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Stars & Stripes and Pacific wire reports, April 2001

South Koreans Honor Retired Chaplain

By Jeromy Cross, Stars and Stripes

SEOUL- Russell Blaisdell's return to South Korea was part of an emotional journey.

It started 50 years ago, when he served as an Air Force chaplain during the Korean War. He found a capital city full of orphans. And he vowed not to let them die.

So, in December 1950, as communist forces bore down on Seoul, he went on a personal crusade to move some 1,000 orphans out of the city.

When the retired colonel returned to Seoul in January 2001, it was to meet with Whang On-soon, an old friend. She ran the orphanage that Blaisdell helped save.

But instead of a quiet meeting, the South Korean people welcomed him as a hero. The media ran accounts of his deeds. He received an invitation to the presidential mansion where first lady Lee Hee-ho thanked the 90-year-old for his wartime deeds.

One of the country's most prestigious universities presented him with an honorary doctorate degree in social welfare. The Korean Veterans Association hosted a banquet in his honor. And he met with Prime Minister Lee Han-dong.

The attention surprised the reluctant hero. "I had no options," he said of his wartime deeds. "I couldn't just sit by and watch. They were children in great danger and in great need."

When they met, the 102-year-old Whang hugged Blaisdell and told him, "You are our savior. We love you so much."

Blaidsell's effort, dubbed Operation Kiddy Car, spirited the orphans to Cheju Island, off the peninsula's southern coast.

Yun Young-hak, one of the orphans Blaisdell saved, remembered the journey.

"If he had not helped, we all would have been killed," Yun told Blaisdell. "We think of you as our father."

Blaisdell said seeing the children safe was all the thanks he needed. "I did what I had to do," he said.


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