The Readers Digest, May 1953,
Condensed from True Confessions
Fawcett Publishing, NY
Written by George Scullin
The railroad station at Seoul is modern,
but its roof and walls and floors look like half restored ruins. To
the homeless and hungry children of war, aged and wizend beyond their
years, the vast, echoing barn is shelter. They cower in their rags
in corners and under stairways, huddle against the walls.
One day last June Sgt. Werner Krenzer and a
batch of GIs new to Korea trooped through the station. Some of the
children crept forward, their skeletal hands outstretched. The soldiers
fumbled in their pockets and kits and passed out what they had – candy
and gum and leftover sandwiches. Sergeant Krenzer approached one child,
holding out his last chocolate bar. The waif backed away. “Here,”
Krenzer said, “Come on, take it.”
A strange expression crossed the child’s face
– feat yearning and something utterly savage. Suddenly his lips curled
in a fierce snarl. Sergeant Krenzer advanced a step, speaking soothingly.
The child ran, crying piteously.
There was no more time. The sergeant gave
the candy bar to another child and hurried to rejoin his outfit.
But something had happened to Krenzer. He
had been in the Army for eight years and had known frontline warfare
in the Pacific and one year with occupation forces in Japan. As a veteran
soldier he was used to destruction. But here, for the first time, Krenzer
saw the destruction through the eyes of a child of war. It hit him
hard. He wanted to go back, to find the terrified child who had run
So no soldier could have been more pleasantly
surprised than Sergeant Krenzer when he was assigned to the United Nations
Civil Assistance Command, a unit which provides aid for the homeless
Korean civilians. One of his first acts was to search among the children
who had haunted the railroad station for the boy who had snarled and
fled, Krenzer found him at last, under a heap of filthy burlap bags
where the boy had crawled away to die.
He picked the lad up. There was no weight
there. The wasted legs and arms, covered with sores, hung limply, like
those of a puppet. The child stirred, and the sergeant looked down
into wide, terrified eyes.
Instantly the boy hit him. The matchstick
arms and legs clawed, kicked and hit in a frenzy that was gone almost
as fast as it came. There was no strength left. Other children came
to stare and one, an alert, bright-eyed youngster of about 11, said,
“Me Kim, Me speak Engliss.”
“Good,” said Sergeant Krenzer. “Tell this
kid I’m trying to help him.”
And so began a partnership that was to save
Kim went with Krenzer to a United Nations orphanage,
where Korean nuns took the waif. They gave him intravenous feedings,
and by a miracle the child lived. Through Kim the sergeant got his
story. The boy was only four. He had no recollection of his wanderings
after his parents were killed, or of how he reached Seoul. He did remember,
vividly, that the Communist soldiers had told him that the Americans
ate children, and that if any American offered him food or candy he
was to run for his life, for the food would be poisoned.
Time and again Sergeant Krenzer was to run
into the dreadful results of this lie. Until his rescue teams managed
to spread the truth, starving children would flee at the sign of an
American soldier, and hundreds of them perished.
That summer of 1952, however, a story ran through
the child grapevine about a tall, smiling soldier who could be found
around the railroad station in Seoul who would not poison you, who seemed
to want to help you. Desperate enough to try anything, the children
Krenzer began to study Korean. His little
interpreter, Kim, began to improve his English. They made an excellent
team. Children who would have run from the sergeant listened to Kim.
“He can charm a bird,” the sergeant says.
When Sergeant Krenzer began his work, there
were only bleak barracks for shelter, rice and a meager amount of Army
rations for food, and limited amounts of clothing. The sergeant enlisted
the aid of organized charities, and persuaded his friends, civilian
and military alike, to turn the barracks into homelike orphanages.
Even so, many children were too frightened to accept the aid held out
to them. It was Krenzer’s sensitive understanding of their fears that
made him so valuable. Every night he and Kim wandered the streets,
approaching the waifs one at a time, winning their confidence.
Then Krenzer had another idea. More than food
and shelter, he realized, these children needed love. And there were
thousand of homeless women refugees wandering around looking for their
children, their families. Krenzer wasn’t able to find each mother’s
own child, but he could ask her to care for a homeless waif. And so
– the childless mothers took the motherless children and cared for them.
And these desperate mothers were given hope that their own children
might find the same kind of refuge.
Thanks to a constant flow of letters from Seoul,
Krenzer’s home town of Middle Village, N.Y., has become the scene of
a miniature Bundles-for-Korea campaign. His letters home appeal for
“anything, just anything, Mom. Tell the neighbors, tell everybody to
send old clothes. It’s heart-rendering to see these kids – some of
them not even three years old – shivering and all but starved.”
As the summer receded and winter began, Sergeant
Krenzer faced a problem. His term of enlistment would end in March.
He thought of his home, and the life that he had missed for nearly nine
years. But each time he started to arrange for passage he was stopped
by another near-dying child who needed him. Could he desert his children
in the war-wrecked land for his own comfort?
January 1 came and went. And Sergeant Krenzer
had no passage for home. His decision – and it was not an easy one
to make – was that he would not leave.
Today, just a few months after he decided to
stay, when Krenzer brings another child to one of the orphanages there
are many friends. He sees smiling faces, cheeks that have filled out
with the health of youth. He sees in their eyes not gaunt despair but
new faith and hope and even cheer, though they still live within the
sound of guns and planes.