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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 Force.

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 mess halls."

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 processing center.

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 and blankets.

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.



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