18 December 1951
315TH AIR DIVISION, JAPAN---
A year ago, the 315th Air Division's 61st Troop Carrier Group completed
"Operation Kidlift." Recently officers and airmen of this group
retraced and re-lived this episode, landing a Far East Air Forces C-54
Skymaster loaded with cargo and gifts, on a grass flight strip on the
volcanic island of Cheju-do, south of the Korean mainland.
The gifts, bought through donations of more than
$3,200 from members of the 61st, were for 1,000 tiny Korean war orphans
who a year ago were airlifted by C-54 Skymasters to a haven on Cheju-do
as the Chinese advanced on Seoul.
"We'll never forget Operation
Kidlift," said Col. Frank Norwood of Pasadena, Cal., 61st Commander
who flew the Flying Santa Claus plane yesterday. "Combat Cargo's
Kidlift took place on December 20. The Chinese were threatening
Seoul, and these kids had been moved from several orphanages to Inchon,
to be evacuated by boat. While the orphans, cold, hungry and afraid,
waited near the docks, the boat never arrived."
Finally, Lt. Col. Dean Hess, Air Force advisor to
the ROK Government, requested that Far East Air Forces provide airlift
to get the children out of Seoul. The roads were jammed with refugee
traffic, and airlift seemed the only quick and safe method.
"The 61st Group got the assignment"
said Col. Norwood. "We had been flying on the Berlin airlift,
and had been back in the States only a short while when we were assigned
to the Korean airlift. This was one of our first missions in the
Far East. Although none of our pilots had ever landed at Cheju-do
Island, they were more than willing to try."
"I'll never forget Kidlift day,"
said Major Paul E. Williams of Akron, Ohio, now Executive of the 61st.
"A thousand kids, ranging from a week old to 16 years, were sitting
in open trucks waiting for us. It was bitterly cold, and many
were barefooted. Some didn't have any clothing, and their naked
bodies were wrapped in rags. All were hungry, and many of them
suffered from colds, pneumonia and other ailments. Many were covered
with sores. They were just helpless victims of the Korean fighting."
Eight of the children had died of cold or malnutrition
while waiting to board the boat," Major Williams said. "The rest
were in bad condition. We loaded from 70 to 122 children in each
C-54, depending on their size, sitting them down on straw mats.
To take care of them in flight, we had flight nurses of the 801st Medical
Air Evac Squadron and some Korean attendants."
"Our men went hungry that day."
When we saw how hungry the kids were, we gave them our flight lunches,
C-rations, and candy bars and gum. Each child had to be contented
with a few scraps, for there wasn't much to go around, but it was better
than nothing. Some hadn't eaten for several days."
The children in the worst condition were loaded
in first, and rushed to Cheju-do Island, about one and a half hours
flight to the south. Captain Murray Goodman of Amityville, Long Island,
had flown there earlier in the day in a C-47 to test out the grass strip
and find out whether a C-54 could land there safely or not. His
C-47 served as the only control tower for the field.
"It was God's Mercy that the
airplanes came when they did," said Mrs. On Soon Whang, who has been
director of the orphanage since March of this year. "Even with
heat in the airplanes, two of the children died on the trip down and
several others died soon afterwards. Your airlift saved the lives
of dozens of the children, particularly the tiniest tots."
"We had 85 kids in our C-54,"
reminisced T/Sgt. Royneal Millis of Eureka, Cal., a flight engineer.
"We kept our heaters turned on full blast all the way, and gave the
kids everything we had. I had a cute 5-year-old sleeping in my
lap most of the way. It was wet and slippery landing at Chejudo
on the grass. All of our planes got in safely, including one which
landed after dark with 70 orphans on board. He had to land by
the light of pistol flares and flare pots. There were no field lights."
At Cheju-do, the children were loaded into trucks
and taken at once to a Korean Agricultural School which has been their
"I don't know how this Flying
Santa Claus idea started," said Col. Norwood. "Our people got
to talking and thinking about those kids, and we decided we would do
something for them. Our C-54's fly into Chejudo every once in
a while to airlift cargo for Air Force and Army units stationed there.
Major Williams went to the orphanage to find out what they could use.
When he told how much was needed, there was spontaneous action in all
our squadrons. One squadron commanded by Lt. Col. Andrew McDavid
of Phoenix, Ariz., took a Christmas card made by the children of the
orphanage and auctioned it off again and again. Each time, the purchaser
gave it back to be sold once more. Maj. Herbett A. Holmberg of Branch,
Mo., a bachelor officer with a soft heart for kids, bought the card
for $122, a top price, and then turned it in. Before the squadron
finished, they had raised $1,500 in cash."
With part of the money, the 61st Group bought 1,100
brass rice bowls, 2,500 school notebooks, hundreds of tiny toothbrushes,
two sewing machines and some other necessities. They also bought
a Christmas tree with all the fixings and 2,000 lollypops.
"We could have bought gifts with
the rest of the money," said Col. Norwood, "but we decided to let capable
Mrs. Whang spend the money on what she needs most. She will tell
us what to get, and we'll buy the things for her in Japan."
Advised of the arrival of "Flying Santa Claus,"
Mrs. Whang and several of her colleagues herded a truck load of the
children over to the airstrip to greet the big-C-54. The kids
thronged about the airmen as they passed out the lollypops. Practical
Mrs. Whang was more interested in the useful gifts.
"We need the rice bowls," she
said. "The sewing machines are especially useful, since all of
our older girls make their own clothes. All of our children, even
the boys, knit their own mittens, socks and sweaters."
Col. Norwood and his party then toured the orphanage.
Many of the children remembered them, and rushed to greet their benefactors
of year ago.
"The kids have recovered physically
from their ordeal," said Col. Norwood. "They are getting enough
to eat, but aside from this, they have so pitifully little. We
want to make their lives a little brighter."
"While a Korean teacher played
a foot-powered organ, some of the little tots danced and sang for their
visitors. They put on a great show, tugging powerfully at the
heartstrings of their guests.
1st Lt. Jerry C. Hill of Glendale, Cal., a pilot,
gleefully caressed half a dozen kids. "I joined the outfit too
late to be in the Kidlift," he said, "but I wish I could have done so."
Speaking to Mrs. Whang, Col. Norwood said: "The
officers and airmen of the 62nd Troop Carrier Group feel that they are
intimately involved in molding the future of these Korean war-waifs.
What our men have contributed to these kids in services, gifts and money
has been done spontaneously with open hearts."
The 61st Airmen returned to the C-54, with the kids
waving a frantic and happy goodbye. As the Skymaster roared into the
blue, Capt. Harry Filer of Miami, Fla, said: "I'll never forget this
operation as long as I live."
Others in the Flying Santa Claus party, not previously
mentioned, were: M/Sgt. Henry Spiek of St. Joseph and Faucett, Mo.,
communications chief; Capt. Ray Koski of Duluth, Minn., pilot; 1st Lt.
Harry J. Cook of Syracuse, NY, pilot; Capt. Ted Sorenson of Fergus Falls,
Minn., Intelligence officer; Sgt. Maneleos Decoulos, New York City,
photographer; 1st Lt. William H. Carroll of Waterbury, Conn, navigator;
S/Sgt. Walter Twarog, New Bedford, Mass., radio operator; and T/Sgt.
Albert A. Flisson, Mount Vernon, Wash., engineer.
FAR EAST AIR FORCES