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Pacific Stars and Stripes, June 1960


By SP4 Bruce Brugman S&S Korea Bureau

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 ideas."

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 valuable cargo.

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 and happier.

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







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