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Home > Fact Sheets > "Bout One:" Building a South Korean Air Force


Posted 3/2/2015 Printable Fact Sheet
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Col. Dean Hess
Groundcrewmen carry Col. Dean Hess from his plane upon completing his 100th Korean combat mission. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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At the beginning of the Korean War, the South Korean air force (known as the Republic of Korea Air Force or ROKAF) had no combat ready aircraft. The U.S. Air Force quickly provided USAF instructor pilots and 10 F-51 Mustangs to the fledgling ROKAF under the code name "Bout One" and commanded by Col. Dean Hess.

Despite numerous obstacles, Hess and his men not only trained the inexperienced South Korean pilots but also conducted operational combat flights, which he often led. After receiving more F-51s and training enough pilots, ROKAF operations became autonomous from the USAF in January 1952.

Col. Dean Hess and "Bout One"
On Dec. 7, 1941, Dean Hess was an ordained minister of the Christian Church, living in Cleveland, Ohio. After Pearl Harbor, realizing he could not expect his parishioners to bear arms for the U.S. if he was not willing to do so, he enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program and became a pilot. Sent to France in 1944, Hess flew P-47s on 63 combat missions.

Following World War II, Hess returned to the pulpit and to graduate school, but in July 1948, he was recalled to active duty. Stationed in Japan when the Korean War began, he was immediately sent to Korea as commanding officer of "Bout One." By June 1951 when he left Korea, he had flown 250 combat missions. During this period, Hess started an unofficial program for giving food and shelter to orphan children and helped evacuate them to safety.

In 1957, Hess published his story in a book entitled Battle Hymn, which was made into a motion picture that starred Rock Hudson as Dean Hess. Hess' royalties from both the book and the movie were used to construct a new orphanage near Seoul, Korea. Hess retired from the USAF as a colonel in 1969.

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