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Pacific Stars and Stripes, December 24, 1952

St. Nick Visits Cheju-do Waifs
Combat Cargo Hauls Gifts,

$1600 Donated by JADF to Cheju-do Orphans

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 island.

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 Itazuke.

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 was imperative.
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 in English.

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 flawless.

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 always present.

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.



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