Pacific Stars & Stripes,
Dec. 9, 1950
War Orphans: Fighters
Pause to Aid The Helpless
By Jean Stewart
It's getting cold in Korea- in fact, long underwear
season has already set in, in earnest. And almost a thousand war orphans
in Seoul are sporting white, woolly long-johns, courtesy of Fifth Air
Underwear, children's winter-weight, isn't a normal
item of Air Force supply, but the Fifth was able to deliver a stock
of urgently needed junior-size "longies" with the speed that typifies
the AF's airlift operations. Involved in the project were airmen in
Korea, Air Force wives at "home front" bases in Japan, and waifs from
the rubble strewn streets of Korea's capital.
The story behind "Operation Long-johns" also explains
how Fifth Air Force, renowned for the destructive power of its fighters
and bombers, got into the orphans home business. According to Chaplain
(Lt. Col.) Russell L. Blaisdell of Fort Worth, Tex., who has supervised
the underwear project from taking the orders to helping several of the
orphans pull on their new union suits, the story of Fifth Air Force
and the Korean orphans is a long one.
"It all started back in the days
of the Pusan beachhead," he said. "We all noticed the poverty and need
of the refugees, especially the kids. It wasn't long before the airmen
began "adopting" some of the waifs and getting food for them from the
At Taegu, it was the same story, and similar situations
existed at each base in Korea. As the Americans moved north, the war
devastation was worse, and the plight of the homeless more acute.
To Seoul, liberated from the Communists, streamed
refugees, many returning to the city to find their homes were gone.
The adults, pitiful and desperate as their situation might be, could
fend for themselves. But everywhere there were children, thousands of
them, homeless, hungry, and ragged. With cold weather coming on, they
were roaming the city in the remnants of scanty summer clothing.
For a few lucky youngsters who were adopted as mascots
by airmen, the world suddenly became bright and gay. New "custom-made"
clothes, mess hall rations, and attention from fun-loving Americans
made them blissfully content in their new refuge. But what would become
of them when the air units moved on, and what would become of the thousands
of children still roaming the streets of Seoul?
The number of mascots at headquarters and the airfields
was increasing at such a rate that the Fifth Air Force chaplains realized
some solution had to be found to the orphan problem, and fast. A collection
was started in Fifth Air Force to support some orphanage to which the
children could be taken. In a short time, donations totaled $1600. According
to Chaplain Blaisdell, the airmen in Korea remain the most generous
group of contributors. "It's easy to understand," he said. "The men
who are here, seeing the hordes of shivering, starving children in the
streets, know how desperately they need help."
He indicated a $109 donation from a fighter pilot
who has been in Korea since the beginning of the war and a monthly contribution
of $10 from a corporal who drives an Air Force truck through the streets
of Seoul every day, picking up the waifs and bringing them to the orphan's
Myung Chin Su orphanage in Seoul, a private institution
headed by Hoh Chun Mahn, elderly Korean social worker, proved to be
an; answer to the Fifth Air Force mascot problem. It was busily taking
in as many of the waifs from the city streets as it could handle, and
to this orphanage were taken many of the airmen's mascots.
But Myung Chin Su, with room for only 100 orphans,
could not approach solving the problem of homeless children in Seoul,
where four or five thousand war orphans still are shifting for themselves
in the streets. In cooperation with the Mayor of Seoul, the Korean Red
Cross, the American Red Cross (Tokyo), the , the Roman Catholic Mission,
and the Protestant Missions, Fifth Air Force joined a program to meet
the immediate needs of the orphans. The city of Seoul furnished a building
to be used as a center for giving the children medical examinations,
feeding, and housing them. Personnel to man the center is no problem.
A staff of Korean doctors, nurses, welfare workers, Catholic and Protestant
missionaries, and volunteers are already working hard at the job of
rehabilitating the orphans. Food can be procured on the local market,
but the center is in desperate need of funds and material for clothing
Fifth Air Force's first share in the project was
an order for children's underwear--$1000 worth. Chaplain Blaisdell headed
for Japan with the order, and in less than a week he was back in Seoul
with 829 suits of warm winter undergarments. At the orphanage, the children
stood in line to get their underwear. And they were so proud of their
new white attire that it took no small amount of persuasion to make
them wear their old outer garments over it.
The underwear was obtained from Japanese manufacturers
through the Nagoya Export Bazaar, with two Nagoya wives, Mrs. Raymond
W. Carlson of Minneapolis, Minn., and Mrs. Harry G. Libbey of San Antonio,
Tex., arranged the purchase.
Money to pay for the underwear came from Fifth Air
Force bases in Japan. When Chaplain Blaisdell returned to Japan, he
called chaplains at the air bases, requesting donations. The response
was immediate, from religious funds and from clubs and organizations
on the bases.
But the initial request for underwear was only a
beginning on the clothing problem for the orphans of Seoul. Now Chaplain
Blaisdell is raising funds: $500 for heavy cotton denim, $500 for woolen
blanket material, and $500 for stockings and diapers. In addition, the
orphanage project needs two sewing machines and an unlimited amount
of used clothing.
Donations received since the start of the campaign
to raise funds for the orphans totaled $2245.55 at last report. The
Non-Commissioned Officers Club at Johnson Air Base led the list with
a $500 donation; the Johnson Protestant Religious fund contributed $384.35;
the 452nd Bomb Wing, $296; the Itazuke Air Base Protestant Religious
fund, $279; the Nagoya Air Base Airmen's Club, $200; the Tachikawa Air
Base Protestant Religious fund, $150; the Nagoya Protestant Religious
fund, Officers Club, and Chiyoda Civilian Club, $100 each; the Nagoya
Top Three Club, $55.85; the Nagoya Catholic Religious fund, $20; and
611th Air Control and Warning Squadron, $30.25.
Chaplain Blaisdell stressed that Fifth Air Force's
part in the orphans relief program is only a stop-gap measure to aid
the children until regular welfare and relief agencies can take over
the project. "But the children's need is immediate," he added. "Unless
they get warm clothing, food, and shelter right away, many won't live
until the aid from organized relief agencies arrives."
As an example, he tells of a six-year-old Korean
boy found in an old rice sack by one of the welfare workers. The starving
child had crawled into the sack and lain there for three or four days,
barely alive. When the welfare worker arrived at the center, he "poured"
the half-dead body out only a paper on the floor and nurses had to scrape
the filth off the child before they could wash and feed him. But after
two days of rest and food at the orphanage, the child was able to stand
up and was beginning to talk and smile again.