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18 December 1951

Air Lift Revisited

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 home since.

"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.


APO 925



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