Having Fun

Christmas Parties, Song and Dance, Sports, Boy Scouts of Korea.

Christmas Parties

There was almost a need on the part of the American Armed Forces in Korea to celebrate the Christmas season with the children. It was just as much for the psychological well-being of the servicemen and women as it was for the orphans who were being feted. I remember we used to begin in September and October planning for our annual Christmas Party for the kids in our (326th Communications Reconnaissance Company) orphanage. Such parties were good for the morale of the troops and stories of them were often reported in the Pacific Stars and Stripes.

The American armed forces introduced the concept of Christmas Parties to this Asian Nation that had only a tiny Christian community. It was the time of the year when the servicemen and women were feeling a loss of contact with loved ones and the fun and activity of the Christmas season back home. While the Christmas parties were for the children the GIs often has as much fun as the kids. For awhile the horror of war was forgotten and the fun of giving Christmas gifts and singing Christmas carols took precedence. Along with the story of Christ’s birth came the story of Santa Claus and in this new context one found Santa riding an ox cart, carrying an “A-frame” and adapting to the local culture. The Christmas parties took a lot of planning that often began many months earlier. It would be safe to say that almost every military unit in Korea sought to do something for the children at this time of the year.

 

Christmas Parties, photographs and stories.

 

Song and Dance

Love of music and dance must be in the genes of all Koreans. Korean choral groups are among the finest in the world. How far back this tradition goes I know not. I do know that staff in most orphanages taught the children to sing and dance and the children did so at the slightest hint that they had an appreciative audience of visiting GIs. I think "Jesus Loves Me" and "Ariang" were in the repertoir of every orphanage in Korea during the war years. Many observers of the orphanage scene in those days commented on the children singing and dancing. One quote about the children singing sticks with me and I share it with you here: “The children sang several songs. … The first number they did was “Old Black Joe.” If you recall the lines of the last stanza, the words go, “I hear their gentle voices calling ‘Old Black Joe’.” The youngsters didn’t sing it that way. They sang it, “I hear their gentle voices calling GI Joe.”

Knowing how much the children in the Seoul Sanitarium and Hospital Orphanage loved music the fellows in my unit, the 326th CRC, offered to keep a portable radio the orphanage has recently been given supplied with batteries (very expensive on the local market) and in good repair (we had our own radio repair technicians) provided the staff allowed the children to listen to the hour of classical music broadcast every day on the Armed Forces Radio station. Later, when back in the 'States, I was able to ship a donated piano to the orphanage in a shipment of aid sent from the Monterey California Public School District. Here are stories and photos of the children singing and dancing.

Song and Dance, photo pages and stories.

 

Sports and Recreation

Children are very resilient and once in an orphanage where they received food, shelter and clothing they began to blossom. American servicemen often went to the orphanages to play with the children. On many occasions the GIs would take the children out on walks or to go swimming or to a company picnic. Many games played by the children needed only a ball, a board or a few sticks. Soon there were baseball teams, boxing competition, basketball games and other activities as the GIs brought in sporting equipment from Japan or had it sent from home. Military units often built swings, slides and other such objects for the orphanages they were sponsoring. But the kids also played their own traditional games and sports. Often one would see two girls on a see-saw, bouncing up and down but not in a sitting position. They were doing this while standing! Jumping rope, playing tag, playing soccer were all part of the activities of the children once they were in good health and able to participate. How great it was to see the children having such fun!

 

Sports and Recreationphoto pages and stories.

 

Boy Scouts of Korea

One day in 1952 as I was exploring the city of Seoul I accidently came upon the office of the Boy Scouts of Korea. I was delighted as I was an avid scouter and had already visited the scouting movement and had participated in scouting activities in more than twenty countries. On entering the army I donated my collection of over 2,000 scout insignia from 55 nations to the museum of the Boy Scouts of America. While stationed at Fort Devans, Massachussets, I served as Scoutmaster of the base troop. Here was my chance to visit with scouts in yet another nation.

The scout leader I met spoke English. I took photographs of him with the boys. Unfortunately I did not note his name. He told me they shared space in a building which was characterized as the "Smallest YMCA in the World." During the war they had lost everything and the organization had no scouting manuals or publications as their library was completely destroyed. On my return to the USA I sent them a large box of Boy Scouts of America publications, everything available in our regional scout headquarters. I recall the postage cost $35 to mail it via the APO address to a buddy of mine still in the 326th CRC in Korea. He took the books to the Korean Boy Scout office for me. Below you can read the letter I received thanking me for the donation. Note the comment that they would henceforth use regular postage as they could not afford air mail. I have since tried to make contact with the Boy Scouts of Korea but they have not responded. I offered them copies of all the material relating to the Boy Scouts of Korea that I had been finding in my research. But no response to my offers. So rather than continue trying to make contact with a bureaucracy that does not respond I post the material here. Perhaps a Korean Boy Scout will find these photos and tell others about them.

Frankly, I was quite surprised to note the extent to which the scouting movement had already taken hold in the Republic of Korea and the extent to which many of the orphanages quickly developed scout troops. If a reader of this document knows something about the founding of scouting in Korea I would appreciate knowing more about it.

Boy Scouts of Korea Photo Page
Letter from Boy Scouts of Korea to George F. Drake

Years later (1962 or 1963) one of the highlights of my involvement in the scouting movement was having the honor and delight of hosting a reception for Lady Badden-Powell, widow of Lord Robert Badden-Powell, founder of the world scouting movement, when she visited Manizales, Colombia. At that time I was in the U.S Foreign Service serving as Director of the USIS cultural center in that city.