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Pacific Stars and Stripes, Nov. 20, 1975

Fighter Pilot-Cleric Revisits War Sites

SEOUL-Long before Operation Babylift hit the headlines at the end of the Indochina War, a compassionate clergyman turned fighter pilot moved some 900 homeless Korean waifs away from a war that didn't respect innocence or youth.

Twenty-five years later, retired Col. Dean E. Hess is back in Korea under a program sponsored by South Korean veterans and tourist organizations to mark the 25th anniversary of the North Korean invasion.

It is a country Hess knows well. He saw it at blurred speeds from a cockpit as he lashed advancing Communist forces with bombs and tracers. For Hess, it had been from pulpit to cockpit in World War II, a cycle that would repeat itself in another war.

Taking the ministerial cloth just before Pearl Harbor, he enlisted soon afterwards, and came out of the war with a burden of conscience. As a fighter pilot over Germany, he swooped low over Kaiserslautern to bomb a marshaling yard, overshooting that and wrecking an apartment full of orphaned children - a tragedy he did not learn about until after the war.

Dean was again a practicing minister until the Air Force recalled him to active duty, calling upon his old skills as a fighter pilot. Once again, he was stricken by a mistake of speed and stress, strafing refugees he thought were soldiers in an enemy column.

As Seoul fell to the Communists, Dean saw a chance for atonement. Through his efforts, almost 1,000 lost and parentless children were rounded up and flown to Inchon in planes he had rounded up. At Inchon, boats that were to take the children out of the war zone never showed up, so Dean called upon Gen. Earle Partridge, 5th Air Force commander, and organized one more airlift. A flock of C47 and C54 transports took the kids to Cheju Island, far beyond the reach of the war.

The first Babylift did not have a heroic name; it was called Kiddycar. Later, Hess wrote a book about it called "Battle Hymn" and was portrayed by Rock Hudson in a movie.

Hess stayed in the Air Force and became an information officer, serving once as chief of information for U.S. Forces Japan. While here, he will tour the 2nd Inf. Div., sites around Seoul and the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom.

S&S Korea Bureau






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