[The author presents evidence that Col. Dean
E. Hess, supposed hero of the Kiddy Car Airlift, did not plan it,
did not direct it, did not witness it, did not participate in it and
even tried to delay it. His only role in the airlift was to prepare
the housing for the children when they arrived at Cheju-do and yet
he shamelessly, over the years, accepted credit and the highest awards
of the Government of Korea for this rescue. His written account of
the rescue presented in the book Battle Hymn suggested by
innuendo that he was responsible for the rescue but the movie, supposedly
a "true story," took the falsehood even further. Here is
the story of how Dean E. Hess stole credit for the Kiddy Car Airlift.]
When the Chinese forces were approaching
the northern edge of Seoul in December of 1950 Air Force Chaplain Russell
L. Blaisdell and his Chaplain’s Assistant S/Sgt Merle Y. Strang,
arranged for trucks to take 950 children and 80 orphanage staff of the
Seoul Receiving Center and another smaller orphanage out of Seoul to
Inchon to board an LST for escape to Pusan at the southern tip of the
Korean peninsula. Chaplain Blaisdell was responsible for the rescue
of many of these children from the streets of the devastated city in
the months prior to their evacuation for Inchon. It was Blaisdell and
Strang who stayed by the orphans and staff in a 35 ft. by 70 ft school
building for four and a half days waiting for the ship that never arrived.
It was Chaplain Blaisdell who, on a
desperate trip back to Seoul, with Sgt. Strang as driver of his jeep,
made arrangements for the flight of sixteen C-54s to fly the children
and staff from Kimpo airport the next morning to Cheju-do Island located
to the south of the Korean Peninsula. It was Blaisdell and Strang who
commandeered the trucks (Blaisdell “pulled rank” to take
the trucks away from another unit loading cement on a boat in Inchon
harbor) necessary to transport the children, staff and 15 tons of food
and belongings to Kimpo Airport on the morning of the 20th of December.
Hess had nothing to do with any of this and was totally unaware of the
exigencies faced by Blaisdell at every step of the way in effecting
On the 19th of December as soon as Blaisdell had
arranged with Colonel T.C. Rogers, Assistant Director of Operations
for the Fifth Air Force, for the flight of C-54s to arrive at Kimpo
the next morning he wired Hess that he would arrive on Cheju-do Island
on the 20th with the children. Hess wired back that the situation on
Cheju-do was not ready for them and asked Blaisdell to delay the operation.
Blaisdell responded that there was no way he would postpone the rescue
flights. Other than this exchange of messages initiated by Colonel Blaisdell
there was no other contact between Hess and Blaisdell regarding the
rescue of the children between their last meeting in Taegu a week earlier
and their meeting on Cheju-do after the rescue.
Hess states in his book Battle Hymn that he desperately
was trying to make arrangements for the flight of C-54s from the Combat
Cargo Command. No one doubts that he was working on that task but nowhere
does he clearly state that he actually made contact with anyone who
made a commitment to send the planes to rescue the children. If, in
fact, he did make that contact and obtained a commitment for the flight
of C-54s Hess gives no indication of how he got that information to
Chaplain Blaisdell so Blaisdell could get the children to the airport
to meet the rescue aircraft on time. Hess is portrayed in the book Battle
Hymn, the movie and in later newspaper articles as desperately calling
every one he could to get a flight of planes to rescue the children.
We can agree that Colonel Hess was concerned about the children but
the facts show that it was Blaisdell and not Hess who was successful
in making contact with the Combat Cargo Command to bring in the flight
of C-54s to rescue the children.
In other words Colonel Hess actually had nothing
to do with the successful rescue of the children in the famous Kiddy
Car Airlift. Accordingly it is incomprehensible how Hess could successfully
claim over the years to be the one who rescued the children.
Once the children were located at Cheju-do Colonel
Hess was in regular contact with the orphanage and provided extensive
assistance. Besides the involvement of Hess and his crew many tons of
material aid and tens of thousands of dollars were coming from persons
in the U.S. and from military units in Korea and Japan to help the orphans.
Most of this was as a result of Hal Boyle’s Associated Press article
on the rescue that appeared in newspapers throughout the United States.
Colonel Blaisdell went to Cheju-do with an air shipment of aid packages
on several occasions but Colonel Hess was there on a regular basis doing
all he could for the welfare of the children.
Hess’s first inference that he was the one
responsible for the rescue of the children in the Kiddy Car Airlift
appeared in his autobiography Battle Hymn
which was first published in 1956 almost six years after the actual
air lift. On the book jacket one reads “But Colonel Hess will
perhaps be best remembered for his heroic efforts in Seoul, Korea, in
1951 [sic.] on behalf of thousands of defenseless Korean orphans about
to be engulfed by the Chinese Communist armies sweeping down from the
north. Tormented by the sight of these homeless doomed children in the
streets of Seoul, he shepherded them to the Seoul airport where he sent
out a distress call to his commander. At the last minute, a Fifth Air
Force airlift, later to become famous as “Operation Kiddy Car”
picked up the orphans and flew them to safety on Cheju Island off the
southern coast of Korea.” This statement is total fiction and
part of a publisher's campaign to sell the book as a true story.
This blatant misrepresentation of the facts of the
case was but the beginning of a steady flow of falsehoods. The book
Battle Hymn as a grossly self serving distortion
of the facts of the Kiddy Car Airlift and a poorly researched document.
Had Hess actually read any of the media coverage given the Kiddy Car
Airlift, which he refers to in the book, he would have been able to
write a much better and more accurate account of what actually happened
with regard to the airlift. The lack of accurate information in the
book regarding the airlift is inexcusable since Hess, after leaving
Korea, was appointed Director of Air Force Information Services and
had access to everything published in the Pacific Stars
& Stripes newspaper on the rescue.
The errors of the book were magnified in the movie.
In the movie, which was presented as a true story, Hess is shown walking
with the children from Inchon to Kimpo Airport. None of them walked.
The movie doesn’t even mention Blaisdell and leaves the viewer
believing that it was Hess who organized the rescue and was with the
children during their time of trial.
In the first several years after the rescue the media
recognized Colonel Blaisdell as the person who successfully rescued
the children and orphanage staff in the Kiddy Car Airlift but after
the release of the book and movie in 1956 and 1957 no one went back
to the earlier records to ascertain the truth. The accepted story from
then on was that it was Colonel Hess who rescued the children. And,
it seemed that Hess began to believe the distortions as truth and accepted
credit for a rescue he did not organize, did not manage, tried to delay
and was not even witness to.
This is unconscionable as Hess had dinner one night
in Los Angeles during the filming of the movie Battle Hymn
with Mike Strang who had assisted Chaplain Blaisdell in the rescue.
Hess asked Strang about the rescue but once knowing the truth from one
of the actual heroes of that airlift he refused to help Strang get a
role in the movie. Even if Hess had never read any of the articles printed
in the Pacific Stars & Stripes, Colliers
Magazine, Time Magazine and
other publications about the rescue back in 1950, 1951, 1952 or 1953
he now had information on what really happened directly from Sgt. Strang.
It seems that Colonel Hess was now a captive of his
own inaccurate portrayal of the rescue as presented in his book. The
media now had him as the hero, the person who walked with the children
from Seoul to Inchon and back to Kimpo for the rescue. Now that the
rights to the book were in the hands of movie producers Hess had lost
control of the story. And the story really got out of control when the
movie was promoted throughout Korea and the U.S. as a true portrayal
of the Kiddy Car Airlift.
The articles published in newspaper accounts about
the book and film were outrageous in the amount of incorrect information
that was printed. From various issues of the Pacific Stars and Stripes
we quote, “Using AF C-119 aircraft, Hess gathered some 800 orphans
from different sections of the country and flew them to safety”.
(27 Sept. 1956) “Hess organized “Operation Kiddy Car”
(12 Jan. 1957). “Battle Hymn Has Seoul Premiere…Korean waifs
and ROK Air force bands teamed up to provide fanfare marking the premiere
of “Battle Hymn” describing Col. Dean Hess’s heroic
actions in saving trapped Korean orphans from the Chinese communists
in the winter of 1950-1951.” (30 June 1957). “Air Force
Col. Dean Hess, famed for his life-saving rescue flights of Korean orphans
during the 1950 fighting…” (21 July 1959).
On 18 December 1960 we read “Hess to get ROK
(Republic of Korea) Honor. U.S. Air Force Col. Dean Hess, whose Korean
War exploits were depicted in the movie “Battle Hymn,” will
receive the Republic of Korea Order of Cultural Merit Tuesday in Seoul
ceremonies. ROK President Posun Yun is scheduled to present the award
at a banquet in Hess’ honor. During the Korean War Hess was instrumental
in saving the lives of some 800 orphans. He airlifted the waifs from
battle-torn areas to Cheju Island, some 70 miles off the southeast coast
And on 21 December we read, “Republic of Korea
President Posun Yun Tuesday presented the Order of Cultural Merit to
U.S. Air Force Col. Dean E. Hess, the “flying parson” of
Korean War fame. Hess, first American military man ever presented the
Korean medal, received it for his humanitarian assistance to Korean
children. … The presentation was made 10 years to the day after
his Operation Kiddy Car airlifted 1,000 Korean orphans from the communist-menaced
Seoul to the safety of Cheju-do. … His famous airlift was carried
out virtually under the nose of the communist armies streaming toward
the Korean capital. He managed to round up 16 planes to fly the children
south away from the battle.”
Newspapers on 18 January 1962 reported “Col.
Hess To Receive Sopa Award. SEOUL, The annual Sopa Memorial Award will
be presented to U.S. Air Force Col. Dean E. Hess during ceremonies here
at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Korea House. Hess, public information officer
of the Fifth Air Force, is being cited for his extraordinary service
in saving some 900 homeless war children during the Korean War.”
The above are cited as examples of the recognition
Col. Hess received for an airlift he did not organize, a rescue he did
not manage and even tried to delay, and, from all evidence in his own
report of the incident, he wasn’t even an eye witness to! It is
obvious that the reporters following Hess’s every move in Korea
used his book and the movie as their source of information on his role
in the airlift. Nowhere does Hess explain that he had no contact with
Colonel Blaisdell after their meeting a week prior to the evacuation
of the children from Seoul, knew nothing of their wait in Inchon or
return to Kimpo Airport, that he had no contact with Chaplain Blaisdell
regarding their rescue other than to attempt to delay the rescue one
day until he could complete arrangements in Cheju-do to receive the
children. Never does Hess give credit to Blaisdell and Strang for their
role in the operation.
But then Hess also fails to give credit to any one
else who was helping the children once they were located on Cheju-do.
To read his book one would think it was his unit that was providing
the bulk of the material and financial support for the orphanage. In
reality the material aid coming to the Orphans' Home of Korea as a result
of Hal Boyle's article far exceeded anything Hess and his unit raised
from family and contacts in the states. Nowhere does Hess mention the
tens of thousands of dollars coming to the Orphans' Home of Korea from
military units other than his own. Hess does not like to share credit
with anyone. This additional distortion of the facts led to the false
conclusion that Hess was the hero not only of the Kiddy Car Airlift
but also in helping the children survive their first years on Cheju-do.
Once the movie was released it seemed impossible
for Hess to say “This is not a true portrayal of what happened.”
Hess had become a captive of his own earlier mis-statement of the facts
of the rescue. Recently Hess has privately, but not publicly, stated
that he was upset with the way the movie distorted the story of the
rescue but the truth of the matter is that his concern for that distortion
of the facts did not prevent him from accepting the honors due someone
else. Nowhere does Hess state “Wait a minute. This has gone too
far. I want to acknowledge the role of Chaplain Blaisdell and S/Sgt
Strang in the rescue of these children.” All of this is very sad
in that Colonel Hess was truly concerned with the plight of the orphans
and he did provide extensive aid to Whang On Soon and the Orphans Home
of Korea. He did not need to steal credit for the airlift to be honored
for his work on behalf of the war orphans of Korea. Hess’ role
as a fighter pilot and as “Father of the Korean Air Force”
truly justifies his status as a Korean War Hero. His work on behalf
of the children in the Orphans Home of Korea and with other Korean War
orphans justifies him being honored for his work with children but only
as one of hundreds, if not thousands, of other servicemen doing the
same in othe rparts of Korea. But by also taking credit for what did
not belong to him, i.e., credit for the Kiddy Car Airlift, he seriously
damages his own credibility.
Hess, who is also characterized as "Preacher"
and the "flying Parson" is an ordained minister who gave up
his pulpit for the cockpit. His theft of credit for the Kiddy Car Airlift
leaves one to wonder about his sense of commitment to his religious
Drake recently asked Blaisdell how come he and Strang
allowed Hess to take the credit for the airlift and accept all those
honors and say nothing for all these years? “Well,” Blaisdell
responded, “Mike wrote me a letter about this in 1957, right after
the film “Battle Hymn” came out. He was angry.” In
his letter Mike Strang bitterly complained about Hess taking credit
for the rescue and wanted to ‘blow the whistle’ on him.
But Blaisdell responded to Strang’s letter writing
“The goal of our efforts, in regard to the
orphans … was the saving of lives, which would otherwise have
been lost. That was accomplished. In a sense, Mike, well-doing has
its own reward, which is not measured in dollars, prestige, or good
will, provided the avowed principle is fulfilled in the publication
of the book and the preparation of the movie, which is to turn all
proceeds over to the orphans. I rest content and would not becloud
the issue at this time with an attempt to criticize or correct the
portions which we know to be false. In the event that the proceeds
did not go to the orphans in Korea I may be inclined to change my
To Strang's credit he took Blaisdell's advise and
said nothing. We have accounts of individuals receiving a Presidential
Citation for saving the lives of four Korean war orphans and yet here
we have a former Air Force Sgt. and his commanding officer, willing
to keep quiet about their role in the rescue of over 950 orphans just
to insure that Hess could maximize the income from his book and the
movie about that air lift.
So far as is known Hess did turn over to the orphanage
all the proceeds from the book and the movie. For that he deserves credit.
But Hess, by distorting his role in the airlift, denied both Colonel
Russell L. Blaisdell and Sgt. Merle (Mike) Strang the credit due them
for one of the most dramatic rescue operations of the Korean War. More
than 50 years after the fact Blaisdell was finally honored in Korea
for the rescue of the children in the Kiddy Car Airlift. Recently, at
the dedication of the Korean War Children’s Memorial in Bellingham,
Washington, Blaisdell received the “Four Chaplain’s Award”
of the Office of the Chief of Chaplains of the U.S. Air Force for the
rescue of the children in the Kiddy Car Airlift.
Unfortunately, Mike Strang was not at that gathering
along with Chaplain Blaisdell. He died in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1998
without recognition of any sort during his lifetime for his role in
Here are a few additional documents that relate to
the above argument that Hess fraudlently took credit for the rescue
of the children. Go back and read the material presented earlier describing
Blaisdell's role in the airlift and you will note the terrible distortions
presented in Hess' book and in the movie as well as in subsequent press
reports on the airlift following the publication of the book and the
release of the movie.