NY Times Magazine,
October 11, 1953.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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