Pacific Stars and Stripes, December
By Larry O'Toole
The 315th Air Division
(Combat Cargo) Thursday joined forces with the Japan Air Defense Force
(JADF) to play Santa Claus to some 1600 orphans on Cheju-do Island.
SHORTLY BEFORE 9:30 a.m. a C-54 Skymaster
of the airlift organization, piloted by Col. Cecil H. Childre, vice
commander of Combat Cargo, settled on the broad turf area of the small
island 30 miles south of Seoul. The big plane, which carried 13 passengers,
including Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Russell L. Blaisdell (about whom more
later), was laden with toys for orphans in the 14 orphanages on the
The gifts, along with which went $1600
in cash, had been contributed by personnel at bases JADF-wide. Known
as "Operation Giftlift," the drive was started on a suggestion
made by Miss Peggy Harris, JADF service clubs advisor. It was given
impetus by JADF service club directors at Misawa, Yokota, Johnson and
THE DIRECTORS ARE, Miss Phyllis Grundmann,
Emma Lou Ban Densen, Gladys Martin and Marge Binder, all of whom made
the "Giftlift" flight from Japan to distribute the presents.
Biggest orphanage on the island is known
as the Orphans' Home of Korea. A rambling frame structure, its immaculate
interior combines office, hospital, dispensary and class rooms. Here
the more than 700 charges for which it cares are trained in the arts
and domestic crafts and are taught voice and music by the staff of 72
instructors retained by the orphanage.
THE ORPHANS' HOME is directed by Mrs.
On Soon Whang, a graduate of Ewba Women's University of Seoul, who took
over the directorship in March, 1951.
A review of the circumstances under
which the Orphans' Home was founded two years ago will show why it was
fitting that Combat Cargo and JADF adopt the role of Santa.
WHEN THE RED MENACE to Seoul became
grave in December, 1950, Chaplain Blaisdell, now air chaplain for JADF,
was Fifth Air Force chaplain in the beleaguered South Korean capital.
A foundling processing center he had started earlier in the war-torn
city sheltered nearly 1,000 waifs, and their evacuation to safer territory
The humanitarian contacted ROK Air Force authorities and made arrangements
to have the children and their Korean nurses evacuated to Cheju-do by
a Korean LST vessel scheduled to haul a consignment of cement and lumber
to the island.
AT THE PORT CITY of Ichon Chaplain Blaisdell
and the children and their nurses were crowded into a room 40 feet by
70. They waited four and a half days for the LST which never arrived.
Meanwhile, seven of the ailing children died.
In desperation, the chaplain returned to Seoul and explained the situation
to Col. (now Brig.
Gen.) T.C. Rogers, then assistant director of operations for Fifth Air
Force. Colonel Rogers contacted Combat Cargo. Soon 16 C-54 Skymasters
of the old 61st TCFp., commanded by Col. Frank Norwood, were dispatched
from Japan to Seoul.
CHAPLAIN BLAISDELL returned to Inchon,
commandeered 11 trucks he couldn't get through normal channels, loaded
his tiny charges, and proceeded to Seoul. Upon arrival at the airstrip,
he found the Combat Cargo planes waiting.
Nurses of the 801st Medical Air Evacuation
Sq. helped load the tiny waifs aboard the planes.
Most of the foundlings were under five. The oldest was 14. More than
100 of them were suffering from infectious diseases and hundreds more
were victims of extreme malnutrition. This was the start of what newspapermen
later labeled the "Christmas Kidlift." SOON THE FIRST Skymaster
nosed skyward with its frail cargo of 77 orphans. Also, aboard were
Chaplain Blaisdell and Col. Childre, then commander of Combat Cargo
operations in Korea.
When the plane landed at Cheju-do the
children were loaded on waiting trucks which bore them to their new
home, a dilapidated building in a state of sorry disrepair that gave
little promise of becoming the attractive place it is today.
More planes landed; more trucks lumbered toward the Home, and so on
until the "Christmas Kidlift" ended.
BUT THE STORY DIDN'T end there. Due
to continuous contributions, sparked chiefly by Chaplain Blaisdell,
the Orphans' Home improved steadily. Meanwhile, with the Reds driven
from Seoul once more, some of the orphans' parents claimed their own.
For those who witnessed the orphans'
plight during the exodus from Seoul, the change they noted during the
recent visit to the Home was astonishing. More amazing still were the
diverse talents the now healthy youngsters demonstrated.
In the group led on a tour of the premises
by Mrs. Whang were Col. Childre; Chaplain Blaisdell; Miss Harris; Chaplain
(1st Lt.) Howard Singer, deputy air chaplain for JADF; M/Sgt. Grady
Hawkins, NCOIC of the 1st Comm. Sq. and S/Sgt. Elmer W. Wheeler, motor
sergeant for a motor vehicle sq., both of Nagoya.
IN ONE ROOM, TO the music of an organ,
a group of tots did several Korean dance routines. Then five year old
Sung Soon stepped forward and in a clear, sweet voice sang Silent Night
Mrs. Whang led her guests to another
room. Here in a large circle, several other orphans were knitting socks
and sweaters. None of them was over nine, yet their workmanship was
IN STILL ANOTHER room some 21 youngsters,
heavily blanketed, were abed with colds.
This was the improvised hospital the
Home maintains for the orphans whose illnesses are not serious. Adjoining
it is a well stocked dispensary in which a nurse and a pharmacist are
A 21 piece band, comprised solely of
orphans, entertained the visitors for over half an hour with march and
concert music. The program was heightened by four small drum majorettes
who paraded smartly about the room, swinging, tossing and catching their
batons in unison with the celerity of veteran drum majors.
IN ANOTHER WING of the building other
orphans were painting Christmas cards which they themselves had designed,
while still others were fashioning envelopes. Learning of the Orphans'
Home in Hong Kong, the Rev. V.J.R. Mills, general secretary for the
Christmas Children's Fund of Richmond, Va., visited the Home in April,
1951. He went away favorably impressed.
Before long the Home was receiving $400
monthly from the benevolent organization. The Reverend revisited the
Home last September. Before leaving he promised Mrs. Whang that the
Home's allotment would be increased in January.
The day ended with a smart drill exercise
by the Home's Boy Scout troop. Afterward, Col. Childre, accompanied
by Chaplain Blaisdell and Mrs. Whang, inspected the rigid troopers.
THEN THE PARTY SAID reluctant goodbyes
climbed into jeeps and headed plane ward.
The last thing a reporter noticed on
Cheju-do were the grim compounds which hold the Red POWs.
The "Giftlift" plane had not
handled any freight for this hostelry.