It is June 1950, and North Korean troops have crossed over the border to attack South Korea. Heavy artillery and tanks move in. War has erupted that would soon involve U.S. forces coming to the aid of the South, and the Communist Chinese army joining with the North.
If you are a civilian trapped in between this conflict, you would be in shock. You could try to outrun the enemy and flee to safer ground. Maybe you can escape. Maybe not.
A Reuters article described the mass exodus of Korean civilians in the summer of 1950 as a blanket of dust "raised by the trudging feet of thousands of refugees trekking south."
A long stream of refugees moves along a road leading south after receiving evacuation orders from the South Korean army. (photo from Truman Library)
But when war comes, there is always more than one enemy. With the chaos of armed conflict comes hunger. This foe can be the most relentless and hardest to escape. And so it was for Koreans.
United Press reporter Peter Kalischer witnessed Captain Mary Wilfong of Selma, Alabama with tears in her eyes caring for a malnourished orphan Korean child. Wilfong and other members of the U.S. Air Force were trying to evacuate 1000 children from the South Korean capitol of Seoul as the enemy was bearing down in December 1950.
Kalischer described the plight of these orphan children, who were originally left stranded at a port in Inchon when they could not get a rescue boat. U.S. Air Force chaplain Russell Blaisdell of Hayfield, Minnesota took charge and organized an airlift to take these children out of harm's way.
A Korean toddler climbs aboard a C-54 bound for Cheju-do. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Kalischer wrote the children "had faces pinched by hunger and the devastation they had been through." The orphans were flown to the island of Cheju-do.
Reporter Hal Boyle did a follow-up story on the orphans the following month. Some of the children under one year of age were too weak to survive. Malnutrition striking a child at that young age is particularly devastating, but the majority of children did make it.