Saturday, August 23, 2008

Las Vegas Photo Exhibit

Hello my long suffering friends:

Here is another long post. When I decided to tell the story of the relationship of our servicemen and women to the children of Korea during the Korean War I felt one way to do so was to create a photo exhibit with pictures taken from the thousands that I had collected. In a recent post I told of the opening of that photo exhibit in Gwangju, Korea. Herein is the story of the first showing of that photo exhibit in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada on 30 June, 2005. We decided to have the grand opening of the exhibit in Las Vegas because that was where Chaplain Russell L. Blaisdell, Col. USAF (Retired) then lived. He was in his 90s and in poor health so we took the exhibit to him.

The photo here is of him at the dedication of the Korean War Children's Memorial Pavilion in Bellingham, Washington on July 27 of 2003.

Russ was the hero of the Kiddy Car Airlift that rescued over 950 children on 20 December of 1950. I will tell his incredible story in another posting. His family raised the money to pay for the first printing of the photo exhibit.

I e-mailed a friend of mine in Virginia, Link White, a Korean War orphan who is now a successful realtor, and asked him for ideas for a program for the opening event. He suggested that we invite the well known Hollywood actress Ms. Terry Moore, to be one of the hostesses for the evening event. Terry was touring Korea with the USO during the war and wanted to adopt Link. At that time she was married to Howard Hughes. Many were the guys in Korea who had a pin-up photo of Terry Moore in her white ermine bikini. Link opted to be adopted by an Air Force Sgt. but he and Terry kept in contact all through the years. Terry agreed to come and help out with the program and she offered to bring her good friend Jane Russell. Now you younger guys may not have heard of Jane Russell but we of the '50s sure as hell did. In person she, as well as Terry, were treasures, just wonderful folks to work with. We made Terry Moore the MC for the reception and she and Jane served as joint MCs for the evening program.

Link White, Terry Moore, George Drake and Mary Ann Drake

Jane Russell in her dressing room reading over the script for the evening program

Buzz Aldrin, astronaut and Korean War Veteran was the lead off speaker for the program. He came as a 'freebie" as did Jane and Terry. We just had to pay their hotel costs.
---Buzz Aldrin

The main part of the program consisted of presenting certificates of appreciation to Korean War Veterans who had helped rescue the children of Korea during the war. I had located an article in the Readers' Digest telling of a 'Sgt. Who Wouldn't Go Home.' It was about Sgt. Werner Krenzer who had been assigned to work with a civilian relief project and was specifically assigned to rescue the children living like rats in the rail road yard and rail road station in Seoul. He teamed up with a little Korean kid and together they got scores of children out of the RR ghetto and into orphanages where they could get food and medical attention. When it was his time to rotate back to the US Werner offered to remain for another tour of duty in the army if he could continue doing what he was doing with the children. It is estimated that he saved the lives of over 150 children. His story can be found on my web site . I was able to track down Werner Krenzer and he agreed to come to Las Vegas to be recognized for his work on behalf of the orphans of the Korean War. To present to him his Certificate of Appreciation I telephoned a friend in Indiana, Thomas Park Clement who is currently the CEO and owner of a major medical instrument manufacturing company. He is a former Korean War Orphan who lived in that same pack of urchins in the rail road yards of Seoul from age 4 years old to age 6 years old! So, one of the kids from the rail road yards of Seoul presented to Sgt. Werner Krenzer his certificate of appreciation for saving the lives of Korean War orphans.

Werner Krenzer and Thomas Park Clement

I received a telephone call from a Dr. William Latham who said he would be coming to Las Vegas for the ceremony. He told me of how he volunteered time at the Star of the Sea Orphanage in Inchon. One time, he said, a little day or two old infant had been found and taken to the orphanage when Dr. Latham was volunteering. He and the other doctors saved that infant's life. The little infant was later adopted by the commanding officer of a naval air craft carrier and taken back to the US on that ship. When little "baby George Ascom" was placed in his bassenette on the deck the announcement went over the PA system telling the guys on the ship that they could visit the baby. He became know as "the Navy's Baby" and many years later a 'made for TV' movie was made of that infant and his trip to America. Dr. Latham suggested that I should find that movie and show it at the exhibit ceremony in Las Vegas. Well, I did better than that. I found the baby. I called him, now named Dan Keenan, and asked him if he would like to present to one of the doctors who saved his life and other children in the Korean War a certificate of appreciation? Would he? You bet! So, on stage I called Dr. Latham forward to be recognized for his loving care for the orphans at the Star of the Sea Orphanage and specifically for helping save the life of little "baby George Ascom." After telling his story I said, "And now to present the Certificate of Appreciation to Dr. Latham is that very baby. Dan Keenan will you please come forward." There wasn't a dry eye in the place.

Dr. William Latham and Dan Keenan

And so it went all evening. Lots of tears. Lots of hugs. Lots of emotion from the Koreans present as well as the veterans and their families. Even my wife got an award. Link White called her up to the stage and presented her with a large red paper heart on a ribbon with the letters P U G printed large on the heart. That was her "Putting Up with George" award.

We had gathered there Korean War Veterans who had saved the lives of well over a thousand children and not a single newspaper in America carried the story. Except for my home town of Bellingham, Washington where the Bellingham Herald generally covers activities relating to this project held in Bellingham (they did not cover the Las Vegas or Gwangju, Korea events) not a single newspaper in America has carried the story of the Korean War Children's Memorial project. On the other hand when a US military vehicle accidently runs over two girls in Korea newspapers around the world carry the headline of how American soldiers killed two Korean girls. Yet tell the same newspapers we saved the lives of 10,000 children and they yawn. "What's the story line?" they seem to be saying.

Worse yet, we had sent an invitation to the Korean Ambassador in Washington, DC to come and honor those who had saved the lives of children orphaned by the Korean War, or, if he could not come to send a representative or even a letter to be read to the audience. We got no response from the Korean Embassy. We sent a letter to the Consul General of Korea in Los Angeles, asking the same but not only did no one come from the Korean Consulate General's office but he, too, did not even deign to send a letter or to respond to our request.

The photo exhibit honored the American GIs who had saved the lives of over 10,000 children in the Korean War and not a single representative of the government of Korea found it appropriate to attend. If this were any "civilized nation" of the world the Prime Minister or someone of high status would most certainly be present. Not Koreans. Why? I think I know why but that will be the subject of another entry. This is enough for now.


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