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Operation Kiddy Car

A Korean toddler climbs aboard a C-54 bound for Cheju-do. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A Korean toddler climbs aboard a C-54 bound for Cheju-do. (U.S. Air Force photo)

USAF Airmen give a helping hand. (U.S. Air Force photo)

USAF Airmen give a helping hand. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Flight nurse Capt. Mary Spivak hands out candy to orphans during the evacuation. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Flight nurse Capt. Mary Spivak hands out candy to orphans during the evacuation. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Lt .Col. Dean Hess bids “good-bye” on his last visit to the Cheju-do orphanage before his transfer to the U.S. in May 1951. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Lt .Col. Dean Hess bids “good-bye” on his last visit to the Cheju-do orphanage before his transfer to the U.S. in May 1951. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Korean children fed, clothed and housed at the Cheju-do orphanage. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Korean children fed, clothed and housed at the Cheju-do orphanage. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Korean children fed, clothed and housed at the Cheju-do orphanage. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Korean children fed, clothed and housed at the Cheju-do orphanage. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Korean children fed, clothed and housed at the Cheju-do orphanage. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Korean children fed, clothed and housed at the Cheju-do orphanage. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Korean children fed, clothed and housed at the Cheju-do orphanage. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Korean children fed, clothed and housed at the Cheju-do orphanage. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Korean children fed, clothed and housed at the Cheju-do orphanage. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Korean children fed, clothed and housed at the Cheju-do orphanage. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Korean children fed, clothed and housed at the Cheju-do orphanage. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Korean children fed, clothed and housed at the Cheju-do orphanage. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Seoul orphanage in 1961. It was built with royalties Dean Hess received from his book and film. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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The Seoul orphanage in 1961. It was built with royalties Dean Hess received from his book and film. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Chaplain Lt. Col. Russell L. Blaisdell. His efforts to save South Korean orphans earned him the nickname “father of a thousand.” (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Chaplain Lt. Col. Russell L. Blaisdell. His efforts to save South Korean orphans earned him the nickname “father of a thousand.” (U.S. Air Force photo)

Chaplain Lt. Col. Russell L. Blaisdell and Staff Sgt. Merle “Mike” Strang. With Korean social workers, they drove a truck around Seoul searching out and rescuing homeless, sick, starving children from the streets. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Chaplain Lt. Col. Russell L. Blaisdell and Staff Sgt. Merle “Mike” Strang. With Korean social workers, they drove a truck around Seoul searching out and rescuing homeless, sick, starving children from the streets. (U.S. Air Force photo)

New arrivals at the 5th Air Force’s Seoul processing center for orphans, before the evacuation to Cheju-do. With them are Chaplain Col. Wallace Wolverton (left) and Chaplain Lt. Col. Russell Blaisdell (right). (U.S. Air Force photo)
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New arrivals at the 5th Air Force’s Seoul processing center for orphans, before the evacuation to Cheju-do. With them are Chaplain Col. Wallace Wolverton (left) and Chaplain Lt. Col. Russell Blaisdell (right). (U.S. Air Force photo)

Chaplain Lt. Col. Russell Blaisdell (left) and Lt. Col. Dean Hess (right) on a return visit to Cheju-do. The children were now well-fed and clothed. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Chaplain Lt. Col. Russell Blaisdell (left) and Lt. Col. Dean Hess (right) on a return visit to Cheju-do. The children were now well-fed and clothed. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The poverty and hardship of war orphaned many helpless Korean children, and Fifth Air Force Airmen in Seoul decided to unofficially feed and shelter them. Command Chaplain Lt. Col. Russell L. Blaisdell, Lt. Col. Dean Hess and others organized relief for the children. Blaisdell saved many orphans from near certain death by collecting them from the streets with the help of Staff Sgt. Merle "Mike" Strang and Korean social workers. Blaisdell worked to find shelter and medical care for children, while he and Hess arranged invaluable food, money and clothing contributions. When communist forces pushed UN troops south and threatened to take Seoul in the winter of 1950, the Korean population -- especially the orphans -- faced a dire crisis. Blaisdell tried several avenues to save nearly 1,000 children by ground and sea convoy, but little help was available.

Blaisdell and Hess devised a plan to transport the children to Cheju-do, an island off the southern coast of Korea, where Hess's men were to be stationed. This plan became known as OPERATION KIDDY CAR. As communist forces approached, Blaisdell's dogged persistence paid off: 5th Air Force Chief of Operations Col. T.C. Rogers found 16 C-54 transports to evacuate the orphans. Commandeering several trucks at the port of Inchon, Blaisdell orchestrated orphans' and rescue workers' movement to nearby Kimpo airfield and the waiting aircraft.

The transports flew the children to Cheju-do, where Hess made arrangements to receive them. With contributions from U.S. troops and many others, an orphanage established there by Hess was able to accept even more children.

In 1957 Hess published the Kiddy Car story in his book Battle Hymn, later made into a motion picture. Royalties from the book and movie went to build a new orphanage near Seoul. In 2001 Blaisdell returned to Korea to visit those he helped to save and has been honored along with Hess as a great friend of the South Korean people. Blaisdell, Strang, Hess and many other Airmen who selflessly aided helpless orphans amid the terrible destruction of the Korean War exemplified the continuing humanitarian spirit of the U.S. Air Force.

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