SDA Orphanage

Loma Linda, California, 15 August 2009

My dear friends = It is now fifty-seven years since I first met Grace Rue. It was a November day in 1952. I was the driver of one of the trucks moving children from Manassas Manor, our company orphanage, to join the children housed in the Seoul Sanitarium and Hospital Orphanage located about ten miles to the east of Seoul with miles of rice paddies on both sides of the road between the devastated city and the SDA hospital and orphanage compound.

Manassas Manor Orphanage, constructed and operated by the men of the 326th Communication Reconnaissance Company, housed 50 children at the time of the move but we GIs found that we could not give the orphanage the supervision it needed and felt the children were being neglected. When Grace Rue agreed to add our children to the hundreds that she already had she made it clear that we had to keep on supporting them as the Seoul Sanitarium and Hospital organization did not have the income to add 50 more children to their list of responsibilities without our help.

Almost two thirds of the tykes we brought to the SDA orphanage that day had to be hospitalized and treated for various medical problems before they could be released to join the other children in the orphanage. The fellows in my outfit as well as fellows from the 501st. Communications Reconnaissance Battalion located in Seoul and, I am sure, many other military units, regularly sent support to the SDA orphanage to help Mrs. Rue and Irene Robson in their labor with the children. By the time I left Korea a bit over a year later our little company of about 200 men had donated over $4,000 and many tons of material aid to the orphanage.

What Grace was doing was certainly a miracle at a time when every grain of rice had to be carefully allocated, when material supplies such as diapers or medical supplies were unavailable or extremely limited, when building material was not to be found for expanding the housing and cooking facilities, when children had to be fed in shifts since there were not enough plates or eating utensils much less benches or tables to seat and feed all at one time. But Grace never turned a child away. They were all God’s Children and therefore they were hers also.

What Grace was doing needs to be placed into the context of the larger scene and the impact the war had on the children of Korea. It is estimated that upwards of 500,000 children died in the three years of that war in both North and South Korea. When I got there it was estimated that 100,000 children were orphaned or were separated from family and wandered the streets and by-ways of Korea or were housed in over 400 orphanages throughout the war torn land. In March of 1954 a Korean government report stated that 54,000 children were housed in orphanages receiving a governmental rice ration, of which they estimated about 200 were mixed blood children. An American missionary representing the Christian Children’s Fund who had visited about 100 orphanages to select ones for support by their organization estimated that perhaps upwards of one thousand of the children were mixed blood. That was still less than two percent of the total orphans then housed in registered orphanages.

Grace did not care about the blood lines of the child. She took them all in and gave them all the same treatment but she was a realist and knew that orphans were at the bottom of the social hierarchy in Confucian Korea even if they had two Korean parents and that they would forever be subject to prejudice if they remained in Korea. So she, along with many other orphanages, engaged in the process of sending many of their children out of country for adoption. In the ensuing years Koreans have shipped out of their country over 200,000 children. On one occasion Grace told me that she processed over 1,000 children from the SDA orphanage for overseas adoption. A number of those children are in this room today and are here to pay homage to the incredible woman who had love for each and every child she came in contact with and who did her best to ensure that each and every one of them learn a trade if they were old enough and to learn discipline and basic Christian values that would help them survive where ever they ended up in this troubled world.

Grace Rue had the courage, the compassion and the strength to face up to the task of helping, as best she could, the needs of the war child of Korea. And we servicemen and women in the UN Forces needed her and others like her. One had to teach a young American to aim a gun at another human being and shoot to kill but you did not need to teach them to feed a hungry child, find shelter for the homeless child, take the injured child for medical help or give solace to the crying child. That came with being American. We servicemen and women who went to Korea to fight in that conflict took with us our basic human values of respect and love for all children.

My research suggests that we American servicemen and women saved the lives of over 10,000 children. We built or repaired hundreds of orphanages. We donated over two million dollars for orphanage support and brought in from parents, friends, neighbors and classmates ‘back home’ thousands upon thousands, not of packages of material aid, but TONS of packages of material aid. We needed people like Grace Rue whom we could trust with “our” children, who would not steal the blankets we donated and sell them on the black market the next day. It was a symbiotic relationship. We needed her and she depended on our support. For many years the 326th CRC served as the military postal address for persons in the US who wanted to send packages of goods to the SDA orphanage. That way the donors only paid postage to San Francisco and not the international postal rate to Korea.

I kept in contact with Grace over the years and on one occasion she told me that she was going to travel around the United States to visit many of her “children.” I prepared for her a collection of photographs I had taken of the Manassas Manor orphanage and of the SDA orphanage that she could take with her and show the children, now parents and perhaps grandparents themselves, what life was like back then. A month or so later I got a letter from one of Grace Rue’s children. I will read you several paragraphs from that letter to show you what the humanitarian aid of the US servicemen and Grace Rue’s work with those children meant to them.

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 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.
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.
Sincerely yours, Eddie Cho

Since then I have met eight more children from those orphanage days, days that shaped their lives and mine. For me it was an eternal blessing to get to know Grace Rue and to share with her, even for a brief moment, the monumental work that she was doing for the war child of Korea.

Grace Rue and Eddie Cho came to Bellingham, Washington in July of 2003 for the dedication of the Korean War Children’s Memorial in a park near my home. I am now working on plans to establish a Korean War Children’s Memorial to be placed in Seoul. It would be dedicated to the 500,000 children from North and South Korea who died in that conflict and would honor those who helped save the lives of untold thousands of lost, traumatized, homeless and hungry children. I can assure you that Grace Rue will be among those honored at the dedication of that memorial.