Sabre Pilots and Korean Orphans

By Larry Davis
with help from
Joe Clark & Floyd Montgomery

When the average person hears the words "Korea" and "fighter pilot" together, they naturally think about swirling dogfights in the cold blue skies over MiG Alley. But not every day was a good flying day. And fighter pilots didn't think and breathe fighting the MiGs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week What did they think about? Several pilots took it upon themselves to be humanitarians during a time of war. What follows are two of many similar stories to come out of Korea.

When I began researching this story I knew of only one verified orphanage story from the Korean War the well known story of Maj. Dean Hess and the orphanage that he and his unit adopted during the early days of the war. I also had a single photo of an unknown major with some Korean children near Suwon; and unconfirmed reports of a pilot named Joe Clark who handled aid packages for orphans in Korea. But I didn't know where or when. Now I know Capt. Joe Clark's 51st Wing story, and that of Lt. Floyd Montgomery and the men of the 58th Wing at 0san.

Capt. Joe Clark arrived in Korea in November 1951, being assigned to the 16th Squadron at Suwon (K13). By tare January 1952 he had quite a few missions under his belt and was looking for more. During a lull in the air fighting, Capt Clark was listening to the Far East Radio Network and heard that his boss, Col. 'Gabby' Gabreski, had adopted an orphanage near Suwon in the name of his wing, the 51st Wing. It was the Yong Joo Jahae Orphanage located in a battle-damaged Budhist monastery on top of a mountain about 6 miles from Suwon.

A few days after the broadcast, Capt. Clark and another pilot visited this 'safe haven' with a jeep full of goodies candy, chewing gum, cookies, a case of oranges, some peanut butter, and bread. What Capt. Clark found changed his life considerably. Upon their arrival, the two pilots were met by Yoon Ho Soon, the orphanage Director, and Yun Han Kwan, his assistant - and about 340 Korean children. The children, obviously undernourished, looked at the two pilots with suspicion. They were standing outside the building in 34 ° weather without coats Many didn't even have shoes!

Soon the children saw that not only did the two Amertcan pilots mean them no harm, they bad food! They charged the two pilots and surrounded the jeep. Capt. Clark passed out verything they had brought with them within a scant few minutes. They were then shown through the rest of the 'orphanage'. The building had no heat, no furniture, not even beds. The 'medical room' was simply a room that isolated the sick children away from those that were well. They had no medical supplies. Warmth was provided by huddling together with the other children. The two pilots left Yong Joo Jahae later that afternoon, but not before promising that they would return with more help, much more help, and provisions and medical supplies.

Capt. Clark decided to enlist the aid of the people back home in the States. He sent a letter to Mrs. Lilian Finn, President of the Women's Club at Wright Patterscm AFB, where he had served prior to going to Korea. The letter was dated "Destitution, Korea, 27 January 1952". The letters were a simple appeal for help for these children. He sent similar letters to other Air Force wives clubs and VFW organizations. Sam Mrugal, Clark's old friend from Chicago, contacted the Chicago Junior Chamber of Commerce, and forwarded his letter to Austin Kiplinger of the Chicago Daily Neivs, who promptly read it on his nightly radio program.

The result was truly overwhelming. Within weeks, box after box started arriving at the Suwon Post Office, rapidly inundating the small staff and building. Capt Clark borrowed a deuce and half and made daily trips up Orphanage Hill to the old monastery. Mrs. Finn's group alone, sent over 150,000 clothing items and 24,000 lbs. of goods within the first couple of month. Capt Clark left Korea in October 1952. His efforts, as well as those of his squadron mates at Suwon, had made a big difference in the short lives of those Korean children.

Although the war in Korea 'stopped' on 27 July 1953, the plight of the Korean people did not ease for many years to come. And the men still serving in Korea. continued to attempt to make things a little brighter for all those who had been affected by the war. The men of the 58th Wing adopted the Sung Yok Orphanage located near Osan All (K-55).

Lt Floyd Montgomery, a pilot in the 310th Squadron at Osan, upon seeing the 96 children in the Sung Yook Orphanage, took it upon himself to try and provide some much needed clothing for the Korean kids that would be facing a very cold winter in just a few months. And we all know how cold those Korean winters could get.

Lt. Montgomery wrote to his mother, Mrs. Lillian DeMasters, a school teacher in Big Creek, California, and asking for help. The people of Big Creek, many of them school children themselves, responded with over 500 lbs. of clothing. The bundles were delivered to McClellan AFB within a couple of weeks, where a MATS transport was waiting to fly the badly needed winter clothing first to Tachikawa, and then on to Osan Lt. Montgomery loaded everything into a waiting truck and delivered the clothing to the orphans of Sung Yook.

The efforts of Capt Joe Clark and Lt. Floyd Montgomery, and all the others that contributed their time and effort, will be forever remembered by the children of Yong Joo Jahae and Sung Yook. The F-86 Sabre Pilots Association salutes all those involved.

No portion of this article may be used or reprinted without permission from the President of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association or the editor of Sabre Jet Classics magazine.

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