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Air Force Chaplains 1947-1960, Volume II, Chapter XIV

"Humanitarian Services"

[p. 280] The serviceman's concern for the hungry, homeless, destitute, orphaned, and sick is one of the heart-warming chapters in modern military history. No sooner did Americans occupy an area during World War II than they began to befriend the needy. No sooner had the artillery been silenced and the bombs no longer dropped than they began to help those who but a short time before had been their enemies. A devil in combat, fun-loving in his free time, the serviceman was generous to the point of being a "sucker" for anyone in need.

[p. 286] The greatest example of this type of humanitarian service occurred in Korea. Chaplain Terence P. Finnegan in a staff visit to Korea, just 4 months after the outbreak of hostilities, reported:

"Many orphans in a starvation condition and with very inadequate clothing have been picked up by airmen in the streets of Seoul and nearby areas. These were brought to orphanages or to the Staff Chaplain's Office for disposition. To assist in their rehabilitation in the orphanages, the Chaplains (Lt. Col. Russell L. Blaisdell and Capt. James Nornille) at Headquarters Fifth in Korea issued a request for funds. The response was extraordinary and has extended to all the Air Force units in FEAF."

The "extraordinary" response was only the beginning. Hundreds of orphanages sprang up over Korea.

The movement of orphans by C-119 and other aircraft to Cheju-do, an island off the southern coast of Korea opposite Chinhae, was popularized in the book by Col. Dean Hess, Battle Cry, and the movie of the same title. In the movie there is no mention of a chaplain, but this is the report made by no less an observer than Lowell Thomas on the CBS network 6:45 p.m., 20 December 1950:

"Today the Air Force in Korea was carrying out what they called Operation Little Orphan Annie. In the Seoul area they are flying out a thousand children- waifs and strays of war. This host of orphans had been taken to the Port of Inchon to be taken away by a vessel of the South Korean Navy. But the ship failed to arrive so an airlift was organized-Operation Little Orphan Annie. The story goes back to a humane project which began when American airplanes first arrived in Seoul after the liberation of the city several months ago. U.S. pilots found a child half dead lying on the grounds of the Korean orphanage which had been abandoned in the fighting for the city. They picked him up and took care of that waif and then decided to get the orphanage going again and support it and they all came through with contributions and Korean war orphans were taken in by the score.

The Air Force plan was to expand the thing into a child welfare center for Seoul. But the fortunes of war took that unlucky turn and Seoul menaced by the Reds is being evacuated again. At the orphanage the children were moved out and taken to Inchon to await the Korean ship-the ship that never came. There they were marooned for three days- until their plight was discovered by Chaplain Blaisdell of Hayfield, Minnesota. He took fast action, the airlift was organized and began today-U.S. planes flying out a thousand children-Operation Little Orphan Annie."

The fact is that chaplains, including Russell Blaisdell, had been deeply concerned about orphans from the first, and they weren't the only ones.

Publicity from Operation Little Orphan Annie led to disagreement between the Army and the Air Force. The FEAF staff chaplain in 1951 reported:

"Inaccurate publicity on the air movement of orphans from Seoul to Cheju-do apparently had created the impression that Fifth Air Force had assumed full responsibility for this project. In a letter to FEAF, the Staff Chaplain of GHQ pointed out that Eighth Army was the supervisory agency for the distribution of United Nation's supplies through Korean agencies."

In order to straighten out the misunderstanding there was a meeting of Headquarters, FEAF, chaplains, the 8th Army's Civil Assistance Division, and 8th Army chaplains, and this meeting led to a second. The FEAF staff chaplain said that FEAF, especially Fifth Air Force, was happy to assist, but the maintenance of orphans was not its function. The Civil Assistance Division stated that they assumed full responsibility and "that a Civil Assistance team assigned permanently to Cheju-do would see to the needs of the orphans." The incident illustrated the interest military agencies had in the welfare of the orphaned and focused national attention on this tragic eddy of war.

The problem was too great for a standardized approach. Thousands of refugees flooded through the battle lines and surged like a wave of misery toward the south. Children of all ages, cut off from parents and relatives, formed into gangs for mutual help, begging and stealing. Mothers unable to feed their children abandoned them at sentry Posts. Boys and girls lived in ditches, caves, the streets of cities in unbelievable poverty. Many had shrapnel in their bodies. All had diseases and parasites. The American serviceman, faced with this tragedy of war, could not wait for official channels and agencies which were already strained to the breaking point. Unit after unit in Korea sponsored orphanages, gathering up children, getting Koreans to run them, providing clothing, food, and supplies. In order to qualify for any rice ration from UNCACK, an orphanage had to have 50 children, and there were other desperate needs. The serviceman responded through his own resources and through letters to parents and home churches.

The casual way in which many orphanages were organized can be seen in the following incident. In June 1951 a North Korean refugee came to K-6 Air Base near Osan seeking a tent for the Onyang Presbyterian Church whose building had been completely demolished. He told of numerous children who were without shelter, food, and clothing. A tent was furnished, and airmen gathered food and clothing for the children. They wrote their parents and home churches. Men of Anderson AFB on Guam and Tachikawa and Johnson in Japan contributed. In less than a year, the orphanage occupied two large brick buildings with classrooms and was named the "Onyang Brenner Orphanage," in honor of Chaplain Arthur E. K. Brenner, who headed the project. This orphanage still housed 120 children in 1960 and was licensed as a school.

Support of orphanages, including the above, passed from unit to unit, chaplain to chaplain. When Chaplain Willis M. Lewis' unit took over the New Hope Orphanage in 1951 there were 125 children in it. Within I year there were 400, and the unit had contributed $3,000 to $4,000 for their support in addition to clothing and other supplies. The 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing in 1952-53, with the advice and cooperation of UNCACK, contributed monthly support to 5 orphanages in Masan, Chinhae, and Wonju, each with numbers ranging from 78 to 356 children. When the unit moved to K- 55 at Osan, it assumed support for two other orphanages. At one time 406 pairs of shoes were purchased for children who had none. In addition, some medical assistance was provided and part of construction costs were paid for the largest orphanage, So-jan-Ri, 6 miles from Wonju. Chaplains at K-16 in 1953 contributed to the support of 1,020 orphans in the Seoul area. In December 1956-"the chaplains at K-55 purchased 485 suits of underwear for orphans in the vicinity of Osan and distributed surplus cereal, crackers, powdered milk, and used clothing. In 1958 airmen at Kunsan AB rebuilt the Methodist Orphanage which had been destroyed by fire."

The extent of this program and an inherent problem can be seen in the following report by FEAF Staff Chaplain Glenn Witherspoon in 1953:

"Between 1 July 1952 and 1 May 1953, Air Force personnel contributed $177,350 to chaplain sponsored projects, designed to establish and maintain Japanese and Korean orphanages. In addition, donations of clothing, food and other essentials nearly double that figure.

When orphanages first became a project, adequate housing was the main problem, but once this was solved more permanent buildings became necessary. The current goal is to make orphanages self-supporting.

To achieve this end, agricultural projects were instituted and children taught how to plant and raise food and to care for cattle, livestock and poultry." ...

The problem was how orphans would survive once the serviceman left. Self-support was one answer. In July 1956, the 502nd Tactical Control Group presented the Ae Haeng Orphanage a sum of $60 and a rice field that had cost $500. FEAF Base Command took steps to make the Myong Jin Orphanage in Korea self-supporting through establishment of a business including a bathhouse, beauty shop, and barbershop.

When Chaplain James Patterson arrived as Fifth Air Force Staff Chaplain, he became concerned over the administration of orphanages into which servicemen were pouring thousands of dollars. Investigations disclosed that some unscrupulous Korean racketeers were running spurious orphan projects to prey on sympathies of generous servicemen. Some of these hired children for a small pittance to play in the orphanage and its yard each day and pose as hungry, needy orphans. Others sold CARE packages, blankets, clothing, medicine, food, and toys on the black market. At one orphanage, the chaplain found almost naked children in severe winter weather, but a storeroom filled with clothing. Some chaplains who thought they were the main support of an orphanage were surprised to find that chaplains of other units--Army, Marine, and Air Force -- claimed the same distinction. Chaplain Patterson urged each chaplain to coordinate his efforts with UNCACK. In 1957 Dr. Russell T. Loesch, after a visit to the Far East, reported:

"One of the things the commanders in the Korean theater should be commended for is the setting up of a central agency to screen the multitudes of orphanage and agency appeals. There has been a considerable amount of racketeering going on and a great deal of misguided giving of moneys without checking on the actual use of the money and materials. . . . The central agency is carefully screening those that are doing a good job and this venture should be sustained among the servicemen."

While it is true that the serviceman's generosity was at times misused, his help meant the difference between life and death for thousands of Korean children. One of the big problems unresolved in 1960, was whether this support could be absorbed by Korean, missionary, and benevolent agencies.

Another effect of this humanitarian activity was that it bolstered morale of servicemen. Chaplain Carpenter described a party for orphans he attended on Easter Sunday 1951, a party in which the children sang several songs. He said:

"The first number they did was "Old Black Joe." If you recall the lines of the last stanza, the words go, "I hear their gentle voices calling 'Old Black Joe'." The youngsters didn't sing it that way. They sang it, "I hear their gentle voices calling 'GI Joe'."

Somehow, it didn't sound unusual. These kids knew nothing of "Old Black Joe". . . .

But GI Joe, that was different. They knew GI Joe. He was an American soldier who'd come in through the beleaguered port of Pusan and fought his way north, pushing back the Communist invaders who'd slaughtered their parents. This GI Joe was the fellow who moved into a town with his tanks, his rifles, and his grenades, and dislodged the enemy. While he was doing it, he would spy some frightened, little tyke, all alone, cowering in a corner or hiding in a barrel. He'd pause long enough to take the child in his arms, pet her a bit and give her a bar of chocolate. Then he'd hunt up a chaplain, slip him a few bills, and say, "Chappie, you take care of this child, and when I get a chance, I'll see that you get some money."

He wouldn't forget. He'd shove on but he'd keep sending back money to care for the child.

On this basis, orphanages had sprung up all over Korea. Through GI generosity, tens of thousands of war-made orphans, from whose lives love and security had vanished, found new homes and new affection.

The Korean kids ended their program that Easter Sunday with a song for the country from which their friend, GI Joe, had come--"God Bless America."

An airman who had helped a child to live could say, "At least I have done this much good."

Dr. Daniel A. Poling, editor of Christian Herald and president of the World's Christian Endeavor Union, praised the generosity of the American servicemen on his return from a 1955 4-week globe-circling trip. He said, "From his pay, the young American in uniform in all the services has contributed not less than $84 million to feed, clothe, and house the orphans of Korea, Japan, Germany, and the (Pacific) islands. Today more than 50,000 of these children and babies are in Korea alone."

The concern of the servicemen for orphans and needy children, as well as for war widows and the aged, is a heartening story.



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