Monday, July 28, 2008

Korean Orphans

Several hours after our conversation I received a phone call from a Tommy Kim who is writing a novel about a youth orphaned in the Korean War and wandering the streets of Seoul looking for help. He found my web site and has used the material there, especially the photographs, to give him a better understanding of what it was like to be on the streets in wartime. I gave him the phone numbers of several Korean War orphans to call. One lived on the streets from age four to age six with a gang that lived in the railroad yards of Seoul. The gang was his family. He is a good friend of mine and is now the CEO and owner of a major US medical instrument manufacturing business in Indiana. Another war orphan friend of mine, author of the book Chesi's Story , was the kid Hollywood actress Terry Moore wanted to adopt. She told him that her husband, Howard Hughes, would send him to any university he selected when he was old enough. This dumb kid ;-) turned her down for an Air Force Sgt. When my photo exhibit "GIs and the Kids - a Love Story" opened at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas he got Terry Moore to attend. Terry brought her friend Jane Russell and the two of them were the MCs for the evening program. By the way, Buz Aldrin, also a Korean War Veteran came as a 'no fee' speaker. I found out he came because he knew Terry Moore was coming and he, at one time, proposed to her only to be turned down. I wanted a group photo; the Korean War orphan who turned down Terry Moore's offer of adoption, Terry Moore who turned down Buzz Aldrin's offer of marriage and Buzz Aldrin who was there with his current wife. I would have called that picture "Photo of a Could-have-been Family." Life can be truly fascinating, can't it. A third Korean War orphan I turned him on to was Joseph Anthony whose remarkable story of survival is told in his book "the Rascal and the Pilgrim."

Tommy Kim wanted to talk to me because he was frustrated with the Korean 'cover up' of the story of the orphans of the Korean War. He was absolutely astonished when I told him that I had documented that we GIs had saved the lives of over 10,000 children during those war years. He will call again tomorrow. He said he just HAS to get more of this story from me. I'm game. He can call any time he wants.

A few facts regarding our conversation earlier today. I donated my collection of badges to the BSA in early 1952. I handed it over to Art McKinney who was assistant to the Chief Scout Executive. The collection included insignia from the 1935 and 1939 World Scout Jamborees and from other European national jamborees even earlier than that. Those early badges I got while staying at the Roland House, the British Boy Scout hostel in Stepney Green in London. That was about September of 1950. From there I made a number of visits to Gillwell Park, to the international headquarters of scouting and to the Imperial Hq. of the Boy Scouts Association of Britain.

WOW !!! Out of curiosity I just went to GOOGLE and typed in 'Roland House' and read the history of that establishment and about the life of Roland Phillips. I noted that there was a link to the web site of Groupo VII in Mexico City that was named after Roland Phillips. And lo and behold, I was HOME with my old Mexican boy scout group. When I arrived in Mexico City in January of 1949 I quickly made contact with the Boy Scouts of Mexico and within two days I was invited to stay at the home of German Olagaray Palacios. Much to my surprise I find that he was/is one of the best known and respected scouters in Mexico and even more astonishing to me was to find that the portrait of him on that web site biography page was a photo that I took in January of 1949!

When I was in Mexico this past February with my wife we had a reunion with German and his wife, formerly a leader in the Girl Scouts of Cuba and with Carlos Olagary, his younger brother and his wife in Carlos' home in Ciudad Satelite to the north of Mexico City. What a grand afternoon and evening that was. We reminisced about those days almost sixty years earlier when I went with scouts from Groupo VII to the Mexican Scout camp at Teponaxtle, climbed Mt. Popocapetl, explored the caverns of Cocahuamilpa and hiked from Xochomilco over the old Cortez road to Cuernavaca. On the Groupo VII web site they talk of that first trek from Mexico City over the mountain to Cuernavaca and I realize that I was on that hike with them! I have a lot of photos to send to the web master to add to their web site. Some of the pages in their web site are in English but the one with the biography of my Mexican scout brother, Geman Olagaray P., is in Spanish. Check out the web site at:



Unfortunately I have not been able to copy and paste the photo of German that is with his biography. It is a picture I took of him sitting in an opening in a bell tower of a church on one of our hikes.

I just HAVE to relate to you a story on that hike to Cuernavaca from Xochomilco. The old Cortez cobble stone road went straight down the mountain into Cuernavaca while the automobile road zig-zagged down the mountain. Accordingly the Cortez road crossed the paved road several times. At one of those crossings there was a gas station and in it was a car with a New Jersey license plate. The driver called "Do any of you guys speak English?" With a fake accent I responded "See senior, I speek a leetle." He asked if this was the road to Cuernavaca and I responded "See senior." Then, to his astonishment I said "Meester, I see you are from Essex County, New Jersey. Welcome to Mexico." You could have knocked him over with a feather. "How do you know that?" as asked. "In Mexico we study geography, meester." I don't know if license plate numbers still are indicative of the county of issue but back in 1948 they were. As I walked away, chortling under my breath I heard him yell "Mabel, you will never believe what just happened!"

"A Scout is cheerful!" See seenior! Muy cheerful.

Oh, by the way reference to my comments on Chinese philosophy "ti" means essence or spirit while "Yung" means use. Gu-wen is old writings and Gin-wen is new language or writings. The issue was whether one could accept a new use without loosing the spirit of the old. Can we teach the reality of living and how to survive in the urban jungle without loosing the essence of scout values that were so solidly entrenched and expressed in camping and the outdoors? Did scouting build a box that is irrelevant to today's youth? Can scouting offer an alternative to urban youth gangs? Do we need a new paradigm to make scouting more relevant in today's world?

A distant example of this was a Rover Scout investiture ceremony I attended atop a peak in the Teponaxtle National Park in Mexico. The ceremony was straight out of the British scout manual. I found it totally incongruous to have a 'knighting ceremony' with sword placed on the shoulder of a scout kneeling on one knee in the middle of an ancient Aztec ruin. Afterwards the Rover scouts had a meal of pinole, queso de Oaxaca rolled on a stick and melted in the fire, tortillas, etc. i.e., a truly Mexican peasant meal. I questioned German and the leaders of this Rover group why they did not adapt the ceremony to use something from the Aztec tradition and make it a truly Mexican ceremony. Somehow they felt that if they gave up the British Rover Scout traditional ceremony it would not be legitimate. We had a long discussion on that issue and later I found that the discussion continued between themselves in one of their scouting publications.

Several more of your remarks made me think of how I must have irritated scout leaders over the years. One time when I was visiting my aunt and uncle in Yakima, Washington I visited the local scout office and ended up being asked to give a short talk to a dinner function for members of the Order of the Arrow. Well I told them a few anecdotes about scouting in Latin America and compared it to scouting in the USA. I remarked about the Scouts parading at a national celebration in San Jose, Costa Rica. I stood on the reviewing platform with the Chief Scout of Costa Rica, Conrad Meinike Kokemper Meza Jr. as the troops passed by with their flags. Many of the scouts were in uniform but many of the boys only had a scarf identifying them as a member of their unit. I also noted that there were boys in that parade barefoot. They did not own a pair of shoes! The uniform did not make the boy a scout and a lack of it did not preclude their participation in that parade. A complete scout uniform was neither a necessary nor sufficient condition to be a scout.

I contrasted that with the BSA where to attend a jamboree you need an official short sleeve scout shirt, an official long sleeve scout shirt, kerchif, official scout short pants, official scout long pants, official scout belt, official scout sox, official scout shoes, official scout hat, a scout toothbrush, comb, etc, etc, etc, etc. I said families have to get a mortgage on their homes to dress a kid to send him to an official BSA jamboree. Maybe a bit of exaggeration but I was trying to make a point that scouting in America, in my opinion, had become a business that obviously was going to close a door to the youth who did not have that kind of money. "Oh," I was told, "any scout can afford a uniform." Uh huh. What they really were telling me is that scouting is a middle-class activity that doesn't even have the ability to see the kids in the lowest socio-economic brackets. Those kids join gangs to get the sense of belonging scouts get in their patrols and troops. Those kids learn the values of the gang and not the values scouting has to offer. But then, you really don't want your nice kids associating with those delinquents, do you?

I am lazy. I only have questions, not answers. I used to think I knew a lot. Now I realize how little I really know.



btstormb2006 said...


While I can appreciate that you documented that the American GIs saved over 10,000 Korean war orphans, I am curious to know if you included in your documentation how many of those Korean war orphans had American GIs for fathers and their GIs fathers knew of their existence, but abandoned them and the Korean women they impregnated. As a Korean adoptee myself, I find it somewhat repugnant to not mention within your blog the irresponsibility of these GIs, while taking credit for saving the lives of these war orphans.

I do not intend to sound disrespectful, but if you reread your piece and try to understand from a Korean adoptee's perspective how you come across, I would hope that you could empathize and consider editing your Korean Orphans section.

Anonymous said...

btstormb2006 Thank you for your input see my response at the top of the Blog under today's date where I repeated your concern.