Air Force Chaplains 1947-1960, Volume II, Chapter
[p. 280] The serviceman's concern for the hungry,
homeless, destitute, orphaned, and sick is one of the heart-warming
chapters in modern military history. No sooner did Americans occupy
an area during World War II than they began to befriend the needy. No
sooner had the artillery been silenced and the bombs no longer dropped
than they began to help those who but a short time before had been their
enemies. A devil in combat, fun-loving in his free time, the serviceman
was generous to the point of being a "sucker" for anyone in
[p. 286] The greatest example of this type of humanitarian
service occurred in Korea. Chaplain Terence P. Finnegan in a staff visit
to Korea, just 4 months after the outbreak of hostilities, reported:
"Many orphans in a starvation condition and
with very inadequate clothing have been picked up by airmen in the streets
of Seoul and nearby areas. These were brought to orphanages or to the
Staff Chaplain's Office for disposition. To assist in their rehabilitation
in the orphanages, the Chaplains (Lt. Col. Russell L. Blaisdell and
Capt. James Nornille) at Headquarters Fifth in Korea issued a request
for funds. The response was extraordinary and has extended to all the
Air Force units in FEAF."
The "extraordinary" response was only the
beginning. Hundreds of orphanages sprang up over Korea.
The movement of orphans by C-119 and other aircraft
to Cheju-do, an island off the southern coast of Korea opposite Chinhae,
was popularized in the book by Col. Dean Hess, Battle Cry, and the movie
of the same title. In the movie there is no mention of a chaplain, but
this is the report made by no less an observer than Lowell Thomas on
the CBS network 6:45 p.m., 20 December 1950:
"Today the Air Force in Korea was carrying out
what they called Operation Little Orphan Annie. In the Seoul area they
are flying out a thousand children- waifs and strays of war. This host
of orphans had been taken to the Port of Inchon to be taken away by
a vessel of the South Korean Navy. But the ship failed to arrive so
an airlift was organized-Operation Little Orphan Annie. The story goes
back to a humane project which began when American airplanes first arrived
in Seoul after the liberation of the city several months ago. U.S. pilots
found a child half dead lying on the grounds of the Korean orphanage
which had been abandoned in the fighting for the city. They picked him
up and took care of that waif and then decided to get the orphanage
going again and support it and they all came through with contributions
and Korean war orphans were taken in by the score.
The Air Force plan was to expand the thing into a
child welfare center for Seoul. But the fortunes of war took that unlucky
turn and Seoul menaced by the Reds is being evacuated again. At the
orphanage the children were moved out and taken to Inchon to await the
Korean ship-the ship that never came. There they were marooned for three
days- until their plight was discovered by Chaplain Blaisdell of Hayfield,
Minnesota. He took fast action, the airlift was organized and began
today-U.S. planes flying out a thousand children-Operation Little Orphan
The fact is that chaplains, including Russell Blaisdell,
had been deeply concerned about orphans from the first, and they weren't
the only ones.
Publicity from Operation Little Orphan Annie led
to disagreement between the Army and the Air Force. The FEAF staff chaplain
in 1951 reported:
"Inaccurate publicity on the air movement of
orphans from Seoul to Cheju-do apparently had created the impression
that Fifth Air Force had assumed full responsibility for this project.
In a letter to FEAF, the Staff Chaplain of GHQ pointed out that Eighth
Army was the supervisory agency for the distribution of United Nation's
supplies through Korean agencies."
In order to straighten out the misunderstanding there
was a meeting of Headquarters, FEAF, chaplains, the 8th Army's Civil
Assistance Division, and 8th Army chaplains, and this meeting led to
a second. The FEAF staff chaplain said that FEAF, especially Fifth Air
Force, was happy to assist, but the maintenance of orphans was not its
function. The Civil Assistance Division stated that they assumed full
responsibility and "that a Civil Assistance team assigned permanently
to Cheju-do would see to the needs of the orphans." The incident
illustrated the interest military agencies had in the welfare of the
orphaned and focused national attention on this tragic eddy of war.
The problem was too great for a standardized approach.
Thousands of refugees flooded through the battle lines and surged like
a wave of misery toward the south. Children of all ages, cut off from
parents and relatives, formed into gangs for mutual help, begging and
stealing. Mothers unable to feed their children abandoned them at sentry
Posts. Boys and girls lived in ditches, caves, the streets of cities
in unbelievable poverty. Many had shrapnel in their bodies. All had
diseases and parasites. The American serviceman, faced with this tragedy
of war, could not wait for official channels and agencies which were
already strained to the breaking point. Unit after unit in Korea sponsored
orphanages, gathering up children, getting Koreans to run them, providing
clothing, food, and supplies. In order to qualify for any rice ration
from UNCACK, an orphanage had to have 50 children, and there were other
desperate needs. The serviceman responded through his own resources
and through letters to parents and home churches.
The casual way in which many orphanages were organized
can be seen in the following incident. In June 1951 a North Korean refugee
came to K-6 Air Base near Osan seeking a tent for the Onyang Presbyterian
Church whose building had been completely demolished. He told of numerous
children who were without shelter, food, and clothing. A tent was furnished,
and airmen gathered food and clothing for the children. They wrote their
parents and home churches. Men of Anderson AFB on Guam and Tachikawa
and Johnson in Japan contributed. In less than a year, the orphanage
occupied two large brick buildings with classrooms and was named the
"Onyang Brenner Orphanage," in honor of Chaplain Arthur E.
K. Brenner, who headed the project. This orphanage still housed 120
children in 1960 and was licensed as a school.
Support of orphanages, including the above, passed
from unit to unit, chaplain to chaplain. When Chaplain Willis M. Lewis'
unit took over the New Hope Orphanage in 1951 there were 125 children
in it. Within I year there were 400, and the unit had contributed $3,000
to $4,000 for their support in addition to clothing and other supplies.
The 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing in 1952-53, with the advice and cooperation
of UNCACK, contributed monthly support to 5 orphanages in Masan, Chinhae,
and Wonju, each with numbers ranging from 78 to 356 children. When the
unit moved to K- 55 at Osan, it assumed support for two other orphanages.
At one time 406 pairs of shoes were purchased for children who had none.
In addition, some medical assistance was provided and part of construction
costs were paid for the largest orphanage, So-jan-Ri, 6 miles from Wonju.
Chaplains at K-16 in 1953 contributed to the support of 1,020 orphans
in the Seoul area. In December 1956-"the chaplains at K-55 purchased
485 suits of underwear for orphans in the vicinity of Osan and distributed
surplus cereal, crackers, powdered milk, and used clothing. In 1958
airmen at Kunsan AB rebuilt the Methodist Orphanage which had been destroyed
The extent of this program and an inherent problem
can be seen in the following report by FEAF Staff Chaplain Glenn Witherspoon
"Between 1 July 1952 and 1 May 1953, Air Force
personnel contributed $177,350 to chaplain sponsored projects, designed
to establish and maintain Japanese and Korean orphanages. In addition,
donations of clothing, food and other essentials nearly double that
When orphanages first became a project, adequate
housing was the main problem, but once this was solved more permanent
buildings became necessary. The current goal is to make orphanages self-supporting.
To achieve this end, agricultural projects were instituted
and children taught how to plant and raise food and to care for cattle,
livestock and poultry." ...
The problem was how orphans would survive once the
serviceman left. Self-support was one answer. In July 1956, the 502nd
Tactical Control Group presented the Ae Haeng Orphanage a sum of $60
and a rice field that had cost $500. FEAF Base Command took steps to
make the Myong Jin Orphanage in Korea self-supporting through establishment
of a business including a bathhouse, beauty shop, and barbershop.
When Chaplain James Patterson arrived as Fifth Air
Force Staff Chaplain, he became concerned over the administration of
orphanages into which servicemen were pouring thousands of dollars.
Investigations disclosed that some unscrupulous Korean racketeers were
running spurious orphan projects to prey on sympathies of generous servicemen.
Some of these hired children for a small pittance to play in the orphanage
and its yard each day and pose as hungry, needy orphans. Others sold
CARE packages, blankets, clothing, medicine, food, and toys on the black
market. At one orphanage, the chaplain found almost naked children in
severe winter weather, but a storeroom filled with clothing. Some chaplains
who thought they were the main support of an orphanage were surprised
to find that chaplains of other units--Army, Marine, and Air Force --
claimed the same distinction. Chaplain Patterson urged each chaplain
to coordinate his efforts with UNCACK. In 1957 Dr. Russell T. Loesch,
after a visit to the Far East, reported:
"One of the things the commanders in the Korean
theater should be commended for is the setting up of a central agency
to screen the multitudes of orphanage and agency appeals. There has
been a considerable amount of racketeering going on and a great deal
of misguided giving of moneys without checking on the actual use of
the money and materials. . . . The central agency is carefully screening
those that are doing a good job and this venture should be sustained
among the servicemen."
While it is true that the serviceman's generosity
was at times misused, his help meant the difference between life and
death for thousands of Korean children. One of the big problems unresolved
in 1960, was whether this support could be absorbed by Korean, missionary,
and benevolent agencies.
Another effect of this humanitarian activity was
that it bolstered morale of servicemen. Chaplain Carpenter described
a party for orphans he attended on Easter Sunday 1951, a party in which
the children sang several songs. He said:
"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'."
Somehow, it didn't sound unusual. These kids knew
nothing of "Old Black Joe". . . .
But GI Joe, that was different. They knew GI Joe.
He was an American soldier who'd come in through the beleaguered port
of Pusan and fought his way north, pushing back the Communist invaders
who'd slaughtered their parents. This GI Joe was the fellow who moved
into a town with his tanks, his rifles, and his grenades, and dislodged
the enemy. While he was doing it, he would spy some frightened, little
tyke, all alone, cowering in a corner or hiding in a barrel. He'd pause
long enough to take the child in his arms, pet her a bit and give her
a bar of chocolate. Then he'd hunt up a chaplain, slip him a few bills,
and say, "Chappie, you take care of this child, and when I get
a chance, I'll see that you get some money."
He wouldn't forget. He'd shove on but he'd keep sending
back money to care for the child.
On this basis, orphanages had sprung up all over
Korea. Through GI generosity, tens of thousands of war-made orphans,
from whose lives love and security had vanished, found new homes and
The Korean kids ended their program that Easter Sunday
with a song for the country from which their friend, GI Joe, had come--"God
An airman who had helped a child to live could say,
"At least I have done this much good."
Dr. Daniel A. Poling, editor of Christian Herald
and president of the World's Christian Endeavor Union, praised the generosity
of the American servicemen on his return from a 1955 4-week globe-circling
trip. He said, "From his pay, the young American in uniform in
all the services has contributed not less than $84 million to feed,
clothe, and house the orphans of Korea, Japan, Germany, and the (Pacific)
islands. Today more than 50,000 of these children and babies are in
The concern of the servicemen for orphans and needy
children, as well as for war widows and the aged, is a heartening story.