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Pacific Stars and Stripes, Feb. 18, 1951

Isle of Hope
Tiny Kims of Korea Find a Refuge

By Andrew Headland, Jr.
Sketches by Sgt. Corliss C. Miller

"No Papa. No Mama. Me like GI."

The speaker was a Korean street waif about seven years old. Eyes huge with the wonderment to be found in the eyes of any little boy his age anywhere in the world, he darted out of the shadows of the Pusan Railway Station and impulsively seized the mittened hand of a passing GI.

Dressed in cut-down fatigues with sergeant's stripes on one sleeve, obviously this little fellow was one of the luckier war orphans. His garb was an indication he had been irresistibly befriended by the troops of an American unit stationed nearby.

"Hello, Tiny Kim," the GI said. "Where are you having chow tonight?"

Kim didn't answer. His big eyes shone. He grinned and clung tighter to the friendly hand as he tried to match its owner's long strides.

Pusan today is the largest refugee terminal in the world, and there are thousands of Tiny Kims within the city. Few, however, are as well clothed or fed as this particular Kim. Most of them wear vermin infested rags on arrival. Many are barefoot. All are almost continually hungry. The warmth within their bodies is poor compensation for the Korean cold without.

But children, separated by the hundreds from their parents by the tragedies of war, are only part of a much larger group of hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing into any available escape exit to get away from the Chinese and North Korean Communists-any Communists. Because of geography and the nature of the war, most of the escapes exits lead to Pusan, although Pusan itself is no longer an end, but an escape hatch opening to island sanctuaries still farther away.

After the Chinese Communists started their offensive, refugees arrived in Pusan in such vast numbers that existing public welfare agencies were hard pressed to systematically provide clothing, food, and shelter. Pusan's normal peacetime population is about 300,000, but with the influx of refugees of all kinds the total leaped to an estimated 1,200,000 within a few months; vastly more than the city's shipyards, textile mills, rubber and ceramic factories, machine shops, and fishing industry can employ; more than can be housed, clothed, or fed; so many that it is estimated at least ten Koreans are crowded into each of the more than 100,000 houses in Pusan, many houses being only poor, mud-walled buildings of a few rooms.

So anxious were the Koreans to get beyond the effects of Communism that wealthy individuals paid 2,000,000 whan ($500 in U.S. currency) for truck rides with a few personal possessions from Seoul to Pusan. Impoverished others, unable to pay for or secure transportation, walked the entire 280 odd miles between the two cities in freezing weather.

The result today is that unknown numbers of orphans and adults with or without families live obscure, unlovely lives in the city's labyrinth of dirty alleyways and narrow streets. During the day, children beg for food and money along the streets. When night falls and the nine o'clock military curfew takes effect, the homeless retreat to sewers, alleys, and building entrances where they huddle together in small groups until dawn. Then, as the sun turns a pinkish glow over Pusan, they arise, stiff with cold, to begin their miserable existences again.

Life is made possible only through rice, clothing, and contributions of medicine from the United Nations, the Municipality of Pusan, and various relief agencies. Enough free rice and other foodstuffs to live on is provided daily. Liberal and frequent sprayings with DDT and mass immunizations help to keep down disease. All city schools have been closed and class rooms turned into accommodations for as many refugees as possible.

If Pusan was saturated with refugees before the Chinese started aggression, thereafter the situation worsened. On Christmas Eve, a single vessel with accommodations for only 14 passengers besides crew, brought 14,000 North Korean refugees into Pusan. Over 3,500 were crowded on deck, and 3,000 were in a single hold during the two-day voyage. Forty arrived seriously ill; 20 had gunshot wounds. Four babies were born en route.

Because of problems created by indigents and beggar children in Pusan, it became imperative to take action whereby the children at least might be diverted from pursuits by which they would have no opportunity of becoming worthwhile citizens.

In this respect, the Civil Assistance Section of the 2nd Logistical Command has been an important factor in reducing the Pusan stockpile of refugee misery. Through an enterprise dubbed "Operation Beggar Child" started in January, thousands of the poorest children are being started on a new way of life.

Two of the Civil Assistance Section men hard at work in this undertaking are Capt. Clifford McKeon of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and Cpl. Jackson Bogert, of Alexandria, Virginia. Until about four months ago when he was called to active duty, Cpl. Bogert was teaching high school history at Ackley, Iowa.

The immediate objective of "Operation Beggar Child" is to get the children off the streets of Pusan and over to a small, but beautiful, island Koje-do - off the southern coast of Korea. The 2nd Logistical Command Civil Assistance Section coordinates the movement of refugees to the port area and gets the aboard ship. Once on the island, the refugees become the responsibility of the Civil Assistance Command, composed of United Nations military and International Red Cross personnel.

Many of the children, however, prefer not to leave their trade in the dirty streets of Pusan for changes the definite nature of which they have no understanding. The opening day of "Operation Beggar Child" a few children, induced by kind words and treatment, came along willingly, and later served to recruit others. Many have to be chased down and apprehended as if they were fleet-footed animals of the forest.

Bystanders along the Dai Kyo Ro, or Great Bridge Street, Pusan's main thoroughfare, frequently are startled by a shrill blast from Bogert's whistle as he and Korean interpreters and helpers sprint down the street in pursuit of some ragged child.

It is, says Bogert, easy to tell which children are professional beggars. They are distinguished by the dirty burlap sacking often constituting their only clothing, unusually heavy layers of grime on their faces, and disheveled hair falling about their ears. Another trademark is tin begging cups. When the former history teacher and his assistants corner one of these "street angels." His first question is in reference to the child's parents, if any. If the child says he has no family, he is hustled into a waiting bus where a policeman maintains order.

Once a full load is collected, the bus heads for a dispensary at which Korean doctors and nurses give the kids complete physical check-ups. They are DDTd, bathed given crew haircuts, new clothing issues, sleeping bags, food, and shelter. Clothing isn't always uniform, and boys sometimes are temporarily discomforted by having to wear girls' issues.

Among the beggars picked up by Bogert and McKeon was one boy who didn't require to be chased. His legs had been amputated above the knees. All Bogert had to do was reach down and pick up the box in which he was begging.

A girl about ten years old made an unusually pathetic figure in her rags sitting on the cold sidewalk in front of the Pusan Railway Station, holding up a tin cup into which passing GIs dropped generous contributions. When her background was looked into, it was discovered she had collected and saved 2,000,000 hwan, or the Korean equivalent of 500 U.S. dollars. She was sent to the "Isle of Hope," where living necessities are all provided by local, national, and international relief agencies, and where begging is almost unthinkable.

Hundreds of children have been sent to the island since "Operation Beggar Child" was started in mid-January. The original group totaled about 223, but 70 of the oldest and toughest escaped their guards at the orphanage camp before they could be shipped. They immediately went back to begging. "More work for later on," Bogert remarked philosophically.

The remainder, more docile by nature, reached the island on a small Korean vessel accompanied by a Korean Boy Scout leader, a Korean doctor and nurse, and an American Red Cross worker. The latter, Richard J. Evans, of Bremerton, Washington, related that while the vessel waited in port for clearance, the children set up a hunger chant. "Hanger, Hanger," they changed over and over, accompanied by moans, groans, and noisy demonstrations. The distraught supervisors hastily improvised a supplementary rice feeding which shut them up, but only very temporarily. Out in the channel, they got seasick. Evans did not sleep for the 48 hours the children were in his charge. Koje-do, shaped something like a blunt-legged spider, is a hilly, irregular, 30-mile long island in the Korean Strait about four hours by motor ship from Pusan. It is filled with people, enormous magpies, big black crows, rice paddies, beautiful scenery, including fine looking beaches, and roads line with broom-shaped trees which look as though they would make sweepers for giants, if cut off at the roots.

Before refugees of all kinds started arriving in wholesale quantities, which was shortly after Christmas, the native population was approximately 100,000. Since Christmas, this figure has been increased by at least an equal number of refugees. It is estimated that the island eventually may become a sanctuary for a maximum of 200,000 refugees, or two to every islander. A larger island, Cheju-do, farther along the coast, also is host to great numbers of refugees.

The economic dislocation caused by the population influx to Koje-do is naturally tremendous, and can be off-set only by a proportional increase in living commodities provided by the Korean Government and the United Nations. This is being done.

The islanders themselves have gone all-out to accommodate the homeless. Every available public building, including schools, has been turned into refugee quarters. Thousands stay in every village and town, in private homes, and at 25 special refugee camps erected around the island. The latter consist largely of elongated, wigwam-like shelters of rice straw. A single shelter of this type might be 25 or 50 feet long. On dirt floors in the semi-darkened interior, refugees huddle over small fires during the day, and sleep side by side at night.

Dispensaries, staffed by Koreans, have been set up to coincide with the location of camps, and are busy DDTing, giving mass immunizations against disease, and assisting at childbirths. During January, practically every individual on the island was inoculated against smallpox and typhus. Considering the congestion and haste with which masses of people were moved, the general health record is considered good, with existing disease now isolated and under control.

A jeep trip around the island disclosed that the congestion in one refugee camp is duplicated in another. At one town, 3,000 refugees were living in the primary school. Nearly 7,000 North Korean refugees were in another town. The public school in this town, however, was taken over for Republic of Korea Army recruits who where heartily singing a song about the unification of Korea.

The Korean government has decreed that three hops of cooked rice per day (a hop being slightly less than a pound) be issued each person as emergency rations. This is supplemented by a government donation of 30 whan per day per individual, a mall sum, but sufficient to buy a bit of nutritious seaweed or bit of fix to mix with the rice balls.

Lt. Col. Gordon B. Hammond, Rockford, Illinois, head of a U.N. Civil Assistance Command team stationed on Koje-do, said he was greatly surprised at the cordiality with which native islanders received the mass of strangers in their homes. "In the Civil War between the North and South," said Col. Hammond, "there was much bitterness. I am astonished that the South Koreans have accepted these refugees so well, particularly in view of the fact that many of the earlier arrivals came from North Korea.

"The natives are compensated for erecting shelters, but it is significant that when refugee ships come in unexpectedly, the islanders cook up rice balls to offer the destitute as they step ashore."

The North Korean's reasons for leaving, once they were provided the opportunity, show that on its own record, Communism is a failure. One middle-aged farmer from North Korea, pointing to his ragged clothes, gave his reasons. "Do I look as though I'd enjoyed the last five years under the Communists?" he said through an interpreter. "Even back there," he declared, with a sweep of his hand toward the North, "these were the only clothes I had, yet I worked hard every day. Why shouldn't I leave when the chance came? The way I look at it, things couldn't be worse."

Refugee after refugee had the same story. Life had been difficult prior to Communism, but was worse afterward. The general story of all refugees is that they have nothing to lose by trying for a new start elsewhere; that after paying taxes to support the Red war machine, nothing remained for themselves. They were, in short, fed up with five years of broken promises and disappointments. Colonel Hammond, previously stationed in Hamhung, said that in the few weeks the United Nations forces were in North Korea, the people from north of the parallel caught a glimpse of a new, and better, life than anything they had known. When the UN forces prepared to evacuate, there wasn't enough transportation available in the whole army to accommodate all the North Koreans who wanted to leave their Red masters.

Even the old mama-san, who daily cleaned up his Hamhung office wanted to go along, Hammond said, and eventually, she did. Although she had been discharged prior to evacuation, she showed up at the time of departure and tossed her handbag into a trailer attached to a jeep. Then she climbed in herself. Under the circumstances, she could not be taken at that time, but later and unexpected train became available, and she secured passage. She is now on Koje-do and every week or so calls at the Civil Assistance team to pay her respects.

"Personally," said Hammond, "I see a lot of good coming of all the present inconvenience and hardship, I think giving these people a new start with some democratic opportunities and judicious administration is an excellent way to combat Communism. When these thousands eventually leave here, they will take what they have learned with them."

Native islanders are now studying possible ways of increasing the small industrial activities and other island enterprises, hoping to attract some refugees to make permanent homes on Koje-do.

Among the men on Col. Hammond's team, Capt. Finlay W. Hester, of Tacoma, Washington, "was nominated by his colleagues as the man with whose services they would most reluctantly part." Capt. Hester is a sanitation engineer, but when time permitted, coached two Korean maids, nicknamed "May" and "June" on the preparation of American cooking. Among the delicacies subsequently "engineered" from this remote kitchen in the little island town were such delicacies as apple pies and walnut-studded chocolate layer cakes.

The first shipment of "Operation Beggar Children" to arrive at Koje-do did not dissolve into the landscape upon disembarking, and have made a rather special impression on those with whom they have since come in contact. Being special cases, they got special attention. A small tent city had been erected for their reception on a frozen rice paddy close by the shores of a seaside village. The kindly villagers, however, invited numbers of them, with what results are not known, into their homes to spend the first night or two, pending completion of more adequate living arrangements.

Three afternoons after their arrival, about 125 boys and girls of that initial group were assembled in the classroom of a temple-eaved public school on a little hill near town. Wrapped in varieties of clothing from many sources, they filled the room. The boldest shouted, shoved, and snitched food on the sly, while others sat quietly. It was feeding time, and they were hungry, as usual.

A Korean welfare official, pointer in hand, shouted above the din for attention and got it when he blew a loud blast on a whistle. Sternly, he ordered everyone to sit down on the floor and be quiet.

Their first lesson in the better way of life was about to begin.


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