Alfred M. Petrofsky
US Army, Corps of Engineers
Korean Military Advisory Group- 1st Lieutenant
Korean War (1952-1953)
Alfred M. Petrofsky, now more widely known by the nickname Pete, grew up in Middletown, Connecticut. His father was a construction contractor and his mother an at-home mom. Together they raised four children. Two were boys, Al and his older brother Raymond. During World War II (WWII), Ray joined the Army Air Corps and became a navigator flying B-24 bombers in the Pacific Island Jumping part of that war. Al Petrofsky was just too young for WWII service.
After graduating from high school, Petrofsky entered MIT and majored in Civil Engineering. At MIT, the ROTC program was mandatory for two years, four hours per week. Al volunteered to continue in the program another two years, and a summer camp session. On graduation in June 1950, he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Reserves, along with his Civil Engineering degree.
The Korean War broke out shortly after graduation. Petrofsky was called away from a job as an engineer for a major contractor and activated in September 1951. He was assigned to the 32nd Engineer Combat Battalion at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. Petrofsky was lucky to avoid the worst of the harsh Wisconsin winter by being sent to Engineer Company Officer School at Fort Belvoir, Virginia for three months. Later, one assignment was to help fight the great Missouri River flood of 1952. A scary hour occurred when the dike they were sand bagging was over-topped and his platoon had to flee over flooded roads. Soon thereafter, he was ordered to report to Far East Command in Korea.
On arrival in Korea in June 1952, a mix up in Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) numbers, and a shortage in Engineer officers, resulted in Petrofsky’s assignment to a Major’s position in the Korean Military Advisory Group (KMAG). He was to be the Advisor to the 1801st Engineer Service Group that was building a major compound in the Pusan area. (This base still serves today as Army Headquarters in the Pusan area.) Simultaneous with the major building efforts, the construction forces were also given unit training as the first four Construction Battalions in the rebuilding of the Korean Army. With this project well underway, he was called to KMAG Headquarters as an Assistant S-5 responsible for all rear area construction for the Korean Army.
Petrofsky’s last assignment was to initiate reconstruction of the Korean Military Academy that had been destroyed in the early days of war. Recently, he recovered some old memorabilia; original Eighth Army orders and a brochure related to rebuilding the Academy, and sent them to the Korean Army Director of Military History thinking they might find it of some interest to them. To his surprise, Petrofsky soon received a letter of thanks from the director and a set of ceremonial gold cups with the Republic of Korea Army (ROKA) seals on them. The director was very happy to receive original material from an era where few records remain.
In 2009, Petrofsky visited Korea for first time since 1953. He was thrilled to see how far the Republic has come. The two lane mud road to his old project is now a ten lane super highway, and rice fields replaced by twenty plus story apartments. He visited the world class military museum in Seoul. There, and elsewhere, older people came up to him and profusely thanked him for his war service. He commends the Korean people for their strong emphasis on education and hard work that has resulted in a strong nation today.
Petrofsky is proud to have served in the Korean War. He feels every citizen owes some type of service to his country. “In the military, it is much better to become an officer than an enlisted man,” noted Petrofsky. Therefore, he encourages young people to join ROTC or apply for OCS. Although Petrofsky thinks the Korean War was justified and worthwhile, he was saddened to have lost several friends to combat in that bloody conflict. Petrofsky emphasized, “Eisenhower was right to warn us that the military-industrial complex would lead us into many more wars.”
Interview by Natalie Cooper on October 27, 2011.