I am not a hero
When I opened my photo exhibit “GIs and the Kids-A Love Story” in the main lobby of the new city hall of the Metropolitan City of Gwangju, South Korea, there were a lot of speeches given by Mayor Park Gwang-tae, by the Vice Mayor, by the commanding officer of the nearby U.S. Airforce base, etc. All the speeches had been printed in the program for the event, in English and in Korean. When I read what was to be said I was shocked. It was “George this, George that, George, George, George” ad nauseum. I immediately rewrote my speech and gave a copy to the interpreter.
When I got up to speak I said “If a messenger comes bringing bad news it is not nice to shoot the messenger.” I paused and the sentence was put into Korean. A number of persons laughed. I continued “and if the messenger comes bringing good news it is totally inappropriate to make the messenger a hero.” [pause, translation] “I am not a hero. I am merely a messenger. I am a sociologist. I tell stories. Focus on the story, not on George Drake. Thousands, nay, tens of thousands of GIs did as much and even more than I for the children of Korea during the war. THAT is the story. Focus on it.” And I sat down.
I can understand the need of a reporter to interview a single person, or a few persons for a story. You can’t interview a thousand persons. The real story that I have to tell is the immense and formerly totally unknown scale and scope of what we GIs did for the children. As a professional sociologist I am interested in collective behavior, what the group did, not what any one individual did or does.
I collected almost 2,000 documents on this subject and very few of those articles attempted to take the broad view and make a generalization to US Forces Korea. That is what I tried to do. I am fully aware of the limitations of my data but I can still say with confidence that the UN Forces in Korea saved the lives of over TEN THOUSAND CHILDREN, helped sustain upwards of 54,000 children in orphanages. We helped build or repair over 400 orphanages. We donated millions of dollars from our pay of about $50 a month, wrote thousands upon thousands of letters home seeking help for the orphans and brought in thousands of TONS of material aid. THAT is the story.
If the reporter or writer focuses on George Drake they miss the point. The story should not be about me. It should be about the message I am telling. The Korean War is referred to as the Forgotten War. One cannot forget what they never knew. The task I took on for myself was to tell the story of how our “Army of Compassion” responded to the plight of the war child of Korea. That should be the focus of any report about my activities in Korea in the 1950s and later.
I am not a hero, merely a story teller with a wonderful story.
U.S. Army Experience
I look back on my years in the army and try to put those years in perspective. What of value came out of that experience? Anything?
One thing, for sure, was of value and that was the time I spent at the Army Language School learning Chinese Mandarin. That led me into Chinese studies at the University of California at Berkeley and ultimately to the M.A. in Sociology with a focus on social change in 19th century China.
My involvement with the orphans of the Korean War began in our company orphanage, Manassas Manor, and then led to helping the Seoul Sanitarium and Hospital Orphanage run by Grace Rue. Out of that experience came my involvement in the study of the relationship of our GIs and the children of Korea during the war. One thing built on another and soon I was creating the Korean War Children’s Memorials in the USA and in Korea. I was made “Honorary Citizen” in Gwangju, ROK, had five one-hour T.V. documentaries made on my study of the children of the war and in many other ways honored by the Korean government, not for what I did in Korea in the 50s, but for my research on the children.
In my study of the relationship of the GIs to the children of the Korean War I unearthed a shameless fraud perpetrated on the American and Korean public by Colonel Dean E. Hess. I will publish here my findings.
Another shock to me was to find that Korean Culture looked on orphans with utmost prejudice and had little interest in saving their lives. I got almost no help from the Korean Government in my research on the GIs and the Kids.
Meanwhile, go to www.koreanchildren.org where I have posted over 1,500 pages of stories about the children and the GIs. Little did I know at the time I was doing the research and preparing those pages (it took me two years to get most of it done as I created each page in html format.) the impact it would have in the U.S. and in Korea. Many family members of GIs portrayed on that web site made contact with me to add to their family story. Many orphans made contact with me and with fellow orphans via that web site.
Material in that web site has been used in PhD dissertations dealing with the orphans of the war. It is considered one of the best archives of documents on the orphans and orphanages of Korea during the war years.
I have sent back to Korea everything that originated there, letters, paintings, photos, etc. I have also sent back a digitized copy of everything else I collected on the children of the Korean War. This is all housed in the Korean War Orphanage Museum and Archive run by Rev. Haeryang Yoo Kim in Gwangju, ROK.
The rest of my files and research material that I gathered here in Bellingham I have sent to the Korean Heritage Library at U.S.C. where they are available to student researchers. Already several Ph.D. candidates are using the files.
George in Korea
Once I had arrived in Korea I was assigned to the 326th Communication Reconnaissance Company which was located in the middle of an immense rice paddy that was fertilized with night soil. I was a clerk in the Operations section where we were intercepting Chinese voice transmissions. In time my responsibilities expanded until I became the unofficial NCO in charge of Operations.
When not on duty I was involved with the company orphanage and later with raising money for the Seoul Sanitarium and Hospital Orphanage where we had sent our orphans when we closed the company orphanage. I also spent whatever time I could in the neighboring hills. I hated being cooped up in that compound and every chance I could I took off for a hike in the hills not too far from the camp.
Me on an exploratory walk in the neighborhood. I am a 22 year-old GI, Pfc, newly arrived in Korea.
The first thing I did when out on a hike was to hire one or more local youths to go with me. They knew the trails, where to look out for the booby traps, the land mines, etc. I usually took my camera with me. Here is a picture of some of the kids who went with me on one of my hikes.
On the trail up to the hills we would encounter brush cutters who made their living gathering brush to be used for cooking and heating the houses.
Way up in the hills we came across an ancient wall of carved granite blocks. It was strange to see that wall up there with no evidence of a road, only the small trail that we were following.
As we got higher into the hills we came upon military observation posts, now deserted as he battle lines had moved northward about 30 miles.
One had to be careful when encountering old bunkers. Often they were booby-trapped. I encountered one with a decomposing body in it. I was about to poke the body with a long pole and one of the boys yelled. He indicated that it was booby-trapped and we would have been blown off the hill if the hidden land mine exploded.
These hills were not just low bumps on the landscape. It was a good day’s hike to get to the top of the ridges from the camp. Often times I would get back to the camp just as darkness was falling.
Here is a photo of the hills I hiked in.
Late one evening the company commander called for me to see him. A group of Korean soldiers were in the commander’s tent. He explained that there were reports of an enemy sniper hiding in the hills and since I knew the trails he wanted me to show this group how to get to the ridge leading to a certain observation point that I knew about but hadn’t been to. So, with rifle and ammunition ready for an encounter with Chinese or North Korean infiltrators off we went. When about half way to the ridge the mission was called off as the Koreans got a message that the lights at that point were from one of their own men. That’s the closest I ever got to being in armed conflict with the enemy.
When I was slated to return home the Operations Officer of our company prepared this letter of commendation for me:
326th Communications Reconnaissance Company
SUBJECT: Letter of Appreciation
TO: Sergeant George F. Drake, RA 12344689
- Upon the occasion of your departure from this company, I wish to extend the sincere appreciation of all the officers and men of this company for your outstanding devotion to duty. During the time you were under my command, your conduct and efficiency was consistently superior. Your bearing was such as to reflect great credit on yourself and on the service of which you are a member. Under must adverse conditions, you displayed qualities of initiative and foresight rarely found in men of your age.
- Again let me express my regrets at your departure and my belief in your future success.
STANLEY G. KOZLOWSKI
1st Lt Inf
Then, on the 18th of December, 1953 I received my discharge from the U.S. Army.
Many years later I was asked to say something about Grace Rue at her memorial service held in Loma Linda, California. I feel that my remarks there sums up the work our GIs were doing with the orphans. I append a copy of my remarks here:
GRACE RUE MEMORIAL SERVICE
Loma Linda, California, 15 August 2009
REMARKS BY GEORGE F. DRAKE
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.