CH (LT. COL.) USAF
Air Force Chaplain 5th AF
The devastation and poverty in
Korea is appalling even to those now accustomed to such sights. As one
watches suffering and death, nature creates a callousness to keep persons
rational and sane. That is the reaction to the sight of little helpless
children, orphans, who are crying from hunger and exposure. The American
airman is tough and hardened to scenes of devastation and hardship,
even death. But the upraised hand and pleading face of a small, naked
orphan will melt his heart.
Although hardship is universal in Korea, the sight
which met us as we reentered the Capital was appalling. Buildings leveled,
bombed, shelled, burned, and razed. In the rubble were families digging
with their fingers for pieces of charcoal, or perhaps a bit more valuable
materials-a dish or utensil which might be recovered.
Through the streets and in the lots and compounds
were the wailing of little children, babies, some even too weak to make
a loud sound. Their bodies bloated and emaciated from lack of food,
they were disease ridden and covered with vermin. A number were resigned
to death, had given up the right and now lay quietly waiting the end.
The natural reaction set in as the airmen of the 5th Air Force Hq picked
up the cutest ones of the most winning age(4-7). They took the waifs
to the billets washed, disinfected, fed, and clothed them. This loving
care brought an immediate response from the child. However, only a comparatively
small number could received such affection and care, and those who were
most in need couldn't be helped in this manner.
During the first few days in the medical arts building
members of Hq 5th Air Force brought in seven waifs, all found in the
compound and all on the threshold of death. The undersigned was Staff
Chaplain,5th Air Force in Korea. The problem of care was brought to
me and I arranged for a Korean Doctor. Lee Kyu Sum, and one nurse to
set up a small dispensary to provide immediate care. Soon, however,
this emergency measure grew beyond the facilities of an Air Force Hq
The Staff Chaplain contacted the late Col. T. H.
Whitney Bell, then Chief of Staff, 5th A.F.. It was decided to take
up a collection in the headquarters to assist a small independent orphanage
in Seoul. Into this orphanage we could then place the waifs and (mascots).
Also to be considered was the potential health hazard created by the
having diseased orphans in the airman's billet. The (mascots) where
taken to the orphanage. The contributions grew to $1,600.00 and the
orphanage was renovated to provide an adequate home for approximately
The effort was woefully insufficient to meet the
need. It was estimated that there were 6,000 homeless children on the
streets of Seoul in October 1950, about 4,000 of them legitimate orphans.
The balance were separated from parents or parent. Something should
be done. But the normal agencies for welfare were not yet in a position
to take care of the situation. The city government, having been dislocated,
almost bankrupt, with most of the city in ruins, was busy with hundreds
of problems. The outside relief agencies were not yet equipped, nor
supplied. The orphanages had been looted, burned, shelled, or otherwise
made unusable. The staffs were not available.
Consideration was given to the problem of the larger
group of unfortunate children. At this time Chaplain (Col.) Wallace
I. Wolverton came to Korea from Nagoya, Japan on TDY. After discussion,
he decided to attempt a coordinated effort to provide care for the orphans
of Seoul. After contacting Mayor Lee Kyu Bong and others, it was decided
to establish a Seoul Orphan's Center, at which the orphans were bathed,
were given medical treatment, food, clothing, and shelter. Later they
would be distributed by the city government to the various orphanages
as they were capable of receiving them. After numerous planning conferences,
the city of Seoul provided a large school building, fuel and rice. In
addition, laborers, laundresses, etc., were hired by the city. Other
organizations cooperating were the American Red Cross, Korea Red Cross,
YMCA, Catholic Missions, Protestant Missions, and the Chaplains, Fifth
Air Force. The Acting Staff Chaplain, EUSAK, later joined the advisory
group and materially assisted with provision of materials and transportation.
The Seoul Orphan's Center was immediately flooded
with children, over 250 the first week of operation. The 5th Air Force
Hq, Motor Pool dispatched a truck daily at dawn taking Korean social
workers around the city to pick up orphans sleeping in the street. A
maximum of 50 per day could be processed into the center. Clothing and
medicine were two of the biggest problems.
The undersigned returned on TDY to Nagoya, Japan
late in Oct. and almost immediately received an urgent call from Chap.
Wolverton for children's underwear and other items of clothing. Within
five days donations were procured from the bases of the 5th Air Force
in Japan, 998 suits of underwear were purchased and air-lifted to Seoul.
Later hundreds of overalls, dresses, stockings, etc., were purchased
with money donated by bases and commands of the Far East Air Forces.
A total of approximately $10,000 raised by FEAF Chaplains, Japan, Okinawa,
Philippines and Korea and funneled into the orphans project.
The children received all necessary care at the
Center. Many were growing healthy and some were ready to be placed in
newly repaired orphanages. At this time, December 1,1950, the undersigned
had returned to Korea to assume the duties as Air Chaplain 5th Air Force.
Almost immediately the intervention of the Chinese communists brought
grave danger to Seoul. I made overtures requesting an asylum on the
island of Kyushu, Japan for the orphans. This brought no satisfaction.
It was feared that a repetition of communist reprisals on Christians
and friends of U.N. would be especially severe on children assisted
and sponsored by the U.S. Air Force. After repeated attempts to evacuate
the orphans of both the 5th Air Force Orphanage and the Seoul Orphans
Center had failed, I arranged for the dispersal of the children and
workers with supplies, to various orphanages of the city. However, none
of the workers wanted to remain. Remembering their former experiences
under communist occupation everyone planned to leave the city.
The situation was discussed with Mayor Lee and Mr.
Bogart, UN Welfare adviser to the city of Seoul. We attempted to evacuate
the children but, if successful in getting them out of Seoul, where
would they be safe? Would not the Chinese hoards push all the way to
Pusan? There was much talk of the UN forces abandoning Korea. Yet no
asylum could be found elsewhere, outside Korea. One fact brought hope.
The North Korean communists did not severely mistreat the children unless
they had been associated with Christians and or the U. N. Forces. If
arrangements could be made to disperse the children in little groups
under non Christian leaders; give them provisions and equipment, maybe
they would be spared at this time. The HQ EUSAK and HQ 5th Air Force
were moving south. Action must be taken soon as the Chinese were crossing
the 38th parallel and coming fast.