Sunday, July 12, 2009

Summer Shorts: Orphans of War

Snapshot: M/Sgt. James "Rudy" McElhannon with Joe and Jock, two war orphans who "adopted" him in Korea, 1950s.

By Pat Browning

Cuzzin Rudy's wife died about the same time as my husband died so we hung out together for months before I moved from California to Oklahoma. Rudy told me some hair-raising tales about his service in the Korean War, and I always meant to get a tape recorder and preserve some of those stories. I never did. I did make notes on a couple, putting my old highschool shorthand to good use, and this is one of them.

From my blog of May 29, 2006:

Picture this: A dark, moonless night in August 1950, with an American patrol at the observation point on a Korean hilltop. M/Sgt. James “Rudy” McElhannon looks down the valley and sees a flicker of light in a clump of bushes.

He keeps watching, keeps seeing that flicker of light. Finally he radios the platoon commander and is ordered to take two men down to check it out. They head down the valley to that clump of bushes.

In Cuzzin Rudy’s words:

"I found an opening in the bushes and jumped through it, had my rifle at the ready, took aim and almost in the blink of an eye I could have shot two little boys. They were sitting there cooking a pan of rice on a little fire. I don’t know what made me hesitate. All of a sudden it came to mind, these aren’t soldiers, these are babies.

"They jumped up scared, acting like they were going to run. I called out to them in some of the few Japanese words I knew. Most Koreans could understand Japanese. I hollered 'chotto matte' which means 'wait a minute.'

"The boys were filthy and dirty and all they had on was something that looked like a diaper. I walked over and kicked over their little can of rice. I wanted them to look to me. I gave them the chocolate bars I had in my pocket."

The patrol took the two boys back to the command post. The lieutenant had no objection to Rudy’s announcement that he wanted to keep them. Joe and Jock, he called them. Picking up the story in his words:

"When we were in a rest area or at the command post we lived in tents. Otherwise we just lived out on the ground. Throw a blanket on the ground, lie down and go to sleep. If it rained we’d put up a pup tent. Either that or sleep in a foxhole.

"We had guys who were pretty good with a needle and thread. Lot of times we’d get Korean laborers to help carry barbed wire, etc., and they usually had women around who could cut down uniforms to fit the boys. The biggest problem was shoes. We drew their feet on a piece of paper, guys sent it back to their wives or mothers, they’d go to town and buy little combat boots. The boys ended up
with 2 or 3 pairs of boots.

"We shared our rations with them. They got fat. Joe had the prettiest set of teeth I ever saw in a kid’s mouth, they were perfect. He had a little old smile that was just as pretty as could

"They didn’t know what had happened to their parents. Running
from the fighting, from villages in South Korea. Refugees would crowd the roads and we couldn’t get through. We had as much trouble with refugees as with the enemy .

"I would go out on patrols, build a bridge, blow up something
or fill up a hole in the road, put in mines, take out mines, fight the enemy just like the infantry does, whatever comes up. I’d leave the boys with the first sergeant at the command post. They’d always be waiting when I came back.

"They washed my clothes. If they knew I was coming back they’d have hot water for me to shave, unfold my cot and have my bed ready.They took better care of me than I did of them. We had four boys at one time. The other companies also had some. The American soldier has a soft spot in his heart for little kids."

Then came new orders. It wouldn’t be possible to take children where the soldiers were going. Cuzzin Rudy was tapped to escort the battalion’s 16 orphans south. He put them in a truck, with two men in back as security and one in front, and delivered them to a Presbyterian minister in Taegu.

Just one of many stories that come out of a war …


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I can't imagine children having to survive in that type of environment.

Thanks for sharing this interesting story.


Mystery Writing is Murder

Mark W. Danielson said...

Children of war are always the biggest losers, but they don't have to be orphans to have difficult lives. There are plenty of children whose military fathers abandoned them after they served in Korea and the Phillipines. In many cases, the fathers of these children never knew their girlfriends were ever pregnant. These children adapt as best they can, but often become outcasts within their own cultures.

Anonymous said...

Years ago in Fresno, CA I heard the great writer Pearl Buck speak on the subject of children who were half-American with ex-military fathers. She ran a foundation to help them. Don't know what happened to it after she died, but meeting her was the first time I was aware of what was apparently a massive problem.
Pat B.

Chester Campbell said...

Your mention of Taegu reminded me of something funny. I was at 5th Air Force Headquarters (Advance) in Seoul. Taegu had 5th Air Force Headquarters (Rear). We called it 5th Air Force Hindquarters.

Gerard Saylor said...

A fellow Rotarian spoke about his Korean experiences just two days ago. All wars are tough on civilians but both sides in Korea ended up killing civilians on purpose.