National Geographic Magazine

May 1953: 635-664.
 

The GI and the Kids of Korea

America's Fighting Men Share Their Food, Clothing, and Shelter with Children of a War-torn Land

 

By Robert H. Mosier, Technical Sergeant, United States Marine Corps

 

[Introductory remarks and story of a visit to the home of his house boy. We pick up the story on their return to his base.]
 
I thought about that matter of gratitude as we rode north. The Koreans I'd met had been really surprised at the kindness our troops showed toward their kids. Not that they don't like their own children, but their sympathy tends to dwindle at the limit of the family circle.
 
Reds Stoned Hungry Children
 
Moreover, they said they'd seen the Chinese Red soldiers either ignore or shy rocks at youngsters who tried to beg food from their company messes, and they expected our men would act the same way.
 
My work as a photographer had taken me around a good section of the forward areas, with Marine infantry regiments, tank and weapons companies, and rocket teams, Korean Marine units, and Navy medical sections. I'd seen what the Marines had done for Korea's kids, and I'd heard or read about the work of the other services. I guess they weren't doing anything that GIs haven't done in any country they've fought in; but, all the same, it made me feel pretty good to be an American.
 
A lieutenant with the 11th Marines---Harry L. Gary---took one look at the goose-pimpled, ragged kids around his base and wrote home to Springfield, Missouri. Inside of 12 days his aunt and uncle and the local newspaper had put on a clothing drive and begun shipment of about three-quarters of a ton of sweaters, shoes, gloves, and things like that.
 
A fellow with the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, M/Sgt. John Cain, began to chip in part of his pay to send some Korean kids to school. When Cain was shot down over North Korea, the rest of his squadron took over the job. Now they have 20 kids in school and are trying to build a new one to house 100 more.
 
The wing as a whole didn't do so badly, either. By the time I left Korea, it had collected more than 100,000 pounds of clothing from home and had passed it along to some 2,000 orphans and hundreds of refugees. On top of that, the men dug about $18,000 from their own pockets to buy food and put up orphanages.
 
Maybe you read about "Operation Kidlift." There were quite a few such lifts, actually, but the one Marine Aircraft Group 12 staged was typical. The group was near Kangnung, below the 38th Parallel, when the men heard about a bunch of Korean children stranded up in no man s land.
 
The UN civil assistance people were trying to evacuate them by truck, but, in the snow and over those mountains, the trip was taking about 12 hours, and some of the children were dying on the way.
 
The upshot was that the Marines got a green light to fly a transport up there. They picked up 50 dirty, half-starved kids so thin they had to stuff pillows around them to make the safety belts fit. When the plane landed at Kangnung, the kids didn't want to get out, and when the Marines sat them down in front of some hot rice, they wouldn't eat. They'd been told by the Communists that the Americans liked to round up children, fatten them, and dine off them.
 
Marine's Mustache Helps Cause
 
MAG 12 finally convinced the youngsters that the Marines were more interested in becoming foster parents than cannibals. Then they began to gobble up their food and sing and play with the dolls and slingshots and wooden horses the Marines had improvised for them.
 
But the group didn't let it go at a one-day gesture of good will. The Marine airmen took on the support of the orphanage to which the children were sent, foraged for clothes, raised money (one Marine auctioned off in the States a picture of his 13-inch mustache), and even spent their few hours of leave time playing nursemaid, teacher, and back-scrubber. Two weeks later they went back to the front for another planeload.
 
This idea of seeing the job through is pretty well illustrated, I think, by Lt. Comdr. Dick Cleaves, who was chaplain of Marine Aircraft Group 33. When Cleaves helped to set up the Marine Memorial Orphanage at Pohang- dong, he took part of the money the Marines contributed and bought land which the kids themselves could cultivate. Kids were added only as fast as rice paddies could be bought. The orphanage consists now of six buildings and more than 5,700 pyong of rice lands (a pyong is 36 square feet).
 
These few instances, of course, don't begin to cover all that the Marines have done, formally or informally, for the children they've met. And the other services have been just as active. You might not think the Navy got ashore enough to know what the kids' needs were, but I can tell you what the men of one ship did, anyway.
 
They were serving on the carrier USS Kearsarge, and they decided that the children they wanted to help would be those who had had it roughest. So they picked out an orphanage set up in an old Buddhist retreat near Seoul, a place where soldiers brought kids abandoned along the battle line. For this little mission, run by American medical missionaries, they collected more than 1,200 pounds of warm winter gear.
 
Navy units tend to pass the word along from ship to ship. Another one that did a real job was the heavy cruiser USS Los Angeles. Its crew rounded up big donations of cash and clothing for 10 different orphanages and hospitals in Korea.
 
I wasn't in Korea at the time of the Air Force's "Operation Orphan Annie," but I've heard about it. It was organized in December, 1950, when the Chinese were pushing us back, and it looked as if Seoul would have to be evacuated.
 
In the retreat we had picked up hundreds of babies---some of them sitting beside their dead parents, others just lost and huddled in the doorways of bombed buildings or sleeping on piles of rubble. Plans were made to ship about a thousand off to a safe island by a South Korean naval vessel.
 
But the ship never showed up at Inchon. So the Air Force Combat Cargo Command stepped in. Though they had work enough to do in the scramble that was going on to regroup all UN forces, they somehow rustled up 15 twin-engine transports, crowded 70 kids into each flight, and flew them southward out of Kimpo Airfield.
 
It was lucky they did, at least 100 of the children were already too sick or weak to walk. The weather was freezing, and some of them had no more on than the straw sacks or thin rags they had been found in.
 
Airmen Return with Christmas Gifts
 
They arrived safely, though, and began life all over again on Cheju Do (Island). One thing that interested me was to read. in the paper later that the airmen who had flown them in came back the following Christmas with a load (which they had paid for) of 2,000 lollypops, several Christmas trees, 1,000 rice bowls, 2,500 notebooks, 100 toothbrushes, and some sewing machines for the girls. Korea's "Orphan Annies" hadn't been forgotten.
 
What About the Army? All I can say is that whenever I picked up one of their news- sheets in the field (anything from a blurry mimeographed regimental bulletin to a printed division weekly), I ran across accounts of clothing drives, fund-raising campaigns, building projects, and Christmas parties for Korean kids. Half the time items like that would crowd world news or battle stories right off the front page.
 
I remember particularly the job the 40th Infantry Division did at Kapyong, 36 miles northeast of Seoul. This little town wasn't exactly a cultural metropolis, I guess, even before the war. But when the fighting had whipsawed through it five times, it really began to show signs of wear and tear. Most of the houses, in fact, and all of the schools had been thoroughly chewed up.
 
That hadn't stopped the Korean teachers and their kids. They used tents for class rooms. With winter coming on, however, they were facing some pretty chilly school days.
 
At that point the 40th Division stepped into the picture. Its commander, Maj. Gen. Joseph P. Cleland, conferred with Kapyong's officials about their needs. Then he went back to his own men and put it up to them.
 
Within three weeks the GIs in the 40th scraped up $14,000---and an architect. He was First Lt. Robert F. Van Hoef, and he designed a long, low, modern school building which could take care of 600 kids. He even drew sketches of an auditorium and outdoor pool that could be added later. That may sound fantastically ambitious. But $14,000 can go a long way in Korea, especially if the labor is free. The people of Kapyong, short on money but long on energy, volunteered to perform all the manual labor and to provide the sand, stone, and gravel. They even set up a little sawmill.
 
The work wasn't all left to the men, either. They have Widows' Clubs in Korea, made up of women whose husbands were killed in the war. The local Kapyong chapter turned out, 150 strong, and unloaded the stone for the rock-and-cement foundation.
 
When the building went up, the townspeople had one last request. They wanted to christen it. And the name they picked for it was Kaiser---for Sgt. First Class Kenneth Kaiser, Jr., of Los Angeles. Why? Because he was the first man from the 40th to be killed in combat in Korea.
 
"Boys' Town" Comes to Korea
 
There's another project you ought to know about. That's the Children's Democratic Town on Chin Oo Do, off South Korea. It was set up by Lt. Col. John C. Keele, Jr., of the United Nations Civil Assistance Command, Korea, in the spring of 1951, when UNCACK was getting 'worried about the gangs of kids roaming the streets of Pusan, begging and stealing for their living.
 
Keele was interested in doing more for the kids than filling their stomachs-though that was a job in itself. He wanted to show them what democracy was all about, by having them live it.
 
The island he took them to was just a barren rib in the sea, so unimportant that nobody had ever bothered to name it. But the children did. They called it Chin Oo Do, which means "Island of True Friends."
 
Under Keele's guidance, the town's 190 boys and 30 girls organized themselves into a community run on the honor system. Each month they elect their own mayor, vice-mayor, and departmental officials. Each tent has a judge, and the island as a whole has a high judge. Twenty boys make up the police force.
 
They had a rough go of it at first. Their tents were unheated; their blankets were spread on beds of seaweed. Clothes were scarce and rations uncertain. Now these kids are trying to become more self-sufficient by growing truck gardens, raising poultry, and fishing.
 
They wouldn't have pulled through, however, without relief packages, and they've shown their recognition of it by naming their tents after the cities from which the gifts have come. Streets in Chin Oo Do form a kind of roster of UN charity-Washington, New York, Sydney, Bangkok, Jerusalem, Lon- don, Manila, Paris.
 
. . .
 
Furthermore, the kids don't lose sight of the principles on which their town is supposed to be run. The lane up from the dock is studded with placards that read: "Absolute Honesty. Absolute Purity. Absolute Unselfishness. Absolute Love. No Hatred. No Fear. No Covetousness. New Man. New Country. New World."
 
A Big Drop in a Big Bucket
 
Quite an order. But the kids seem to think they can pull it off . At any rate, they've strung up a bell made of six shell casings. They call it the "Holy Bell of Change," and the inscription reads: "This bell changes everything. Things evil good; things good better. . . ."
 
These were hopeful things to mull over, jolting through the mountains on the long road back to the front. I knew we Americans were doing a lot, one way or another, to relieve the misery around us. Yet it still seemed a drop in the bucket. A big drop; but a big bucket, too.
 
The figures we usually heard put the number of Korean refugees at 3,500,000, the number of orphans at 100,000--this in a nation of only 20,000,000. If we applied the same ratio of disaster to our own population of 158,000,000, it would mean more than 27,000,000 Americans blasted out of their homes and turned onto the roads with not much more than a rucksack to their backs. Moreover, it would mean that those hordes of refugees would be pressing back upon cities and farms never really rich and now thoroughly ripped up by war.
 
Stacked up against calamity on a scale like that, our best efforts can't look like much. And I couldn't help wondering what will hap pen to Korea's children when the Marines and the GIs and the other troops pull out-a day that will have to come sometime.
 
[We will have to scan in the last part of this article.]
 
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