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NY Times Magazine, October 11, 1953.

The GI's Give a Hand to the Koreans

The men who saved a nation on the battlefield are pouring out their energy and money to heal its wounds of war.

By Howard Rusk, M.D.

You can travel to Korea if you get permission from the far eastern command and a visa, but once you do, you can never get away. You leave part of yourself in the country, and you keep remembering things.

You remember the bitter cold and the winter months, the shivering people in crowded rooms. You remember the refugees in the camp trying to make fuel of coal dust and half frozen mud- like children playing mud pies, except that this is for keeps- for survival.

In the summer, the temperature was different, the atmosphere the same. The days were sticky and humid, and a red dust hung like a pall between you and the sun. The perspiration left a trail on your face and neck like a sluggish river eroding the sand and dirt. And there was the smell that never quite got out your nostrils- night soil, the fish market and people with no soap.

But all the things you remember about Korea are not unpleasant. The children still laugh; the people still sing; and the patriarchs with their long Oriental pipes and horse hair hats still wear spotless white. And you remember that no one ever talked about defeat- only victory, and independence, and hope. You remember the G.I. who put it this way: "this sure is a beat up country and they beat up people, but, boy, can they fight and can they take it."

Above all you remember something that is not so well known at home- that the G.I.'s affection and respect for the Korean people have been reflected in an astonishing display of generosity. The men of the U.S. first core and at least three of its major units, the twenty fifth U.S. division, seventh U.S. division and the first Marine division have spontaneously donated nearly half a million dollars toward the building of hospitals, orphanages, schools, churches and institutions in the devastated hills and valleys of former battle area.

And yet, recently, Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor, Commander of the Eighth Army, in a broadcast over the Armed Forces radio network, asked the men in his command to give all possible assistance to help Korea to rebuild and rehabilitate.

This wasn't an order. General Taylor knows men. He learned about them as commander of 101st Airborne Division when he jumped in the first waves on the Normandy invasion on D-Day. He learned about them at West Point when, as Commandant, he established the first course in the psychology of leadership. He knows the hearts and minds of fighting men and the basic goodness of the American soldier. He knew that the doctors and technicians and engineers, the scout leaders and teachers- that all those with (know-how) who could be spared from their first duty, that of "combat readiness," would want to help.

As one G.I. who heard the broadcast said with a little bit of hurt feelings in his tone: "gee man, this is just what we have been doing the last three years, but it means we can do a lot more now." They have done a lot and they will do a lot more.

It wasn't always so when our boys first went to Korea, they like all of us, knew very little about that nation and were somewhat contemptuous toward the "gooks" as they called the Koreans. This attitude was prompted by the strangeness of the country and by the relatively poor showing made by the R.O.K. soldiers in the early days of the war. Koreans were then hastily inducted into the R.O.K. Army and sent to the front within five days with no training whatsoever. It was the first time many of them had even seen modern weapons such as mortars, tanks, armored cars and modern artillery.

Today, the "gook" is rarely heard in Korea. As the R.O.K. Army was trained and proved itself in battle in as our soldiers came to know and respect the Korean people for their courage and spirit, these attitudes changed and the R.O.K.'s became real brothers in arms. For months now there have been two Korean soldiers as integral members of each American squad. Our boys have rotated home, but since the Korean soldiers stays on until he is killed, wounded or becomes too old to fight, the Koreans, being experienced, seasoned combat soldiers, became the backbone of the squad. They are the respected veterans, the "old timers." This respect that our soldiers have developed for the R.O.K.'s plus the natural humanitarian instincts that Americans have always had toward people in trouble, especially children in trouble, have produced the piecemeal but overwhelming generosity that you see all over the Republic of Korea.

Even the dark days of early 1951, American troops were, adopting homeless orphans and taking them into their units. One outfit which had done this was dismayed to find that when it moved up to the front there was no way in which they could take "their children" with them. They tried to cut the red tape and send the children back to their families in the States but this too was impossible. So they did what to them was the next best thing.

With the aid of some of their buddies and some Korean teachers, they found an old building, repaired the roof with flattened beer cans, rustled up some old furniture, got blankets from the U.N. Civil Assistance Command and opened Happy Mountain Orphanage in Pusan.

Now one of the best orphanages in Korea, Happy Mountain is still partially supported by donations from the G.I.'s but, rightly and properly, its administration has been taken over by the Korean Ministry of Social Affairs.

A new, modern, elementary school in Yangju which will accommodate 900 children at one time (1500 on a two shift basis) is being opened this month. An excellent school facility by Western standards, it was built with $11,700 donated from the First Core Korean School Fund and equal amount donated by Korean citizens of the area. This is one of fifteen elementary schools providing seventy one new class rooms that have been built in the First Core area with $41,242 contributed by the men of the First Core to their Korean Children's School Fund.

The papers here at home are full of the problems of juvenile delinquency and, as you read the headlines back in America, you remember a school in Seoul for juvenile delinquents and homeless boys operated largely by funds from the G.I.'s. These were the run away boys- orphans who had lived in the rubble like animals, for they had no place to go.

You remember a kid with a battered bugle blowing assembly when you went in and a Boy Scout Troop which transformed these wild youngsters into the finest Boy Scouts you would ever want to see. You remember how they stood at attention, gave the Scout salute and repeated the oath in uniforms made by war widows, of cloth and clothing furnished by the American troops.

The best children's hospital in Korea- the Children's Charity in Pusan which serves the orphans of the city- is largely financed by the American military members of the Masonic Lodge and their fellow- members here at home. Already doctors by the score are volunteering for teaching duties in Korean hospitals and children's clinics and public health services. Nurses are doing the same. Everyone with skills that can be of help wants to have a part in the winning of the peace.

In addition to organized campaigns at the core and division levels, practically every unit has adopted a hospital, orphanage or school as its own. Almost every issue of the Korean edition of The Stars and Stripes carries a story of G.I.'s providing scholarships for a houseboy, equipment for an institution, or clothing for widows and orphans. The First Marine Division alone, for example, has distributed over 18,000 pounds of clothing thus far this year. Some of the most popular items in the post exchanges in Korea are certificates for CARE packages which soldiers may purchase and give to their Korean friends.

But there is more to the story than appears in bold facts and figures. I will never forget one scene on a side street in Seoul. A G.I. from the Engineers squatted on the doorstep with a little bedraggled 6 year orphan. The child wasn't crying, but there was a tear running down his cheek. A Korean G.I. knelt on the other side as interpreter. This was the conversation: "what's the matter, boy? Why aren't you playing with the other kids?" No reply. "Come on, tell me. Shake hands." This is when the answer came, for promptly the left hand was pushed out of the over long coat sleeve. "No give me your other hand. You shake hands with the right hand." No answer. "Come on. Give me your right hand!" Finally a stump of a forearm was pushed out of the right sleeve. "He says he is ashamed," said the interpreter. "The other kids laugh at him, and he can't play."

Then the G.I. had his say: "You know in America some of the greatest athletes have only one hand. One of our best pitchers was a great A.F. pilot who lost a leg and another fellow who had lost a hand, just like you, played outfield in the big leagues. Don't you know that your left arm is twice as strong as the other guy's and don't you know that all of the G.I.'s have chipped in so that you kids can get special new arms up at the Severance Hospital. Don't you ever be ashamed again. You be proud you are a good kid and tough, too."

There is $77,000 in that fund up at Severance Hospital called the First Core Children's Amputee Fund provided by the G.I.'s out of their meager pay for kids like this boy.

Nor is it only children who are the recipients of the American soldier's voluntary aid. It runs deeper.

Korea is not a religious country as we think of religion, although the almost two million Korean Christians have been the backbone in it's rebuilding. They are Christians of various denominations who have learned the Christianity of the missionaries and who express their devotion through service to their fellow men and to their country.

Our G.I.'s understand that, and that is why, out of their own pockets, the Catholic troops in First Core contributed $7500 to building a beautiful stone church- the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Uijongbu. The pastor, Father John Lee, is a native North Korean and served as a R.O.K. Army Chaplain. Here is a church built with a American G.I. funds and volunteer Korean labor that would be a credit to any American community. A similar First Core Memorial Church is now being built nearby to honor the American Protestant war dead in Korea. When completed, it will become the property of the Protestant congregation in Uijongbu.

Thus far, the major contributions to Koreans relief and reconstruction by our troops have been in money, clothing and goods they have received from home. Now with cessation of hostilities and the availability of skilled technical personnel and communications experts and of cranes bulldozers and construction equipment, greater emphasis will be placed on reconstruction activities. The primary mission of our troops in Korea is combat readiness, but as General Taylor has pointed out, our forces there have many resources that can be used to rebuild Korea without interfering with our military mission.

One of the few resources in Korea today is an abundance of unskilled labor. The people of Korea are ready, willing and able to perform the manual labor needed to rebuild their nation. The needed funds, equipment and supplies will come through the $200,000,000 appropriated by Congress to the Foreign Operations Administration, Department of Army funds, the United Nations Korean Reconstruction Agency and such voluntary groups as the American Korean Foundation. Much of the technical skills and "know how" can come from our troops who as a cross section of America represent every conceivable skill.


The Koreans have been deeply moved by the spontaneous aid given them by our troops. They appreciate it for its material value, but even more that it represents the faith which our fighting men have in their ability to rebuild their country and take their rightful place among the free nations of the world. Deep inside our troops are also proud of what they have done, but they say little and do much with the modesty that characterizes the true giver.

In August when I was visiting a small orphanage near Pusan, a jeep drove up with a box of clothing that two big strapping American infantrymen had ordered with their own money from the "dream book" of a large mail order house here at home. The Korean superintendent of the home and I stood by as the men unpacked the box and gave the bright dresses, sweaters and hair ribbons to three small Korean girls they had "adopted".

The Korean superintendent turned to me and said, "not only by their fighting, but in many other ways your boys have saved our country."

The boys turned red. I could not hear their reply, which was muffled by embarrassment. Nor did I reply, but deep in my heart I have never felt so proud to be an American. You would have been, too.





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