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ANOTHER FIRST --- Dick Cho, no mean athlete himself and the first student athletic trainer in Boys Town history, tapes a player's ankle.

Korean Orphan at Boys Town Becoming U.S. Citizen

By FRED THOMAS

North American Newspaper Alliance

 

A FOOTLESS KOREAN ORPHAN, whose boyhood years were a nightmare of loneliness and suffering, will have his finest hour this month. He will become a U.S. citizen. When little Song Yong Cho (that was his name then) was plucked from the rubble of Korea 7 years ago he faced starvation. This spring he will be graduated from Boys Town High School, Boys Town, Neb.

When he filed his first citizenship papers, young Cho exchanged Song Yong for Richard Douglas in honor of the two U.S. soldiers who helped give him a start toward a new life.

Almost blotted out is the memory of his Christmas season ordeal of 1950. As far as is known, Cho's family was wiped out in the evacuation of Seoul in December, 1950. Somehow, 9 year old Song Yong made his way to Pusan.

Suffering from severe frostbite, Cho had to have both feet amputated. But he courageously tried to eke out a living, pulling his sore-covered body around the railroad station to shine shoes for American servicemen.

THIS WAS HIS CONDITION when Sgt. Harold J. Douglas of Hattiesburg, Miss., befriended him. Douglas worked with Sgt. Richard Gormanson, Tacoma, Wash., and Capt. James N. Calway, San Francisco, to fit Cho with artificial feet. Capt. Calway commanded the First Artificial Limb and Brace Detachment of the prosthetic unit with the 14th Field Hospital near Pusan.

Father of seven, Sgt. Douglas felt it impossible to consider adoption. So he wrote Boys Town and in May of 1953 Cho started anew in Father Flanagan's famous city of little men west of Omaha.

Cho faced a terrifying task. He knew no English and never had been to school. But his new brothers started immediately to help him. As Cho slept his first night at Boys Town, two lads crept up to his bed and slipped two of their favorite cowboy guns under his pillow.

With special tutoring, Cho progressed rapidly and soon entered the proper grade for children his age. He became so adept with his artificial feet that he joined the school's intramural sports teams. It was a heart-warming sight to watch the youngster scoop up ground balls around second base amid his teammates' cries of "Let's go, Cho."

CHO EARNED HIS EAGLE Badge, highest honor in the Boy Scouts. But even his scout leaders were astonished at a request he made in 1956: Cho wanted to take tests for a merit badge in lifesaving. Scoutmen tried to discourage him. They pointed out it was doubtful that a footless boy could learn the basic swimming requirements, and it was highly improbable that he could master the actual lifesaving tests.

Cho developed into an excellent swimmer, and quickly learned to retrieve a weight from the bottom of the pool and a "drowning" person from the same place. Then came the final test. Cho was required to stand fully dressed on shore and at a signal, disrobe and swim to a "drowning" person in less than one minute.

At first it took Cho more than a minute to remove his artificial feet alone. But hours of practice paid off for, on an early July day, the youngster removed his clothes and artificial feet and raced through the water to a "victim" in 30 seconds.

That hurdle overcome, Cho turned to overnight cookouts and hikes. Once again he astonished his leaders and friends with a 15 mile trek through rugged terrain.

CHO'S LATEST ACTIVITIES have been playing drum in the high school band and serving as student athletic trainer, the first in Boys Town history. With case worker Joe Stenard, Cho is studying his citizenship requirements and planning his future after graduation. The 18 year old is interested in attending college but his counselors are somewhat reluctant to encourage him.

"Cho is intelligent and studies hard," Stenard explains. "But he has crammed all his schooling into about six years. He might just get lost in the shuffle in college." No one, however, underestimates Cho's determination.

When asked in 195x what he liked most about America, Richard Douglas Cho answered: "The chance for me to have an education."

SSS-214


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