May 1953: 635-664.
The GI and
the Kids of Korea
America's Fighting Men Share Their Food, Clothing, and Shelter
with Children of a War-torn Land
By Robert H. Mosier,
Technical Sergeant, United States Marine Corps
[Introductory remarks and story of a visit to
the home of his house boy. We pick up the story on their return to his
I thought about that matter of gratitude as we rode
north. The Koreans I'd met had been really surprised at the kindness
our troops showed toward their kids. Not that they don't like their
own children, but their sympathy tends to dwindle at the limit of the
Reds Stoned Hungry Children
Moreover, they said they'd seen the Chinese Red
soldiers either ignore or shy rocks at youngsters who tried to beg food
from their company messes, and they expected our men would act the same
My work as a photographer had taken me around a
good section of the forward areas, with Marine infantry regiments, tank
and weapons companies, and rocket teams, Korean Marine units, and Navy
medical sections. I'd seen what the Marines had done for Korea's kids,
and I'd heard or read about the work of the other services. I guess
they weren't doing anything that GIs haven't done in any country they've
fought in; but, all the same, it made me feel pretty good to be an American.
A lieutenant with the 11th Marines---Harry L. Gary---took
one look at the goose-pimpled, ragged kids around his base and wrote
home to Springfield, Missouri. Inside of 12 days his aunt and uncle
and the local newspaper had put on a clothing drive and begun shipment
of about three-quarters of a ton of sweaters, shoes, gloves, and things
A fellow with the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, M/Sgt.
John Cain, began to chip in part of his pay to send some Korean kids
to school. When Cain was shot down over North Korea, the rest of his
squadron took over the job. Now they have 20 kids in school and are
trying to build a new one to house 100 more.
The wing as a whole didn't do so badly, either.
By the time I left Korea, it had collected more than 100,000 pounds
of clothing from home and had passed it along to some 2,000 orphans
and hundreds of refugees. On top of that, the men dug about $18,000
from their own pockets to buy food and put up orphanages.
Maybe you read about "Operation Kidlift." There
were quite a few such lifts, actually, but the one Marine Aircraft Group
12 staged was typical. The group was near Kangnung, below the 38th Parallel,
when the men heard about a bunch of Korean children stranded up in no
man s land.
The UN civil assistance people were trying to evacuate
them by truck, but, in the snow and over those mountains, the trip was
taking about 12 hours, and some of the children were dying on the way.
The upshot was that the Marines got a green light
to fly a transport up there. They picked up 50 dirty, half-starved kids
so thin they had to stuff pillows around them to make the safety belts
fit. When the plane landed at Kangnung, the kids didn't want to get
out, and when the Marines sat them down in front of some hot rice, they
wouldn't eat. They'd been told by the Communists that the Americans
liked to round up children, fatten them, and dine off them.
Marine's Mustache Helps Cause
MAG 12 finally convinced the youngsters that the
Marines were more interested in becoming foster parents than cannibals.
Then they began to gobble up their food and sing and play with the dolls
and slingshots and wooden horses the Marines had improvised for them.
But the group didn't let it go at a one-day gesture
of good will. The Marine airmen took on the support of the orphanage
to which the children were sent, foraged for clothes, raised money (one
Marine auctioned off in the States a picture of his 13-inch mustache),
and even spent their few hours of leave time playing nursemaid, teacher,
and back-scrubber. Two weeks later they went back to the front for another
This idea of seeing the job through is pretty well
illustrated, I think, by Lt. Comdr. Dick Cleaves, who was chaplain of
Marine Aircraft Group 33. When Cleaves helped to set up the Marine Memorial
Orphanage at Pohang- dong, he took part of the money the Marines contributed
and bought land which the kids themselves could cultivate. Kids were
added only as fast as rice paddies could be bought. The orphanage consists
now of six buildings and more than 5,700 pyong of rice lands (a pyong
is 36 square feet).
These few instances, of course, don't begin to cover
all that the Marines have done, formally or informally, for the children
they've met. And the other services have been just as active. You might
not think the Navy got ashore enough to know what the kids' needs were,
but I can tell you what the men of one ship did, anyway.
They were serving on the carrier USS Kearsarge,
and they decided that the children they wanted to help would be those
who had had it roughest. So they picked out an orphanage set up in an
old Buddhist retreat near Seoul, a place where soldiers brought kids
abandoned along the battle line. For this little mission, run by American
medical missionaries, they collected more than 1,200 pounds of warm
Navy units tend to pass the word along from ship
to ship. Another one that did a real job was the heavy cruiser USS Los
Angeles. Its crew rounded up big donations of cash and clothing for
10 different orphanages and hospitals in Korea.
I wasn't in Korea at the time of the Air Force's
"Operation Orphan Annie," but I've heard about it. It was organized
in December, 1950, when the Chinese were pushing us back, and it looked
as if Seoul would have to be evacuated.
In the retreat we had picked up hundreds of babies---some
of them sitting beside their dead parents, others just lost and huddled
in the doorways of bombed buildings or sleeping on piles of rubble.
Plans were made to ship about a thousand off to a safe island by a South
Korean naval vessel.
But the ship never showed up at Inchon. So the Air
Force Combat Cargo Command stepped in. Though they had work enough to
do in the scramble that was going on to regroup all UN forces, they
somehow rustled up 15 twin-engine transports, crowded 70 kids into each
flight, and flew them southward out of Kimpo Airfield.
It was lucky they did, at least 100 of the children
were already too sick or weak to walk. The weather was freezing, and
some of them had no more on than the straw sacks or thin rags they had
been found in.
Airmen Return with Christmas Gifts
They arrived safely, though, and began life all
over again on Cheju Do (Island). One thing that interested me was to
read. in the paper later that the airmen who had flown them in came
back the following Christmas with a load (which they had paid for) of
2,000 lollypops, several Christmas trees, 1,000 rice bowls, 2,500 notebooks,
100 toothbrushes, and some sewing machines for the girls. Korea's "Orphan
Annies" hadn't been forgotten.
What About the Army? All I can say is that whenever
I picked up one of their news- sheets in the field (anything from a
blurry mimeographed regimental bulletin to a printed division weekly),
I ran across accounts of clothing drives, fund-raising campaigns, building
projects, and Christmas parties for Korean kids. Half the time items
like that would crowd world news or battle stories right off the front
I remember particularly the job the 40th Infantry
Division did at Kapyong, 36 miles northeast of Seoul. This little town
wasn't exactly a cultural metropolis, I guess, even before the war.
But when the fighting had whipsawed through it five times, it really
began to show signs of wear and tear. Most of the houses, in fact, and
all of the schools had been thoroughly chewed up.
That hadn't stopped the Korean teachers and their
kids. They used tents for class rooms. With winter coming on, however,
they were facing some pretty chilly school days.
At that point the 40th Division stepped into the
picture. Its commander, Maj. Gen. Joseph P. Cleland, conferred with
Kapyong's officials about their needs. Then he went back to his own
men and put it up to them.
Within three weeks the GIs in the 40th scraped up
$14,000---and an architect. He was First Lt. Robert F. Van Hoef, and
he designed a long, low, modern school building which could take care
of 600 kids. He even drew sketches of an auditorium and outdoor pool
that could be added later. That may sound fantastically ambitious. But
$14,000 can go a long way in Korea, especially if the labor is free.
The people of Kapyong, short on money but long on energy, volunteered
to perform all the manual labor and to provide the sand, stone, and
gravel. They even set up a little sawmill.
The work wasn't all left to the men, either. They
have Widows' Clubs in Korea, made up of women whose husbands were killed
in the war. The local Kapyong chapter turned out, 150 strong, and unloaded
the stone for the rock-and-cement foundation.
When the building went up, the townspeople had one
last request. They wanted to christen it. And the name they picked for
it was Kaiser---for Sgt. First Class Kenneth Kaiser, Jr., of Los Angeles.
Why? Because he was the first man from the 40th to be killed in combat
Comes to Korea
There's another project you ought to know about.
That's the Children's Democratic Town on Chin Oo Do, off South Korea.
It was set up by Lt. Col. John C. Keele, Jr., of the United Nations
Civil Assistance Command, Korea, in the spring of 1951, when UNCACK
was getting 'worried about the gangs of kids roaming the streets of
Pusan, begging and stealing for their living.
Keele was interested in doing more for the kids
than filling their stomachs-though that was a job in itself. He wanted
to show them what democracy was all about, by having them live it.
The island he took them to was just a barren rib
in the sea, so unimportant that nobody had ever bothered to name it.
But the children did. They called it Chin Oo Do, which means "Island
of True Friends."
Under Keele's guidance, the town's 190 boys and
30 girls organized themselves into a community run on the honor system.
Each month they elect their own mayor, vice-mayor, and departmental
officials. Each tent has a judge, and the island as a whole has a high
judge. Twenty boys make up the police force.
They had a rough go of it at first. Their tents
were unheated; their blankets were spread on beds of seaweed. Clothes
were scarce and rations uncertain. Now these kids are trying to become
more self-sufficient by growing truck gardens, raising poultry, and
They wouldn't have pulled through, however, without
relief packages, and they've shown their recognition of it by naming
their tents after the cities from which the gifts have come. Streets
in Chin Oo Do form a kind of roster of UN charity-Washington, New York,
Sydney, Bangkok, Jerusalem, Lon- don, Manila, Paris.
. . .
Furthermore, the kids don't lose sight of the principles
on which their town is supposed to be run. The lane up from the dock
is studded with placards that read: "Absolute Honesty. Absolute Purity.
Absolute Unselfishness. Absolute Love. No Hatred. No Fear. No Covetousness.
New Man. New Country. New World."
A Big Drop in a Big Bucket
Quite an order. But the kids seem to think they
can pull it off . At any rate, they've strung up a bell made of six
shell casings. They call it the "Holy Bell of Change," and the inscription
reads: "This bell changes everything. Things evil good; things good
better. . . ."
These were hopeful things to mull over, jolting
through the mountains on the long road back to the front. I knew we
Americans were doing a lot, one way or another, to relieve the misery
around us. Yet it still seemed a drop in the bucket. A big drop; but
a big bucket, too.
The figures we usually heard put the number of Korean
refugees at 3,500,000, the number of orphans at 100,000--this in a nation
of only 20,000,000. If we applied the same ratio of disaster to our
own population of 158,000,000, it would mean more than 27,000,000 Americans
blasted out of their homes and turned onto the roads with not much more
than a rucksack to their backs. Moreover, it would mean that those hordes
of refugees would be pressing back upon cities and farms never really
rich and now thoroughly ripped up by war.
Stacked up against calamity on a scale like that,
our best efforts can't look like much. And I couldn't help wondering
what will hap pen to Korea's children when the Marines and the GIs and
the other troops pull out-a day that will have to come sometime.
[We will have to scan in the
last part of this article.]