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Korean War Veterans National Museum & Library

Takes Control of

Korean War Children's Exhibit

If posterity preserves only one memory of The Forgotten War, George F. Drake, Ph.D., knows just which one to pick.

Not the invasion at Inchon. Not the Battle of Pork Chop Hill. Not the armistice talks at Panmunjom.

The best thing about the war was not the killing nor the uneasy truce which ended the shooting, but the fact that hundreds of thousands of American Gl's were able to save the lives of Korean orphans.

For the most part, the orphans' lives were saved singly or in small groups, as a soldier or group of GIs would come upon them in battle or huddling in bombed-out shells of buildings.

But there were instances such as the famous Kiddy Car Airlift in December 1950, in which as many as 800 children were brought to safety at a single time and in which many Gl's took part.

Drake, a Korean War vet himself, has spent countless hours and quite a bit of his own money trying to make sure what he calls the story of "the Army of Compassion" is never forgotten.

Through a website, a foundation, a book and a traveling exhibit of photographs. Dr. Drake, a 75-year-old retired professor and former City Councilman in Bellingham, WA, has striven to keep alive in the public's consciousness the story of how American Gl's aided orphaned children during and following the Korean War has been given to the KWVNM&L.

Dr. Drake researched the history of how those orphans were saved and says between 1950 and 1954, of the approximately 100,000 Korean orphans created by the war, an estimated 10,000 kids were pulled off battlefields or out of other imminent danger by American Gl's.

GI's polling their meager resources were able to provide food, clothing, toys, medicine and shelter for another 54,000 Korean children during the harsh winter months.

Writing home (and with some help from press accounts of what they were witnessing) these Gl's were able to convince families, neighbors, friends and ultimately governments to send more aid to help as many of these orphans as possible.

"For the guys who went to Korea that I have talked to" Drake says, "this was the best thing they did in their whole lives. This was the best thing about Korea."

"Most of them hated the war," Drake said, "but if they think back, they smile on this (aspect of their experience) because they remember and they are proud that they did this."

Not all the orphans could be saved, but in a war so efficiently, maddeningly lethal to civilians, it was perhaps amazing that so many of the war's most innocent victims were rescued.

Some of the children came to America, were adopted by American families and now have families of their own. Some grew up in South Korea and went on to enjoy happy, productive lives there.

And, Drake says, a few very lucky children, after stumbling upon the website, were able to be reunited with long-lost siblings they didn't even know existed, 50 years after being separated from them.

In a telephone interview, Drake recounted how a onetime orphan now living in Ohio found the web-site through a Google search and was put in touch with another orphan who had been at the same Korean orphanage before coming Stateside herself.

The second orphan now resides in Chico, CA, Drake said, and when they reunited via phone call and compared memories, the first learned to her surprise that not only was she not the little girl in an old group picture that she had kept, always believing it was her, but she had a sister who was still alive and living in Chico.

The photo exhibit, which debuted in Las Vegas in May, consists of about 150 photographs on 35 panels showing how American servicemen and women helped these orphans.

Drake was accompanying the exhibit to Seoul for its South Korean debut in late July, but he said once it returns from South Korea, he will bestow ownership of it to the KWVNM&L so that the grandchildren of these orphans can know how their grandparents were saved.

Viewing the exhibits accompanying the 50th anniversary of the Korean War, Drake said, he was struck by the fact that "everything dealt with war qua war. There were commemorations of the battles, cemeteries, etc. Everything was (featuring) a picture of the guy on one knee shooting a gun. I said you are missing a whole aspect of the war, the part in which ordinary American soldiers did what they could to help the most helpless victims of the war, the Korean children."

So in 2001.Drake helped the city of Bellingham establish the Korean War Children's Memorial. From there, the website, photo exhibit and a book Drake has co-authored with Al Zimmerman were launched.

"We had three goals when we started this project," Drake said, "Number one, to document the relationship these servicemen had with the orphaned children of Korea. In some cases, the kids were like mascots of a unit."

"Number two was to promulgate the information we developed through the research, which is what the website and the photo exhibit do."

"Third we wanted to build a memorial in Bellingham, which we did and which is the only one of its kind in the United States or Korea," he said.

The photo exhibit has already been scheduled to come to Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Maine, Drake said. After that, KWVNM&L will book where it appears.

©The Forgotten Voices - KWVNM&L




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