VOICE FROM KOREA

 

Medical writer recalls the plight of children

In a nation which needs aid to rebuild itself.

 

By DR. HOWARD A. RUSK, Distinguished Medical Journalist and President, American-Korean Foundation

 
The GI was a Midwestern boy from Indiana. His job was driving a headquarters jeep. It was early on a March morning, 1953 and we were riding along the road outside Pusan. The air was frigid and even in our heavy Army clothes we shivered. He was talking softly, mostly to himself, but I could listen-he wanted me to. He needed to talk, and he needed somebody to listen.
 
"It wasn't so bad this winter," he said. "Last year I could hardly make myself drive my jeep to town in the morning. It was awful Twenty, 30, 40 people dead along the roadside, frozen stiff. The kids were the ones that got my goat. I wanted to cry and fight at the same time. This year it wasn't so bad-only three or four a morning, but I feel better now. Mostly I even feel good-I have ever since my outfit adopted an orphanage."
 
You never leave Korea
 
There is an old saying that once you visit Korea, you can never leave. This is true. Your body can leave but you can't. You keep remembering the things you have seen there. You keep remembering the kids especially. You remember the children's hospital. There never had been a children's hospital in Korea until the war. This is how the first one, in Pusan, got started.
 
A number of American troops had adopted orphans in 1950. They were sick, hungry, frightened kids until they were adopted and then they weren't afraid or hungry anymore. But when the outfits had to move, the emotional impact was even worse.
 
This was the problem that faced Major Clifford G. McKeon. It was time for him to leave his orphan behind. He found that many of his friends were in the same predicament, so they all got together. chipped in and established an orphanage on a hill in Pusan. Its name: Happy Mountain Orphanage.
 
But the Happy Mountain Orphanage was not enough. Many of the kids were not just homeless; they were ill. So the GI's established the Children's Charity Hospital. Two young American pediatricians donated medical care after hours and on Sundays. Today it is a model for Korea, even though there are still two children in each bed and hundreds waiting to get in.
 
If you have visited Korea, you remember many pitiful scenes. You remember the long line at the Maryknoll Clinic-hundreds of sick children in their mothers' arms, waiting their turns. The line starts to form in the evening for the opening the next morning at ? O'clock. Some have to wait a second night because of the crowd. You remember looking on cases of leprosy, skin diseases of every description and malnutrition. You remember the sounds of tubercular coughing. And you remember the looks in the eyes of the children and their mothers-fear overlaid with hope and trust.
 
You cannot forget the blind boys, carrying their pails and feeling their way along the crowded street, sometimes stopping and spending hours with their noses to a crack in a kitchen door begging for food. There is no room for them in Korea's two small schools for the blind. The schools must try to meet the needs of the thousands who cannot see now because there was no medicine to treat their disease, and of the hundreds who did not know when they went to play in the fields that the funny-looking pineapple would explode when picked up.
 
You remember the brass band at the Presbyterian Leprosarius just outside Taegu. You remember there was snow on the ground and more than half the musicians stood barefoot as you went in. They were the untouchables. A little leper boy with his face half gone held the music for those who played on the battered old trumpets and trombones, and as you drew near, you recognized the hymn, What a Friend We Have in Jesus. You remember the eyes of those in your party. They were tough people, lonely and hardened to misery because they had to be: generals, admirals, enlisted men. The tears ran down their cheeks. They did not bother to brush them away. But the kids did not cry, for we were Americans and Americans to them meant hope for the future.
 
Then you remember that in the hospitals and on the ????the refugee camps and in the orphanages you never heard a child whine-not even the lost ones, even though being lost is even worse than being sick.
 
You remember the sergeant in Seoul with his new adopted daughter. The 10-year-old girl's name was Choi. She and her mother walked from Seoul to Pusan with the refugees. That is like walking from New York to Boston in the winter, except that for Choi and her mother there were no places on the way where they could stop and sleep or get warm and eat. In Pusan there was no refuge, so they walked back to Seoul. Then the mother died. Choi had saved almost enough money for the burial, but not quite, so the undertaker took her last possession, a blanket.
 
She sat in the train station in Seoul for a week. That is when the sergeant found her. He managed to get his orders changed so he could stay in Korea while papers were cleared for him to take his new daughter home.
 
If you have ever been to Korea you remember the schools. Children sit shoulder to shoulder on wooden benches or on the floor of tents, caves and lean-tos. The teacher writes the lesson on a homemade blackboard. The few fortunate children who have pencils write over the print of old newspapers. Here you realize then, was the hope of Korea. The Koreans know that too. Although with the old people, who are revered for their age and wisdom, the children are given the first food, the first clothes and the warmest spot in the house.
 
The agony of remembering is softened a little by the recollection of visits to the orphanages. It is heart-warming to know that, out of the generosity of their hearts, our American troops have given more than $25 million from their meager pay to Korea to save its children. They know that our government and the United Nations are doing for Korean relief, but they know it isn't enough. They gave money themselves because they wanted to. They are giving here in the U.S. too. Veterans' organizations all over the country are putting on "marches" to solicit for the American-Korean Foundation in its current drive for funds. The foundation (its address is simply c/o local postmaster) is a non-profit, nonsectarian, nonpolitical organization, which has been aiding Korean reconstruction for 20 months.
 
In the havens these donations have already provided are happy children in swings, on teeter-totters and in sandboxes. They sing. They sing the plaintive Arirang, which rings out wherever Koreans are at work, and children are at play. No matter how long you have been away from Korea you remember hearing that same tune hummed by the GI's as they go about their tasks.
 
And then you remember something so small that it has almost slipped your memory, but it is something significant. It was March, but none of the children in these orphanages had runny noses. Each had a small homemade handkerchief pinned to his jacket. It was a little thing, but amid all these scenes of destitution, there is some solace in this little gesture by our GIs.
 
You remember the deep personal and spiritual resources of the Korean people: their remarkable mixture of stoic courage, dignity, adaptability and humor: their thirst for education; and their deep traditions of the family as the basic social unit. You chuckle again when you remember the time you said, "They tell me that you Koreans are the Irish of the Orient." Looking you straight in the eye without the trace of a crinkle around the eyes or mouth, the Korean answered, "No, doctor, whoever told you that was mistaken. We are not the Irish of the Orient-the Irish are the Koreans of Europe."
 
Korea's spirit is still there, like a spark, flickering but alive. Korea needs more schools, hospitals, clinics and child welfare institutions. She desperately needs training for her people-more physicians, dentists, nurses, welfare workers, teachers, administrators, engineers, scientists and technicians. But even more than this Korea needs to belong-to know that through courage, sacrifice and devotion to the principles of freedom, she has earned her place among the nations of the free world.
 
Education-$4 a year
 
Despite inflation, a great deal can still be bought in Korea for very little. An orphan can attend a public school for $4.00 a year. One dollar a day will pay for a hospital bed in a children's hospital. Two hundred dollars a month of additional support for an orphanage will provide an adequate supplementary diet, school equipment and a teacher.
 
Here in a country half way around the world, were we fought a war we did not win, we have at long last a chance to win the peace. For the first time in history U.S. soldiers who have had to devastate a country are voluntarily helping to reconstruct it.
 
Our own government and the UN have programs have programs of official aid, but that is not enough, materially or spiritually. The Koreans who have fought suffered and died to be free must feel the compassion of the warm person-to-person friendship and admiration which they have earned. We can never repay the Koreans for their steadfastness and their suffering by material things alone. We can only repay them in the currency of friendship by helping them with their comeback.
 
We have paid in blood and lives to stop Communist aggression in Korea. In this fight for freedom, little Korea lost twice as many of its people as the U.S. lost in World War I, World War II and Korea combined. Yet, despite all their suffering, the Koreans remain unsubdued. When I visited hospitals, leprosariums, refugee camps and hospitals on two missions to Korea last year, I never heard a child cry or a man groan in his pain. All that was asked can be summed up in the appeal of one who said to me, "Won't you help us off our knees so we can continue to fight for the free world?"
 
Through military measures, Communist aggression has been halted in Korea, but the same vigor and determination that marked our military efforts must now be devoted to the economic and social reconstruction of this war-devastated nation. Otherwise we may lose through the "back door" what we have gained at a tremendous expenditure of lives and money.
 
It is when you remember all of these things that you are glad you can never really leave Korea, that you are privileged to carry a part of it with you always in your heart. It is a privilege as well to be part of a crusade that helps a gallant nation off its knees.