George F. Drake with a delivery of packages of aid for the company orphanage sent by folks 'back home' to their boys in Korea 1952
Soon it will be ten years since I began studying the impact of the Korean War on the children of that nation. In 1998 an old man, probably no more than three or four years older than I am, but who looked much older than I was at that time, came into my office. He asked what was the Korean War Children's Memorial Project that he had heard about. When I explained the purpose of my research he began to weep. Shortly he pulled himself together and said "I have a Silver Star for my service in the Korean War along with three Purple Hearts. I could accept the GI to my right or left being killed. That was the nature of war. I could never accept what was happening to the children. That memory has haunted me ever since. My wife and my children do not know that I served in the Korean War. I never wanted to discuss it or think about it again." and, standing up, he offered me his hand and left my office. I never got his name.
One had to teach our young men to aim a gun at another human being and shoot to kill. One did not have to teach them to try to solace a crying child, feed a hungry child, take an injured child to a medic or to find shelter for the homeless child. That came with being American. Our American armed forces took to Korea (and Iraq and elsewhere) with them our basic values of love and compassion for little children, the most innocent victims of any war.
Shortly after arriving in Korea I was assigned to the 326th Communication Reconnaissance Company. I found out that the men in my company had founded an orphanage called the Manassas Manor Orphanage and I immediately began volunteering with the company orphanage committee. When our little orphanage closed and the children moved to the Seoul Sanitarium and Hospital Orphanage run by Mrs. Grace Rue I continued to help in every way that I could. That experience led me to feel that the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Korean War was missing the humanitarian element of the war so I took it upon myself to do something about it. That initiative resulted in the website <http://www.koreanchildren.org/> which has 1,500 pages of photographs and stories of the relationship of our GIs with the war child of Korea. It also resulted in the photo exhibit "GIs and the Kids - A Love Story" which I will elaborate on some other time.
All sorts of things came out of that project. One of the most moving moments for me was when I opened the following letter. It was a 'payoff' for all my volunteer labor and research, far more rewarding than money.
Dear Mr. Drake and members of the 326th CRC:
My name is Eddie Cho and I am one of your Manassas orphans. I was about four years old when the Korean War broke out. I remember my father being taken captive by the North Koreans and my mother being so sick and eventually dying of the black plague while trying to escape, on foot, from Seoul. This left my brother Woo Yeon (7 years old), my sister Ja Yeon (2 years old) and myself homeless, hungry and desperately hopeless. I experienced a lot of sadness and loneliness during those days. But the miracle of being taken to your shelter where my brother, my sister and I lived for many months will never be forgotten.
I have often thought of the American soldiers from the 326th Communication Reconnaissance Company who took care of us at the Manassas orphanage. I had always wished that I could have known their names and addresses so that I could have expressed my gratefulness, but all I remember about them was that they were the 326th Company. I didn’t have any photos of them or names. What I did not realize was that Mrs. Rue [Director of the orphanage where all Manassas children were taken] knew you and your unit very well. Recently, Mrs. Rue visited our home and brought your letter and photos, in connection with your work in Korea.
You cannot imagine how thrilled I was to learn of your whereabouts, to see the photos, read your letters, hear of the Korean War Children’s Memorial, and the 50th year anniversary celebration. My life long wish to personally thank you for your loving care, kindness, and empathy shown toward me and each orphan you cared for, has come true. I love the pictures-what a treasure! I have never seen anything like them. They remind me so very much of my childhood days. I have reviewed each picture over and over again. And I can assure you that my best memories were when I was at the Manassas orphanage under your care.
You gave us the best food and better care than all other orphanages in Korea. Under you, Mr. Drake, I had my first sip of Coca-Cola; it felt like a thousand bee stings on my tongue. At first I thought I drank the wrong thing and would die. So many wonderful memories; you teaching us English, telling stories, singing songs, taking us to church on Sunday mornings. Oh how we loved to ride to church in the American army truck. We were kings of the world! You included us in each and every recreational activity, such as games and movies, with the spare time you had. I cherish and thank you for those precious memories you provided for us at the Manassas orphanage.
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened to me if you and Mrs. Rue had not cared for me. Today I have no riches, fame, or social rank, which our society views as successes, but I have been blessed with much greater riches. Those riches include Christian principles, the blessed hope, the inner joy, and eternal values I hold in such high esteem today. I am certainly convinced that you made it possible for me to be the person that I am today. No words can express my sincere gratitude for all you have done. I know that God will surely reward you in heaven someday for each one of us that you cared for and loved. This is my sincere desire for you, Mr. Drake, the 326th CRC and Mrs. Rue.
I am anxiously looking forward to seeing you in Bellingham on the 27th of July. [2003, 50 years after the cessation of hostilities in the Korean War]. What a reunion that will be! I can hardly wait to see you again. Thank you so very much from the bottom of my heart, Mr. Drake and to your gracious colleagues from the 326th Comm. Recon. Co. for everything you did. May God bless you and keep you forever. With all my love and admiration I remain,
Photo of Eddie Cho taken in November of 1952 by George F. Drake
In my research I was able to document that our servicemen and women had saved the lives of over 10,000 children during the three years of that war. We helped support over 54,000 children in more than 400 orphanages, most of which we built or repaired. We donated more than two million dollars from our pay which was little more than $50 per month. We wrote home to family, friends, neighbors, home town newspapers seeking help and received thousands upon thousands - not of packages - but tons of packages of material for the children and their care-givers. Our GIs (all branches of service, men and women alike) truly constituted an "army of compassion." What scout values would you suggest were reflected in that humanitarian aid and compassion our servicemen rendered the children of Korea during the Korean War? Are not these values the same ones that also help define us as American? Do not for a moment think that all societies have these same values. Unfortunately our "Army of Compassion," then and now, is largely ignored by the press, a press that is more interested in the abuse of those values by one or a small group of servicemen or women.
With love for all children, I remain,
George F. Drake