she worked with the counterintelligence detachment. After four years, she was forced to leave the service due to a pregnancy. She would eventually have four children with her first husband, and after raising the children, would work as a mail carrier. She looks back at the Korean War with great admiration for the people who fought for democracy, but wishes that they could have stayed until democracy diffused to the whole peninsula.

Video Clips

Spy School

Shirley Toepfer describes her basic training as well as transferring to Ft. Holabird, Marylind. This facility housed U.S. Army Intelligence training. Shirley Toepfer was based here for counterintelligence training or as she calls it spy training.

Tags: Basic training,Home front,Women

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pmgVjQ0agU&start=529&end=725

Leaving the Military

Shirley Toepfer describes the circumstances surrounding the end of her service. She began dating her future husband at Ft. Holabird. She got married and then she and her husband both left the service and moved to Illinois where she raised four children.

Tags: Home front,Women

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pmgVjQ0agU&start=985&end=1052

Video Transcript

00:00
I am surely kept fer 20 t OE p f er how
00:07
do you pronounce it kept her get her for
00:10
ya hard to pronounce for melon
00:14
instrument is it German yeah so your
00:18
German American no I when I went into
00:21
the service I was a Thompson and then I
00:24
married a bus key oh when I was in the
00:27
service and then after he passed away I
00:30
married temper so you’ve got that name
00:34
yeah what is your birthday 4th of
00:37
November 1931 sorry 4th of November 1931
00:43
31 uh-huh and where were you born and
00:47
Petersburg’s Michigan and tell me about
00:52
your family when you were growing up
00:53
your parents and your siblings well we
00:56
lived on a farm in Petersburg and I had
01:00
two sisters and one brother we all
01:05
helped on the farm and our neighbors
01:09
were garden farmers they grew produce
01:12
and took it to Detroit Michigan to sell
01:16
and so I worked on the on their farm
01:21
along with my parents farm what your
01:24
parents pond do they just gave up
01:28
livestock mostly wheat and grain and all
01:31
and then the last few years they did
01:34
some garden farming but that wasn’t
01:38
Serbian thing so not much animal no no
01:42
we had some everybody had pigs and cows
01:44
back then you did oh yeah so good to be
01:48
in the farm in the era of Great
01:51
Depression wasn’t it yeah it was and
01:53
after while during during the war the
01:57
World War two we had German war
02:00
prisoners working on our farm because we
02:03
raised sugar beets and that was part of
02:06
the war effort and so that was the
02:09
experience having all those German war
02:11
prisoners
02:12
working on our farm German war prisoners
02:16
so they were the German soldier yeah hmm
02:19
brought back to the land route over here
02:21
and their help and then they were sent
02:25
out to the different farmers and and
02:27
they used them and they walk there and
02:30
then go back to the prison camp
02:32
I see how were they actually well you
02:37
know I was just a teenager at the time
02:39
and they warned us now be careful of
02:42
those German war prisoners because we
02:45
walked back and forth to school but
02:48
really we they should award this you’d
02:50
be careful of those MPs that are
02:52
guarding them because that was kind of
02:54
boring you know guarded those and they
02:57
would you know talk to us girls and it
03:01
was kind of interesting interesting
03:03
right yeah tell me about the school you
03:06
went through it was a Township school
03:10
Sommerfeld Township and my dad was a
03:15
school bus driver so we were the first
03:18
ones on the bus the last ones off at
03:21
night and we had to clean the buses when
03:24
we got all that it was just a regular
03:30
small town school but it was one it
03:33
wasn’t one-room school right oh no no no
03:36
no I never went to a one-room school you
03:38
know I interview here
03:40
many of them were in one room school oh
03:42
yeah yeah first grade to the eighth
03:45
grade you know one moon twenty-nine one
03:48
drum one teacher that’s amazing isn’t it
03:51
yeah it is no we our farm was right on
03:53
the border if we’d have been over just a
03:56
little bit further we’d had to go to the
03:58
one-room school but we were close enough
04:00
we went to the town school so you’re
04:02
lucky yeah when when did you graduate
04:06
high school and what high school did you
04:08
graduate graduated from summer field
04:10
High School in 1950 May of 1950 did you
04:20
learn anything about Korea at the time
04:24
No
04:26
there was nothing in the school about
04:29
that mm-hmm no so he didn’t know where
04:33
Claire was well I know somewhere around
04:35
Japan but nothing more than that so when
04:40
people talking about Korea they think
04:42
about Japan for yeah right Yeah right
04:44
that’s the reality yeah so what did you
04:48
do after graduation I went to college
04:51
what college Eastern Michigan University
04:56
that was that epsilon to Michigan what
05:01
did you study I was going to be a
05:03
schoolteacher so you studied education
05:07
yeah but I didn’t I never finished what
05:12
happened well the war broke out and
05:14
anybody that went into the service you
05:17
got credit for however much time I left
05:21
it in the middle of the year so I got
05:24
credit for that whole year because it
05:27
was wartime
05:28
and I went into the service and now did
05:32
you have to go to service oh no no no I
05:34
want why did you join to join the
05:37
military as a woman was it kind of
05:39
popular at the time or general that the
05:42
women joined the Mildred no right
05:45
no why well it just wasn’t I don’t know
05:51
you want it I didn’t like college you
05:54
didn’t I didn’t I didn’t like the
05:58
subjects that I had to take when they
06:00
signed us up for our our studies they
06:04
went alphabetically
06:05
my name was Thompson uh-huh so I got the
06:08
tail end of what was left you know so I
06:12
had to take public speaking music
06:15
appreciation poetry my freshman year you
06:20
know you didn’t like that I didn’t like
06:23
any around Oh
06:25
so I finally I think it was the public
06:29
speaking that finally said I’m not going
06:31
to do this and and I went home in
06:35
December and told my mother that I
06:38
thought I’d joined the army
06:40
and she says go ahead you’ll never ever
06:44
pass her physical because I’d had
06:47
rheumatic fever or a rheumatic fever
06:51
rheumatic fever I don’t know it affects
06:54
your heart are usually and and you quite
06:58
often get arthritis or rheumatoid
07:02
arthritis from and I’d had a problem you
07:06
know different times I’d get my legs at
07:09
her door whatever she says you’ll never
07:11
pass your physical so go for it so I
07:14
went yeah yeah so I went to Detroit
07:16
which is achill and I passed what
07:20
happened I don’t know they didn’t care
07:25
much they didn’t know you have you ideal
07:27
that oh yeah yeah yeah they really
07:29
checked out my heart and they really
07:32
checked me so yeah and you still deny
07:35
her fast so there was in 1951 yeah that
07:41
was I went in in January of 51 went into
07:45
one into the service service yeah and
07:49
you knew that there was Korean War broke
07:52
out oh yeah yeah so what were you can
07:54
saw all of the boys had like class all
07:56
of them were going into the army or into
07:59
the service and had you imagined that he
08:05
could be in Korea all right into the
08:07
wall oh yeah yeah they were sending a
08:10
lot of the women to Japan at that time
08:12
and I had a chance to go to Japan but I
08:14
didn’t I didn’t take it mmm so you are
08:21
not afraid
08:22
oh no wow that’s really something
08:27
special in you huh
08:30
well I don’t know it was just something
08:32
to do I guess a lot of my boyfriend’s
08:37
you know the men in my class the boys
08:39
the class we’re all going and so I kind
08:44
of thought well why not you going with
08:46
that so where did you get the basic
08:51
military training Fort Lee
08:53
Virginia and then I took my schooling at
08:58
Fort Knox perk typist schooling and then
09:04
they sent me to a place that you’ve
09:06
never heard of they put me in the
09:09
counterintelligence Corps where in Fort
09:13
Holabird Maryland have you ever heard of
09:15
that camp nope
09:17
most people never did it was strictly
09:19
counterintelligence it’s where they
09:23
trained the spies where in Marion Fort
09:27
Holabird could you spell it
09:29
hol a bir d e AR d Holabird hol a bir d
09:37
VAR d IL d e ba i LD yeah yeah yeah yeah
09:44
so there so that was right in downtown
09:47
Baltimore tell me about this what kind
09:53
of program did they offer and how did
09:55
they train and what were you doing there
09:57
well I was in the office I was in the
09:59
Adjutant General’s Office but I had to
10:03
have a secret clearance to work there so
10:08
while I was in basic training and in my
10:11
schooling there were men came to
10:13
Petersburg all dressed up in suits and
10:17
ties nor asking about Shirley Thompson
10:20
and I think people thought well what
10:22
kind of troubled she get into that these
10:25
people are in client about work for
10:27
fiance oh yeah anyhow it was to get a
10:31
secret clearance which I needed to do
10:36
this job that I did do you know now why
10:41
you were picked up well I think because
10:45
a university there yeah yeah yeah
10:48
because I was pretty good any testing
10:53
that they did you know there were only
10:56
three of us out of I don’t know how many
11:00
was at our basic training a hundred and
11:03
so there were three of us chosen
11:06
to go to Fort Holabird so we didn’t know
11:09
it at the time but in Holabird what kind
11:13
of program did they provide that was the
11:17
School where they taught people to be
11:23
spies for example do you know of any
11:26
class activities or physical activities
11:30
that they provided as a training no I
11:33
was that I was working in the edge two
11:37
general’s office but still you were
11:39
there
11:40
oh yeah yeah so you should know about
11:42
well you know everything was secret top
11:45
secret how big was it oh I don’t know
11:51
several several hundred people mm-hmm
11:55
they would bring classes in from I
11:58
remember one class from Australia that
12:00
they brought over Australia to and from
12:03
Britain to teach them to be spies so it
12:07
was international I mean oh yeah
12:09
anglo-saxon right yeah right yeah right
12:14
so what was your unit actually then did
12:17
you belong to any specific unit but we
12:19
were called dumb just counter
12:22
intelligence detachment detachment yeah
12:26
so it’s a special force right yeah
12:30
because it was what was your rank at the
12:32
time I ended up a corporal and I was in
12:37
less than two years how much were you
12:40
period $79 a month yes I remember that
12:45
well that’s what I went in then you know
12:49
each little oil you got a little bit
12:52
more what were you’re able to buy with
12:56
the dollar at the time oh well you could
13:01
buy a dress for $5 whole dress a whole
13:05
draft yeah one piece
13:07
yeah two piece whatever I dollars five
13:10
dollars so 79 wasn’t small no I could
13:15
save some money out of that every month
13:17
and where did you slip or in the
13:22
military barrel oh yeah we had regular
13:25
barracks just like the men had and how
13:28
many women soldier boy I don’t know I
13:35
think they were like 70 or 80 of us on
13:38
that on that post of the kind one thing
13:45
we had to do there we were so close to
13:48
Washington DC that a lot of the big
13:52
shots came and every Saturday morning
13:56
everybody had to dress up in their
13:58
class-a uniforms and parade we had to
14:02
put on a parade every Saturday morning
14:04
and I think you didn’t like it oh yeah
14:07
it was fine except we’d like to go on
14:09
into Baltimore more because as soon as
14:12
the parade was over we changed our
14:14
clothes we headed for Baltimore with the
14:16
civilian attire oh yeah yeah so Saturday
14:19
Sunday off Saturday and Sunday off
14:22
mm-hmm what was it like to be in the
14:28
women’s barrel with the soldiers women
14:31
female soldiers all to go just like a
14:34
college campus yeah was it okay oh yeah
14:39
wonderful not much hierarchy and
14:41
ordering around and a boss no huh really
14:44
no nothing like that nothing like that
14:48
now did you know anything about Korean
14:55
War at the time did you hear or did you
14:58
talk or we didn’t have television except
15:03
in the day room which we didn’t spend
15:06
much time in there once in a while you’d
15:10
read something in a newspaper but we
15:13
didn’t have a regular daily newspaper
15:16
that we read you know you know whatever
15:19
on the radio mostly usually it was known
15:23
as forgotten war and people yes the
15:26
Korean War veterans when they returned
15:28
from Korea they were asked
15:30
like this where have you been yeah
15:33
people didn’t pay attention to it that’s
15:36
right what do you think about that and
15:38
will you pay attention or paying
15:40
attention or you are the part of all
15:42
these people that what I don’t have any
15:45
idea about what’s going on and where
15:47
have you been we knew what was going on
15:51
to a certain degree but it wasn’t like
15:53
World War two where it was always
15:55
headlines you know and movies made of it
15:58
and and stuff like that but yeah the men
16:03
coming back would you know tell about
16:07
what they did so what do you think about
16:11
the Korean War as forgotten war we
16:15
should have stayed over there and
16:16
cleaned up the mess we left too soon so
16:26
when did you when were discharged from
16:29
the military
16:30
oh well that’s another story
16:33
tell me see I met my husband to be he
16:37
was when and where and up Fort Holabird
16:40
he was a soldier there and you’re dating
16:44
yeah we started dating him then we got
16:47
married and then in that time if you got
16:51
pregnant you couldn’t stay in now you
16:54
can they even haven’t been turned into
16:56
uniforms well back then why you had to
16:59
get out and his four years was just
17:02
about up anyway so we got out came to
17:07
Illinois
17:07
mmm what did you do I had a baby and it
17:12
didn’t work
17:13
not uh not well no because I actually I
17:17
had four children and I didn’t work
17:20
until the fourth one was big enough to
17:24
and then I went to the post office so I
17:28
I was a city carrier mail carrier and
17:33
you didn’t go back to the Michigan
17:34
University Houston no no you didn’t like
17:37
it well
17:41
so do you know about Korea now do you
17:44
have any follow up with what’s going on
17:47
in Korean economy Korean democracy
17:50
Korean products what do you know please
17:53
show you know I watch Fox News mainly I
17:57
don’t watch CNN and all those and they
18:00
pretty much cover what’s going on over
18:03
there
18:04
as far as mostly on North Korea right
18:08
they don’t talk about South Korean
18:10
economy no not that much it’s scary
18:15
what’s going on in North Korea really is
18:18
what do you know well about the missile
18:22
zone and the guy that’s a head of a
18:25
Finnish kind of a loose cannon don’t you
18:30
know that Israel has more than 200
18:32
nuclear weapons and missiles that can
18:36
reach anywhere in the world yeah you’re
18:39
not scare about it
18:40
no not was Israel what about Pakistan
18:43
that’s a different story
18:45
200 more than 200 warhead nuclear
18:48
warhead they have a capabilities to
18:50
which any power of the wall ICBM
18:53
Pakistan is the country that gave the
18:56
technology to North Korea to build
18:58
nuclear weapons Pakistan is
19:01
decentralized so that there are much
19:04
more dangerous no I believe that a
19:07
liability that any tribal group can
19:09
actually get the nuclear weapons they
19:12
can sell it what do you think about that
19:15
it’s scary
19:16
why don’t fuck snooze talk about
19:19
Pakistanis nuclear weapons what they
19:23
just talk about North Korea’s their main
19:25
Wylder I mean North Korea is under the
19:28
tight control so that they actually can
19:31
control the nuclear weapons if there are
19:33
any Pakistan is much more dangerous but
19:38
our news doesn’t talk about no what do
19:41
you think about that I I don’t know I
19:45
don’t know why they don’t all right now
19:49
that’s something good to think about
19:51
yeah
19:52
yeah it is so you you know that the
19:57
Korean economy has developed so much oh
20:00
yeah
20:01
now it’s 11th largest economy in the
20:04
world with the size of Indiana we don’t
20:08
have drop of oil
20:09
we don’t have natural resources much but
20:12
we are the 11th largest economy in the
20:14
world after total devastations during
20:18
the war in 1950 that’s great isn’t it it
20:24
is it really is mm-hmm and that’s what
20:28
Korean War veterans actually contributed
20:30
to well I’m sure you right yeah so what
20:35
do you think we have to do our textbook
20:38
history textbook doesn’t tell much about
20:40
the Korean War they don’t tell anything
20:42
right they don’t tell anything what do
20:46
you think we have to do get politics out
20:51
of the school out of the classroom all
20:53
politics in the school so we have to
21:01
elect the right politicians or how do we
21:04
do that yet get the schools back under
21:09
control of the state get the federal
21:12
government oh yeah give the states the
21:17
money and let them take care of their
21:21
own education you know that you are
21:26
Korean War era veteran right yeah yeah
21:29
so are you proud of that oh yeah mm-hmm
21:33
so what do you think is the Korean War
21:35
legacy and the legacy of the Korean War
21:39
veterans you know nobody for years
21:43
talked about it and now I think they’re
21:47
starting to come out and talk about it
21:49
more what they did and what the people
21:53
over there what are the importance of it
21:59
you know in your opinion what are the
22:02
importance of the what Korean War that
22:06
turns dead well they stop the aggression
22:13
over there so that it didn’t come over
22:16
here the communism right yeah yeah
22:19
mm-hmm and gave the opportunity for
22:24
Korean people to rebuild their nation
22:26
yeah have you been back I mean have you
22:31
been to Korea I don’t know never so what
22:37
would you say to our young children’s
22:39
about your service in the military what
22:42
would you say I’d say that I had a good
22:45
time I was proud of what I did and if
22:49
you feel like you’d like to go into the
22:52
military I’d encourage it
22:55
trouble is you know now the way the
22:57
world is I’d hate to tell my grandkids
23:00
you know go for it doesn’t get over
23:03
there and get killed or something
23:04
because you don’t know yeah so
23:06
differently isn’t it it is yeah so
23:09
different from what your mom told you
23:11
yeah
23:12
right yeah how many grandchildren do you
23:15
have
23:15
Oh sector eight are they all gone oh I
23:20
got one it’s a fresh he’s a freshman
23:23
this year in high school and the rest of
23:26
them are all out of high school hmm
23:29
any of them in the military no no and
23:33
you’re not encouraging them to go you’re
23:35
one in the high school no no great
23:42
Shirley um any other episode or any
23:44
message to that you want to leave to
23:47
this interview all I really can’t think
23:49
of anything
23:50
hmm you’re pretty good at asking
23:53
questions I driving over here I thought
23:59
I don’t have anything to say it’ll be
24:02
about a five minute interview and you’ve
24:06
been here 30 minutes yeah I know that’s
24:09
great yeah
24:10
very nice talking to you and it’s my
24:13
great pleasure and honor to meet you as
24:16
of female Korean
24:18
or aryl veteran and thank you for
24:21
sharing your story with me well thank
24:24
you for doing this for for the veterans
24:27
thank you alright