By Richard Gwynallen
Worth Bagley Allen, Jr.
1928 – 1968
Relationship to Fawn: Grandfather
This is one of two stories I wrote on Veteran’s Day, the 11th of November, thinking it would be appropriate to add a couple of stories on Veteran’s Day about the military service of family members. However, I had a problem with the hard drive they were stored on and am only now posting them. There are, of course, other family members who performed military service, but this is one such family story involving my Dad.
Our family was stationed in San Francisco when my father received orders assigning him to Korea in 1968. At that time, service members had to do one, one-year tour of duty in a place they could not take their family. In those years, that would have been Vietnam or Korea; the Army’s choice. I selected this story in my father’s career because it is one of the few for which we have documentation and it typified his life in the Military Intelligence.
His last field orders show his rank as Chief Warrant Officer – 2 (CW2) and assigned “to be advisor to Tae Song Dong.” Daeseong-dong or Tae Sung Dong 대성동 (“Freedom Village”) is a town in South Korea close to the North Korean border. It lies within the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
My father’s rank at his death in October 1968 was Master Sergeant. The Army changed agents’ ranks when their skill set was needed but the position demanded a different rank. We spent three years in Japan when he never wore a uniform and operated as a civilian working for the Army.
An interesting aspect of the orders is that they are dated 14 May 1967 showing his assignment starting 14 May 1968. In May 1967 we were living on the Presidio in San Francisco, and, according to my mother, we knew nothing of new orders for Korea until much later and he was already in Korea in February 1968. Were the orders simply dated wrong? Were they deliberately dated incorrectly to give his rank more of an appearance of legitimacy?
The picture below shows my father as unit chief with his team on a boat. On the back he wrote “SAIC Meeting, Pusan, Jun 68.” Pusan, also spelled Busan, is a port city and the capital of South Gyeongsang province (do) in South Korea, located at the southeast tip of the Korean peninsula and at the mouth of the Naktong River.
My dad seems to be studying something, but the others simply seem to be enjoying the moment as comrades on assignment.
Decades later following my mother’s death I was going through boxes of letters that she had saved and discovered one my father had received in San Francisco from a former colleague. It was brief and simply written by hand on the small notepad stationary many people wrote personal letters on back then. The fellow was a retired Major. (I know this because those guys had the habit of writing in parentheses “ret.” and their rank, even on personal letters.) His letter was letting my father know his new address and what he was doing. They had apparently known each other in Japan. Back then many people coupled personal letters with some business. After all, there was no internet for quick communication if you lived far apart, and long distance calls cost enough most people were careful about how many they made and how long the calls were. He indicated that the company he worked for now was considering buying some Japanese surveillance equipment, and he wanted to know my father’s opinions of the state of Japanese surveillance technology. I never had any idea my father had surveillance expertise, so this was a new piece of my father’s life for me. I was never more glad that my mother held on to so much.
Even more years after the discovery of that letter, another circumstance connected to my father’s life surfaced.
A fellow named George in a Talmud class I attend told me that he was in the Army when my father was and was also in Military Intelligence. He was stationed at Ft. Holabird in Baltimore, Maryland while we were stationed 3,000 miles away in San Francisco. His unit had received orders that would send them to Korea. They were very happy to have not drawn the Vietnam card. One day they came into their office and saw posted that their orders were being changed and they were headed to Vietnam. They were told that the Army needed to move a unit to Korea quickly with special skills. That unit seemed to include my father. By late 1967 North Koreans was developing a full-scale insurgency in the South with strongholds. Then, on 23 January 1968 North Korean patrol boats captured the USS Pueblo. These were the circumstances that dictated a unit be moved in quickly and which sent my father to Korea.
He earned the Commendation Medal and Oak Leaf Cluster, which is awarded for sustained acts of heroism or meritorious work. We do not know the exact work that led to the award.
One final note about my father in that last year of his life. Except for the timing it may not exactly fit this story. It is more something reflects on my father’s character, but I can’t think of another place to put it. My father’s cancer was detected when he was in Korea and it was an extremely fast moving cancer. It was preceded by a chronic, hard cough. After he was shipped home, my father told my mother that a corporeal working under his command once told him after a coughing fit, “I hope I’m not out of place, sir, but you should get that cough looked at it. Everyone here will cover things.” My mother said she asked my father what he said in reply. He said, “You’re fine, Corporeal. Kindness is never out of place.” I, of course, never heard him say it, but that has stayed with me as so characteristic of my father as a person.