Pacific Stars and Stripes, June 1960
Cheju Island, Korea-When the
communist invaders drove across the 38th Parallel 10 years ago, thousands
of children were left homeless and threatened with annihilation.
One man, however, foresaw the danger to the homeless
children and personally organized an emergency airlift to whisk them
away from the communists. From the start, the project was a daring,
last-minute gamble threatened by mortar fire, bombs, and utter exhaustion.
It was engineered by Col. Dean E. Hess, who left
a small-town pulpit in Ohio to become an outstanding bomber pilot
in World War II and the Korean War, and who became hailed as the founder
of the modern Korean Air Force. In early 1951, when the Chinese communists
were rushing toward Seoul, Hess was flying daily missions over the
battered capital. He noticed the streets teeming with children.
"It seemed such a cruel prospect,"
Hess later wrote in his book "Battle Hymn", "for the hundreds of little
girls and boys in the orphanage, for the loose mobs of children already
roaming the streets, for all those strays like the ones we were looking
after." (Hess, several months earlier, with several chaplains, had
established orphanages in Seoul for refugee children.)
Hess hit upon the idea of using an old agricultural
school near the K-40 landing strip on Cheju Island as an orphanage.
"It was a wild idea," he wrote, "but this was the moment for wild
Hess managed to get an LST to dock at Inchon.
The children were taken there by every sort of vehicle that could
be commandeered. At the last minute, with the children massed along
the dock, Hess was notified that the LST had been ordered to Hungnam
to assist in the evacuation of marines there. Hess, in desperation,
got a call through to Fifth Air Force headquarters.
"I need 15 cargo planes immediately,"
he screamed into the phone. Fifth Air Force, swamped with rescue,
evacuation, and bombing missions, decided to send 15 C-47s-"the last
damn thing we got." But they could only land at Kimpo AB, 15 miles
away and there were no vehicles left. The children had to walk.
Communist advance units already were entering
the outskirts of Seoul. Planes flew overhead. Mortar and artillery
fire could be heard in the distance. The group straggled into Kimpo.
Moments later, the cargo planes began landing and picking up their
The last plane, Hess's own bomber, carried the
last of the group off to a new home on Korea's southernmost island
in the Korea Straits.
Today, the children at the orphanage are older
The older ones are helping to care for the younger
children and the orphans who regularly stray into the compound.
Someday, Hess said before he left Korea, there
should be a stone placed outside this orphanage to read:
Orphan's Home of Korea-Dedicated to the Memory
of Those We Could Not Save