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Pacific Stars and Stripes, Dec. 23, 1952

Oklahomans In Korea, States Unite To Send Duds To Needy

By Al Kaff

SEOUL, Dec. 23 (UP) – An Oklahoma fireman and the former mayor of an Oklahoma town put their heads together and came up with one of the biggest Christmas presents ever seen in Seoul.  It weights 10 tons—10 tons of overcoats, wool suits, heavy dresses, mufflers, shoes, and quilts.

“IT WAS ONE of the biggest single donations ever given to our people,” a Seoul city official said.  The thousands of pieces of clothing will be distributed on Christmas Eve to the Korean people now facing another cold winter in their war-wrecked homeland.

“Smitty wanted the clothes handed out the day before Christmas,” said Capt. Able L. Waham, former fire marshal of Ponca City, Okla., and now fire marshal for the Seoul Area Command.  Smitty is Herman J. Smith, owner of a Ponca City clothing store and mayor of his town when Washam was fighting fires there.  “The city officials had a little argument over whether it should be Christmas Eve or New Year’s Day,” Washam said.  Only the few Christians in Korea celebrated Christmas as a special holiday throughout the peninsula.

Seoul Mayor Tai Sun Kim overruled his advisers and set Christmas Eve as the time to distribute the tons of good will from the small oil-refining town.  “The clothes were sent to us in the spirit of Christmas,” Mayor Tai said, “so we will hand them out on the day before Christmas.  We appreciate very much what the Oklahoma people have done for us,” the mayor said.  “We need clothes here badly.  Most of the people have come back from southern refugee camps and they have lost all their possessions.”

A TRAFFIC ACCIDENT near Seoul last summer started Ponca City’s mammoth drive for clothes for Korea.  Washam explained:  “I found a child on the road who had been hit by a truck.  I put her in my jeep and drove her to a Korean orphanage where they had a hospital.  The kids there were naked.  They didn’t have a stitch of clothing.  I wrote my wife about it and asked her if she could pick up a few clothes from friends and send them over to me.

Mrs. Washam remembered that Smith, who was with the Fifth Air Force in Korea last winter, had given away odds and ends from his clothing store to suffering civilians in Seoul.  When Mrs. Washam told Smith what her husband wanted to do, the clothing merchant alerted the entire town of Ponca City.  Churches, civic groups, schools, parent-teachers associations, and social clubs pledged their support.

NEIGHBORING communities—Blackwell, Newkirk, and Fairfax—joined the drive.  Most of the clothes they collected are still en route to Korea. 

“I’ve received 20 big bread boxes (full of clothing) and the rest should be here soon,” Washam said.  “But we’ve got enough now to go a long way on Christmas Eve.”  Washam has turned the clothes over to Mayor Tai, and the Seoul welfare department is making a survey to determine the most needy people to receive them.