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Pacific Stars and Stripes, 22 Aug 1976

The Man with the Thousand Children

By Mike Rush S & S Korea Bureau Chief

It was December of 1950 when Communist Chinese forces unleashed a mass assault southward from their border with North Korea, after U.N. forces had pushed North Korean armies all the way back to the Yalu River frontier. "Thousands of children were wandering loose in areas where the communists had been," Dean Hess recalls, and the youths had been wounded or suffered from malnutrition to a point that "death would have been merciful for them." Hess is a retired Air Force Colonel recently visiting the land he once fought for and in. But in Korea, he's probably best known for his role in "Operation Kiddy Car,"---the evacuation of more than 1,000 homeless children by air from the path of the Communist forces in 1950. Hess, who took time from his duties as a combat aviator and advisor to the South Korean Air Force during those days 35 years ago to organize the evacuation of Korean orphans, spoke in quiet tones of the ordeal, the sweat and the courage of the enterprise called Operation Kiddy Car, in an interview here. "The Communists showed no concern for the children," he recalled.

With the threat of Seoul falling again to enemy forces, Hess, who was the chief advisor to the fledgling South Korean Air Force, moved with his units to Taejon, 90 miles south of the capital. "In the hasty evacuation of our area to Taejon, a friend of mine, Chaplain Ralph Blaisdel, came through." Hess said. "When I asked him about the children we had seen in Seoul, he said they had to leave them behind." At that Hess and Blaisdel turned northward to return to the besieged capital. Rounding up as many of the youths as they could, the two men and some Korean helpers marched the children on foot from Seoul to Inchon, some 30 miles to the west, where Hess and Blaisdel had arranged for a cargo vessel to pick them up and take them to haven on Cheju Island. "I managed to get a school building ready for them on Cheju, where the Korean Air Force was to evacuate if the communists took over the mainland," he said. The youngsters waited several hours on a dock at Inchon for the ship, which never arrived.

After several of the orphans had died from exposure---"It was so cold out by the ocean then"---during their vigil, Hess and Blaisdel contacted 5th Air Force Headquarters in Japan for help. Almost immediately, then Gen. Earle Partridge sent 15 C-54 aircraft with flight nurses aboard into Kimpo Airport to airlift the innocent victims of the war to sanctuary on the island, off Korea's south coast. "It was unfortunate that we lost 50 or 60 of them in transit to Cheju," Hess said, his eyes filling momentarily at thoughts of those he and his crews were unable to save or get out of Seoul before enemy forces again engulfed the capitol. "Wherever the Communists had been we saw children living in boxes," Hess said. "We often asked them if the Communists had helped them at all. And one time a youth said they had given him one half of a rice ration." Children who had lost everything in the war were a prime concern of Hess's all during his stay in Korea in the later war years. One way of raising funds he and others in his outfit had was a club across the Han River from Seoul.

Stocked with liquor he procured from flights to Japan on an "as needed" basis, Hess' club had a standing house rule that many veterans can still recall. "Any fellow who could show he was legitimately back from the front lines, his first drink was free, then the second drink was 15 cents," Hess said.

"We made tremendous amounts of money for the orphanage on Cheju," he continued, adding, "Many soldiers laid down $1 or $5 bills and said 'keep the change', knowing they would have little chance to spend it if they were going north." Many units which had picked up orphans along their lines or march, as was the custom with many U.S. outfits in the war, left their orphans at Hess' club knowing they would receive good care at the hands of the man who made "Operation Kiddy Car" a success, until they could reclaim their own waifs after business up north was finished. Hess remembers several cases in which soldiers dropped off their orphans at Hess' establishment with the request of a 20th Century Good Samaritan, "take care of them, please, until I come back." Hess' eyes again clouded when he told of several instances in which the "adopted fathers" failed to return to pick up their orphans.

"When that happened," he paused, "I knew what had happened to the poor guys, and for us it was an honor to care for their orphans."

Under Hess' guidance, the orphanage continued to provide a home on Cheju for those unable to help themselves until 1956, when he instructed the head of the orphanage, Mrs. On Soon Hwang, to contract for building the orphanage in Seoul. "In that time Cheju was hard to supply, and I promised the directress the money to build a new orphanage," Hess said.

To finance the new home, Hess wrote a book, "Battle Hymn," "An idea I had toyed around with for some time." The book was made into a movie later, both projects which Hess calls, "God's answer to my prayer." "The money didn't belong to me," he said of the royalties from the book and movie.






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