Dean E. Hess,
following material is excerpted from the book Battle Hymn by
Dean E. Hess, Colonel, USAF. The book was first published in 1956
and subsequently made into a movie. The book is about the life
of Dean E. Hess as an ordained minister and as a fighter pilot who became
one of the most highly decorated airmen in the Korean War. His
story of the plight of the war child and the means whereby the armed
forces personnel helped the children is a great source of information
on the humanitarian aid the American armed forces rendered the children
of Korea during the war.
Col. Hess wrote that he wanted to create
a memorial on the site of the orphanage he founded on Cheju Island inscribed
-1950-Orphan's Home of Korea
Dedicated to the Memory of Those Whom
We Could Not Save
Today, fifty years later, the organizers
of the Korean War Children's Memorial in Bellingham, Washington dedicate
this web site "To Those We Could Not Save".
What came to be known by the somewhat precious
name of "Operation Kiddy Car" was born of the plight of the
children wandering homeless among us. Like other combat units, we had
to befriend those who came by. Misery resulting from the Communist
onslaught touched upon millions all along the peninsula, but upon the
little ones most harshly. Everywhere men were trying to give them succor,
and this brought more. As with us at Taejong and at Seoul and at Pyongyang,
they had swarmed around every encampment, until a concerted effort had
been necessary to move them to a central orphanage in Seoul.
By voluntary contributions of money and
by scrounging sup- plies, we managed to keep the pack who overran our
field in a degree of health or at least alive, continuing to send a
steady stream of them along to the orphanage at Seoul. We would come
back from our daily missions to find their numbers increased like the
Lord's loaves and fishes. But what we were able to do for them was obviously
only a stopgap; something in larger measure must be undertaken if there
was to be a future generation of Koreans. We hoped to win this war;
but what good is winning a war if you lose the children?
Then Seoul began to fall. A friend showed
up with alarming news. Lt. Col. Russell Blaisdell, an Air Force chaplain,
informed me that we should not send any more children to the central
orphanage. It was being abandoned because no facilities were available
for evacuating the children if the city again fell to the Communists.
The kids were to be given the few CARE, packages remaining, and a handful
of faithful Korean women had promised to stay with them. But once the
city fell, the doors of the orphanage would probably be opened and the
children pushed into the streets to fend for themselves.
It seemed such a cruel prospect-for the
hundreds of little girls and boys in the orphanage, for the loose mobs
of children already roaming the streets, for all those strays like the
ones we were looking after here.
Sitting there in depressed silence with
Russ, I suddenly thought of Cheju. We had been flying the families of
our Korean officers and airmen out there to live. Bleak though the island
was, it could make a safe haven for these lost children. There was an
old agricultural school out there with only a few students. A run-down
building to be sure, but far away and safe from the Communists. It was
a wild idea-but this was the moment for wild ideas. There was no time
to clear it with Fifth Air Force headquarters, the United Nations Civil
Affairs Commission, or anyone else; it was now or never for these kids.
The emerging plan filled me with an almost
unbearable excitement and impatience to put it into operation. I told
Russ that I would try to get an LST from the Korean navy. Would he go
back to Seoul to procure trucks to transport the kids to Intone, the
port of Seoul? I explained that from there we could ferry them out to
Cheek, where in the meantime I would make arrangements for our detachment
to receive them. At first amazed, Russ quickly caught fire from the
plan, sketchy as it was. He knew a United Nations civil-affairs representative
who he thought could obtain the trucks. While he hastened back to Seoul
to work on the trucks, I started pulling strings to get the LST, at
the same time sending Craigwell flying down to Cheju to secure the old
agricultural school for the orphans and round up native volunteers to
Meanwhile Seoul was falling all around us.
The roads and rails leading south were jammed with refugees, troops,
and military vehicles. The Fifth Air Force headquarters was moving out,
as was the Eighth Army headquarters. Syngman Rhee, determined and courageous
to the last, had finally been persuaded that his government must once
again abandon the capital city. Front-line United Nations troops were
even now staging a holding operation on the north edge of town.
After dozens of phone calls and radio messages
I secured the promise of an LST. Blaisdell picked up the children at
the orphanage and took them in trucks to the docks. For hours a thousand
shivering children waited in the freezing cold, but the LST I had been
promised did not appear. It was so cold and these thinly clad children
were so weak already that seven of them either died right there on the
docks or shortly thereafter. Then word came that the LST had been commandeered
to evacuate the hard-pressed Marines from the Hungnam Reservoir area.
It was awful news. Everything was in readiness at Cheju, and now the
gate to safety for a thousand pitiful orphans was banging shut.
Our only choice was to start flying them
over in our own C-47. We might take fifty or sixty a trip--the sick,
crippled, and smallest first. Looking at their exhausted but hopeful
faces, Blaisdell found it almost unbearable to tell them they must walk
10 miles back toward Seoul to the airfield at Kimpo and the bombardment
dangers there. Even then lack of time would make it impossible to fly
all of them out. It would take over twenty trips. Only a portion could
reach the island before the Red attack overran Seoul and swallowed up
the rest. The larger or more ambulatory would have to walk on south
of the Seoul area toward another airstrip where we might pick them up
later, if they were still alive. The chances of this were slight, though,
once they were pushed back on the road again.
In desperation I set about getting more
planes. I laid siege to Fifth Air Force headquarters. I made telephone
contact with General Kim in Taegu. We readied our own C-47 to fly as
many out as possible if worst came to worst. Coming back from a mission
south of Seoul on which we flew cover for our retreating forces, I dropped
into the Kimpo airport to try to corral some planes with my own two
hands and my wagging tongue. Meanwhile Craigwell was reporting back
from Cheju that the island was ready and waiting for the little refugees,
and Chaplain Blaisdell was camping at Fifth Air Force headquarters,
adding his powerful persuasion.
And still we had no planes, and the Communists
were entering the northern sectors of the city.
The orphans made it to the airport at Kimpo
by foot and in trucks, now colder, sicker, and more tired and bewildered
than ever. Behind this mass of children, huddled together for warmth
and security, the field was a fever of activity. Radios, generators,
and other pieces of military equipment were being loaded into C-46s.
On the edge of the field, drums of gas and oil were being burned to
prevent their falling into Communist hands, spreading a pall of smoke
over the whole field.
The answer to our prayers came like a miracle.
A flight of fifteen C-54s from the Fifth Air Force appeared in the sky
over the Kimpo airport and circled for a landing. The electric thrill
that shot through those watching from the field, the emotions that welled
up, would be impossible to describe. Out clambered flight nurses and
doctors with ample supplies of blankets and medicines. General Partridge,
though weighed down by the enormous responsibilities of his command
at this turbulent moment, had sent all available cargo aircraft for
an evacuation of the whole group!
These C-54s had doors far above the ground,
so the children were loaded into trucks, which were then backed up to
the high plane doors and the little ones herded inside. In all my life
I shall experience no greater thrill of gratitude or relief than when
I saw the last ragged little figure disappear inside the last plane-
our own C-47.
Then I climbed back into my F?-51 and with
a light heart flew south for the day's work.
Every other day, or as often as weather
and missions permitted, I would find time to fly over to the island,
ostensibly to check on progress at our training field. Craigwell and
Capt. George Metcalfe, an excellent pilot who had been sent us, knew
that I had no doubts about their ability to handle the new classes of
students. I would spend a few minutes with them on organizational matters
and then hurry the mile over to the orphanage.
Its appearance never ceased to depress
me. Since having been abandoned as a school, the building had fallen
into neglect. A one-story frame structure on a mud and stone flat, it
was drearily weathered. Many of its windows had been broken and patched
with bits of tin or cardboard. At first we had nothing with which to
make repairs, so it had to retain its dismal aspect. But at least it
was a shelter for our charges.
Dr. Kay Won came over to minister to the
children until a civilian doctor could be secured. He worked day and
night, trying with scanty facilities and medicines to treat wounds and
diseases of many kinds. Most of his small patients were in a half-starved
state that left them a pitiful margin of resistance.
I made collections from my unit and from
anyone else I met and bought a load of supplies. These were to be handled
and distributed by two Korean welfare workers who had been given administrative
responsibility for the project. But through Sergeant Hong, one of the
Korean airmen, I learned that this precious pair were literally taking
candy from babies. Many items of foodstuff which could only have come
from the small larder at the orphanage were showing up on the market
in Cheju. The two Korean administrators were promptly booted out.
Clearly an able and sympathetic person
was needed to take charge. Madame Rhee, whose intense interest in the
orphanage grew daily, suggested an old friend of hers, Mrs. On Soon
Whang, who had been studying social-welfare procedures in England. She
proved to be a wonderful choice. From a wealthy, educated family, she
had returned to Korea to find her home leveled and her son gone--apparently
killed by the Reds. She gave our orphans the mothering and the warm
love which they had been so sadly lacking. She was a woman in her early
fifties whose lovely face reflected her strong, patient character and
From the first she threw herself into
the work with whole-souled intensity. She had to. A number of the children
were extremely ill; most were suffering from malnutrition; many were
wounded. The luckiest suffered only from skin diseases and colds. The
list of requirements just to keep them alive was staggering-- food,
clothing, medicine, equipment of all kinds.
The evacuation from Seoul had received
much space in the local Stars and Stripes, as well as some coverage
in stateside papers. People at home began to send small amounts of money,
and around seven hundred dollars was contributed within a few weeks.
Yet it was a drop in the bucket compared with our actual needs, and
my own organization tried to make up the deficit. My tough Samaritans
gave every cent they could. But without official backing or continued
assistance from some central organization, the threat persisted that
the children had exchanged starvation in Seoul for the same on Cheju
Then an epidemic of whooping cough broke
out. Mrs. Whang was deeply distressed because she had no money to buy
serum and vaccine. In the United States whooping cough is a light childhood
ailment; in Korea it is deadly. Little children would contract it and
slowly, violently, cough themselves into unconsciousness and finally
die. In some cases I could not help but think that death was merciful,
because some of the children had been so inadequately treated that they
would never have regained their normal faculties.
It seemed to bother some people that Mrs.
Whang was a Buddhist. It certainly didn't bother me. She had a goodness
which transcended any particular sect or religious faith. "The
main thing right now is to get these kids healthy," I told a chaplain
who asked why I hadn't selected a Christian supervisor. "We can
worry about their souls later." While Christians in South Korea
equal or outnumber Buddhists, to attempt a change in belief in any of
these tykes at their age and in their condition might have resulted
in terrific emotional upheavals. The sense of security we wanted to
give them would not have been accomplished by changing their faith.
When Christ said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me,"
He meant all children.
Needless to say, Mrs. Whang made no distinction
between the Christian and Buddhist children. All received the same love
and care; there was no attempt at proselytizing for either faith. My
men continued to contribute generously articles they could obtain at
the PX and donations they could extract from other outfits. They gave
all the money they could spare and made it my responsibility at least
to match that amount. I had already given what I had, so the $600 they
now added was their donation alone. Craigwell took it to Japan in Our
C-47, where he and Dr. Kay Won obtained sufficient medicines to stem
the epidemic. Other valuable supplies came through the chaplain's office
at Fifth Air Force headquarters, but nothing was forthcoming immediately
from the United Nations; they just didn't have anything to give.
In order to get heat Mrs. Whang got some
old gasoline drums, knocked part of one end out, and put a stovepipe
in the other. In them, horizontally propped above the floor, firewood
could be burned. But wood was scarce on the island, so one of the first
"contributions" my outfit made was a number of stoves and
a little oil. I never asked where they got them.
Naturally fresh water was also in poor
supply. What there was had to be made from sea water. This was done
at a distillery which manufactured commercial alcohol from the local
millet crop. It was a mile from the orphanage -- a long way for children
to have to haul all the water needed for drinking and bathing. They
could only carry small amounts, and the walk alone was overtaxing to
many in their weakened condition.
We solved that problem with an old weapons
carrier. It had been abandoned by another American organization, and
we had put it back together again. Even in its wretched shape, though,
we had to account for it, so we submitted a "survey" report.
With straight faces and good consciences, we reported that, parked on
the dock to unload a small vessel, the vehicle's brakes had let go and
it had run off the end of the dock and submerged in 50 feet of water.
Not a very likely story, but no one was about to go to the trouble of
A small boy learned to operate it, and
the kids used the old machine for two years. When at last the engine
wouldn't run, they pulled it with a rope-childpower-over to the distillery
and then back with a load of water.
Other conditions in the orphanage were
as bad. There was very little to eat. Mrs. Whang filled them up as best
she could with rice soup (rice and hot water) three times a day, with
occasionally a "treat" of powdered milk or powdered eggs which
we flew over. Because of the war the usual charity channels were disrupted,
and others had their foul-ups. On one visit Mrs. Whang showed
me the food shipment she had received for the month from the UN. It
was obviously a mistake: six bags of rock salt.
Within the first three months two hundred
of the children died for lack of proper diet and medical facilities,
many of them from whooping cough. They were buried in a flat, unenclosed
plot adjacent to the Cheju cemetery-two hundred little mounds without
stones or markers of any kind, the final resting-place of children without
parents, without homes, almost without identity of any kind. Some day
perhaps we'll build a monument there; and if I have my way, the stone
will be simply inscribed:
Orphan's Home of Korea
Dedicated to the Memory of
Those Whom We Could Not Save
In most cases death was merciful. One tiny thing three
or four years old had so suffered from malnutrition that he was about
the size of a newborn baby. He had returned to the prenatal state: with
his knees highly inclined, he rested with his head thrust forward on
them like an embryonic child. He finally caught the whooping cough.
The other children would take care of him when he would start coughing,
though they had not the strength to move. Though many were as wracked
as he, they would prop him up until the spasm was over. Then they would
lay him down gently on his side and cover him up.
I was holding him when he finally
coughed his last. The look of peace that came over his wizened little
face as life passed made me understand in an instant. Such a one as
he could hardly have sinned during his brief stay in the world. On the
contrary, the world had sinned, and sinned terribly, against him. Looking
at the suddenly peaceful face, I knew that Christ in His mercy had opened
the door of light and that the child had walked through into Heaven.
We were in constant touch with our dual project at
Cheju-the training program and the orphanage. Its coordinators at the
start were Metcalf and Craigwell. With a dozen enlisted men and some
Korean officers, they were conducting a ground school and landing practice
for new cadets. When sufficiently checked out to be able to handle the
F?-51, these neophytes would join with us at Taejon, to be polished
up in and for combat.
Mrs. Whang's work with the children went more slowly.
It was handicapped, as it had been from the outset, by a lack of funds.
On one visit she took me to the sick-room dispensary. Here the ill children
were lying in rows on the floor, a single thin blanket under them and
one on top. She explained that she could cover several children with
one blanket. The image of rows and rows of little black heads sticking
out from under the worn blankets stayed with me for many months. By
the time spring came, the weaker ones had died off and the survivors
had grown stronger.
But Mrs. Whang worked wonders. She made the rice soup
suffice. She secured a sewing machine-one for a thousand children-and
worked constantly on their clothes. To teach them democracy, she set
up a system by which they elected an orphan mayor. She was ever conscious
of their schooling needs, reaching out in many directions for paper,
pencils, and scarce Korean schoolbooks. Under her urging they started
a newspaper, and one little boy developed into an accomplished comic-strip
artist, making the drawings with colored crayons and laboriously blocking
in the dialogue in pencil. All this, mind you, when they didn't have
bread to eat, shoes to wear, or fuel to burn.
I rarely had to ask for contributions from the men.
There was not one who did not have an abiding thoughtfulness and tenderness
for our little charges. They gave so much that I was frequently called
upon to write a letter back to a wife explaining that her husband was
not spending part of his pay on some Korean beauty but was helping to
keep a bunch of kids alive. In cases where I felt that this generosity
couldn't be afforded, I tried to check it. The reply of one hard-bitten
sergeant was typical: "Colonel, I only wish it was more!"
In the presence of so much death
their kindness emerged with a fierce determination to preserve new life.
They were an inspiration, and I wrote of them often to Mary, in part
to indicate what this whole experience was doing for me. Her response
was typical: she began bustling around Marietta for clothes, toys, and
food packages that dropped out of the sky on Cheju like manna from heaven.
George Metcalf's wife was doing the same in Wheaton, Illinois, and through
a lady friend of Hal Wilson's packages started arriving from the Colorado
Ladies of the Eastern Star.
At Taejon it became understood that, whenever there
was a promotion, into the kitty went the difference in the first month's
pay between the old salary and the new. Someone got hold of a Sears
catalogue, and a council pored over it for likely items. Knowing how
skimpy were bathing facilities on the island, they decided on camp-style
rubber bathtubs. After the tubs had been ordered and received, and before
they were sent on to Cheju, the purchasers heated water in pails and
tried them out "just to make sure they work." The sight of
grown men attempting to bathe in 2 inches of water in a collapsible
tub was something like seeing a hippopotamus in a fishpond.
Even the winnings in the outfit's poker games were
contributed to the orphans. While I never condoned gambling, I knew
that it was inevitable in an outfit like ours. I settled for keeping
the card games within limits which were principally sociable. After
one game the players sent an emissary with a handful of money "for
the orphans, sir." He explained that it was a percentage off the
table; the men had agreed among themselves that thereafter 10 per cent
of every pot would be levied. It helped.
Conditions were getting so crowded in the rickety building
housing the children that the only answer seemed to be expansion. I
tried my hand at outfoxing the quartermaster: I put in a requisition
for sixty sixteen-man squad tents, figuring we could return them when
facilities on the island were better developed. But someone caught on
that sixteen times sixty amounts to more men than were ever in the 6146th
Air Base Unit. The order was canceled-unquestionably with cause--and
the children had to stay crowded in the old school.
Their numbers continued to grow because of the enemy's
savage firing upon refugees. By driving them toward our lines, they
could be used for cover and confusion. More lost and bewildered children
came stumbling to us-singly, sometimes in a related pair, or in a band
guided by an older child. Daily we would see evidence that the maternal
instinct can be as strong in a tot as in a grown woman. We often saw
a little girl packing a younger brother or sister on her puny back while
urging on others with patient firmness. Many were on the way to a rendezvous
previously set by their parents in case of separation. Others whom we
could identify as orphans we picked up, gave food and medicine -eye
infections were particularly rampant now-and dispatched to Mrs. Whang
in our own C-47.
Hal Wilson, a single man who professed to dislike children,
became the butt of many a joke in regard to the orphans. Loving them
as much as the rest of us, he nevertheless would look upon them with
great uneasiness, almost as if they were creatures from some different
planet. Whenever we had a particularly small one in tow, we would plop
it in Hal's arms, tell him it was his turn at nursemaid, and then walk
away from his cries of consternation.
... In a burned-out hangar I noticed a steel water
tank about six feet square lying among the twisted girders and blackened
ruins. A flap of straw hung over an aperture in one end. Always aware
of the possibility that guerrillas might be secreted around the field
ready to snipe at night, some airmen and I approached the tank warily,
wondering if it could be a hide-out. A few feet away we could hear sounds
inside. A Korean called in his language for whoever was inside to come
out. The noises stopped. When no one obeyed, we tore off the flap, ready
to fire. Four little boys were huddled in a corner like frightened foxes
in a filthy den. Failing to convince them that we were friendly, we
Thinking that a female voice might prove more persuasive,
I sent our secretary and interpreter, Miss Lee, down to talk to the
children. She knelt by the tank and spoke in gentle, persuasive tones
to the children, but still they refused to leave their filthy refuge.
Some rations were set outside the tank; the next morning
they were gone. This was repeated every few hours. Standing back at
a distance, we watched the boys dart out, snatch the food and jump back
inside. We put some blankets by the hole; these they pulled in without
Finally Miss Lee made them realize that we meant them
no harm, and they came out. They were a pathetic sight. Rags hung on
their emaciated little bodies. In the foulest of conditions, they obviously
had not washed during the entire period of their containment in the
tank. The oldest was about ten years of age, and the youngest six. I
walked away, off by myself; I couldn't take it any more.
They had been living in that hole from the time the
United Nations forces had left until we had come back; they had been
in there when the B-26s had scattered bombs on the runway. To survive
during those hard winter months they had gnawed on the roots of weeds
and bushes that grew nearby. They had built fires along the edge of
the tank to warm it and keep from freezing at night. Mentally they seemed
to have reverted almost to an animal state, their eyes darting about
wildly, their movements the swift, convulsive starts of fear.
The oldest boy had an eye infection which had spread
down the side of his face. Dr. Kay gave him a shot of penicillin in
the customary place. The boy burst into protest, pointing to his cheek.
The interpreter explained that he was trying to tell us that be was
sick in his cheek and not in the tender part of his anatomy where the
doctor had stuck the needle. We kept them around camp for several days
until they were in fairly good health and then sent them down to Mrs.
Whang to add to her population at Cheju.
It was becoming increasingly evident that the orphanage
was going to need even greater assistance then we had originally thought
as the demands upon it grew. I didn't feel that I could ask the men
to contribute any more money than they already had. The Koreans, destitute
themselves, had nothing to give. A Korean colonel on flying status received
eight dollars a month. Several of my Korean officers' wives had sold
their possessions in Seoul, one item at a time, just to get enough money
to keep their families together.
On one of my flights to the island I had seen some
two hundred of the orphans playing outside, each wearing a pair of shoes.
I returned to the field with that small satisfaction anyway; the children
didn't have to go barefoot outside in the cold, rainy weather. Yet the
next time Craigwell and I discussed the orphanage's problem, he remarked
right away, "We've got to get those kids shoes."
Apparently I had seen every pair of shoes the orphanage
possessed on those two hundred children playing outdoors. In bad weather
they could go outside only in shifts, having only one pair of shoes
for every five or six children. They took turns wearing them. I passed
that story around the base, not asking for more blood from these turnips
but simply stating the facts. Three hundred dollars materialized from
nowhere, and Craigwell flew to Japan, returning with more than six hundred
pairs of shoes. He described it as "the happiest mission I ever
flew in my life."
Then some genius suggested a highly original and illegal
source of revenue. There was no drinkable liquor available in Korea
at anything short of stratospheric black-market prices. Some of the
men bad been made sick by drinking native whisky which was made in the
afternoon, aged overnight, and consumed the next morning. (One bottle
analyzed was found to contain a high content of uric acid; evidently
the original ingredients had been fermented with urine.) The idea was
simply to set up a club where we could sell decent drinks at a nominal
price, reminding the imbibers between drinks that profits went to the
orphanage and that, if they didn't pick up their change off the bar,
every penny would go to a good cause.
It seemed like a plan good enough to try anyway-not
larcenous and with double welfare aspects. The club would serve not
only the men on the field but front-line troops passing through. I went
to the men with it, making a final appeal for funds. I agreed to match
the amount that they advanced to get our pub started. It came to six
hundred dollars-enough to buy many cases of potables at the low rate
current in Japan. The next trip on which our C-47 was scheduled to return
from Tokyo empty we put the orphanage into business-that of running
It was an entirely irregular project that I would have
neither recommended nor permitted under normal circumstances, but the
situation on the island was far from normal. Our responsibility was
to keep those kids alive by whatever means were open to us.
With our stock on hand to start us going, the club
rapidly took shape. Korean workers made the counter, seats, and tables
out of rocket boxes. Still we had no place to house our bistro; tents
were in short supply, and no Quonset hut was available.
But we had a friend.
We had been receiving a number of supplies through
the port at Inchon. The port commander, a very agreeable brigadier general,
had been kind to us on a number of occasions, often making trucks available
to carry our supplies to camp. And he too had been having difficulty
with men drinking native beverages. Now, in gratitude for his favors,
I sent Mike Bellovin over to Inchon with a case of Scotch. The General
looked dubiously at the gift, asking what we wanted for it. Mike explained
innocently that there were no strings attached-it was just a token of
our esteem. The General remained suspicions, or at least interested.
A few days later he sent his adjutant to call on us with a manner of
I let it be known how badly we needed a Quonset hut
and explained why. I described the orphanage in great detail and the
amount of money my men were pouring into it. The adjutant left after
remarking noncommittally, but the following day trucks appeared bearing
the dismantled sections of a Quonset hut. These were unloaded without
a word of instruction or explanation, and the trucks drove away. The
General obviously was a man of heart.
The Korean carpenters, having recently finished building
our tent frames, went to work on the new Quonset. They not only assembled
but decorated it. In went the counter, tables, and chairs. A small,
wizened Korean civilian-not the bouncer type but a trustworthy and dedicated
individual-was put in charge of the liquor. He always kept an abacus
on the bar-not that he needed it much, for all our drinks sold for either
a nickel or a dime, and no man was allowed to buy enough to get intoxicated.
The choice of beverages was wide-not just Scotch or bourbon on the rocks
but, for the exotic palate, grasshoppers, alexanders, and Cherry Heering.
The front lines now were along the banks of the Han
River, not over five miles from the other side of Seoul. Infantry had
first priority in the club; they soon were coming in and out of the
place all during the evening. Each GI had to show justification for
being away from his unit. If his outfit had just pulled out of the line,
he received one drink free-"on the Quonset," as we said. Our
enlisted men had second priority, and then those from areas to the rear.
Though charging only a nickel for most drinks (we bought
it by the case at a dollar a bottle), we made money hand over fist.
Word of where the proceeds of the club were going spread fast. Many
of the men would put down a dollar in script or sometimes even ten for
one drink and say, "Keep the change for the kids." It was
the happiest bar that ever existed. Not only were those boys drinking
for the fun and relaxation of it; they were drinking for a cause.
There were two standing rules; no one was to get drunk,
and it was to be an enlisted man's place only; no officers were allowed.
(For the officers, so that they wouldn't brood or have hurt feelings,
I had a little shelf of bottles in my tent. They could have a drink
or two free of charge, as long as I was there with them.) The men maintained
the club rules rigidly. If any man imbibed a bit too much, they told
him to leave and not to come back that evening. As a consequence I never
at any time saw a sign of drunkenness. Another understanding was that
no neophyte unaccustomed to hard liquor was to be encouraged to take
a drink. For the younger boys there were fruit juice and soft drinks.
And the liquor drinkers were forcibly discouraged from making wise-guy
comments to the fruit-juice drinkers.
Aside from the money we were making for the orphanage-
by replenishing our stock we were able to send between five hundred
and a thousand dollars to Cheju every two or three weeks -there were
most satisfactory by-products. The number of man- hours available went
up considerably. With the men staying on the base at night and not drinking
the native rotgut, the general tone of health improved. The VD rate
of my organization as well as of others in the area went down amazingly.
All in all, I could take some justifiable pride in
being the biggest bootlegger in Korea.
My constant hope was that I might live long enough
to see the orphanage established on a secure basis. Mary, always in
my thoughts, could carry on for both of us at home if the worst happened.
If I met my end over here, at least our sons would be provided for until
grown. There was no such future apparent for the children now at Cheju
and for others who would join them there. They deserved so much more
than a steady diet of rice soup, a few ill-fitting, cast-off clothes,
and a battered dormitory for a home.
The fund-raising club was so illegal that I could not
expect my successor to sanction its continuance. To my own boys, who
had given so generously to keep these kids alive I could only say that
a man never stands so close to God as when he has a child by his side.
But some kind of steady support had to be provided for that pathetic
flotsam cast upon the shores of rocky Cheju Island if they were to have
any of the chances in life assured to my Alan and Larry. I don't remember
ever having prayed for cash-cold cash-before, but I did now. "Let
me see them given some means of sustenance," my plea tolled incessantly
through my mind. It still does.
In his Essay on Man Alexander Pope declares, "Oh,
blindness to the future! kindly given, that each may fill the circle
marked by Heaven; who sees with equal eye, as God of all, a hero perish,
or a sparrow fall." I could trust that His infinite mercy would
somehow find its way to our sparrows. I believed that it would in those
dark hours, and I was determined, though I knew not how, to continue
my own puny efforts on behalf of the children even after I left Korea.
... Today, though many miles removed from the Korean
scene, I am doing essentially what I did then: dividing my time between
the Air Force and the orphans. I have remained in the Air Force instead
of going back into the ministry for two reasons. First, I believe that
opposing communism or any kind of totalitarianism must be the full-time
job of at least a few Americans, and that I have been well prepared
for the task. And second, I have been able to serve the Korean orphans
better by remaining in the Air Force than had I returned to the ministry.
"Operation Kiddy Car" and what little I accomplished on Cheju
Island for the children received considerable attention in the United
States, with the result that I was able to raise ten thousand dollars
for the orphanage in the first year after my return from speaking engagements
and public appearances. But I have high hopes that with God's help and
that of many generous Americans this will prove just a beginning. The
Korean children on Cheju Island are, for the time being, safe from starvation
and Communism. But while conditions at the orphanage are adequate, they
would never meet United States orphanage standards. We have added a
few Quonset huts to that old frame building, and we are now receiving
subsistence sums from orphanages and private organizations in the United
States. But the island orphanage must be regarded as only a temporary
and inadequate refuge for the thousands of Korean children who need
our help. With part of the money I raised Mrs. Whang has purchased a
piece of land outside Seoul for the ultimate erection of a permanent
orphanage on the mainland. On this land is a small rock quarry, and
it is our plan that the older boys will help to quarry the rock for
the building of their new home.
I have seen with my own eyes the touching generosity
of American boys in Korea giving almost more than they had to give.
Recently the Korean ambassador in Washington told me that his government
had estimated that American GIs, hardly the wealthiest group on this
globe, had given more than nineteen million dollars in money and gifts
to the people of his country. Where there is that kind of compassion
and generosity there must also be hope for a better world.
Washington, D.C. June 1, 1956