George Drake grew up in New Jersey in the midst of poverty during the Great Depression. Serving in Army Intelligence, he was deeply affected by the experiences of Korean people, especially the children. After his service in Korea, he spent many years working to increase awareness of the women and children who were left in poverty, due to situations brought about by the Korean War. His efforts also sought to increase public awareness of the role played by American soldiers in helping those most vulnerable during and after the war. His passion regarding the effects the war had on Korean children, developed into a memorial in their honor. The memorial is located in Bellingham, Washington.
The War's Innocent Victims
Dr. George Drake discusses his research on Korean War information found in various archival locations. He explains the repercussions of war on society. He describes the problem with poverty left in Korea because of war, and his passion for getting more information out about his humanitarian concerns.
A Life Abroad Before Korea
Dr. George Drake explains how growing up in poverty affected his life decisions. He describes his travels to South America and Europe before enlisting into the United States Army. He recounts wanting to be a part of the Army Corps of Engineers to study topography, but he was placed with Intelligence instead.
The Poverty of War
Dr. George Drake explains how children were rescued from poverty during the Korean War. He recounts his journey to find photos that were taken during the war of orphans in Korea. He shares his concern over the children who became abandoned victims of the Korean War.
[Beginning of recorded material]
I: This is Dr. Drake’s office. On the wall, there are many recognitions as you see. [KOREAN PHRASE] Certificate of Honorary Citizen from [KOREAN NAME],
and Certificate of Appreciation from Republic of Korea.
G: From, uh, Manizales, Columbia, the country of Columbia. I work with the marginal populations in this one. Korea, Columbia, Equador, Peru, Mexico, different countries.
I: And this is his humble office in the basement. Here is George Drake of Korean War Children’s Memorial
that he built.
G: I started 14 years ago and
I: Um hm.
G: This is a photograph. I was at Kimpo
I: Uh huh, uh huh.
I: uh huh.
G: on the morning of December 20, 1950,
I: Uh huh.
G: the Chinese troops were at the northern edge of Seoul. Chaplain Blasdell had, uh, rescued. He had taken 950 children and 100 orphanage administrators
by truck to Inchon waiting for an, a landing craft that would take them to Busan. The landing craft never came, and so he had to find some way to get them to Kimpo. He had made arrangements for the Air Force to come in with planes, 14 planes, to rescue the children. He literally had to steal the trucks from another unit and bring the children here.
I: Um hm.
G: And so here they are arriving at Kimpo Airport. Nah, this is just,
um, this is one of the, this is now in, on Cheju-do Island where the orphanage was established, called the Orphans Home of Korea. This is one of the little boys that was rescued in that, uh, rescue operation, another one. Here’s some kids living in the, underground, um. Here, here’s at Kimpo that morning. Here they are on the plane, look, you know. There’s some, seven children died in the,
in the days, the four days that they were at Inchon waiting for the, for the, uh, LCM. But most of the planes, they had to just lift them up because there was only one of these and, and there were, I think there were 14 planes. Now you see that they’re lifting them up onto the, onto the aircraft.
I: Where was that, in Kimpo?
I: When was it?
G: The morning of December the 20th, 1950.
G: ’50, yeah.
G: A couple days later, the Chinese occupied Seoul.
G: Here they are at, uh, the Orphans Home of Korea in Cheju-do. This is
G: the way they lived sometimes. You’d find them in holes like this. There they’re going to the Chaplain and being interviewed. Here’s that same boy. His brother, blind from birth, has been helped by this kid through all the bombing and, and, and whatever and, uh, stealing food for him and
whatever possible and was able to keep his brother alive. [Abrupt start] I found them in the archives of the, uh, uh, U.S. National Archives in College Park, MD.
I: Um hm.
G: I found them in the archives of the Pacific Stars and Stripes in Tokyo, uh. Many servicemen sent me, uh, photographs, and I took about 200. I was with the photographer when he took this picture by the way.
I: Um hm.
G: This is at the Seventh Day Adventist Orphanage in, uh, in Seoul. I work on the assumption that the Stars and Stripes has much of the material
I found had been published in the Stars and Stripes, Korea Edition for the servicemen. I figured they must have archives, and I made contact. Yes, they had archives, and I got permission to use the archives. And, uh, so I went there with my scanner and my computer, laptop computer, and I just, as fast as the old Japanese gentleman there that was an archivist could bring me material, I was copying it. I wasn’t
even reading it. Um, I knew what the situation was. It was, it, it, it was, it was, it was horrific. It was outrageous. The most innocent victims of any war are the children, uh, and you’d literally watch them dying. You watched them begging. You, you, you see mothers who are starving and would take their children to the edge of the company, I’m not talking about a child six weeks old, a couple months old, a year old. They would take them to the edge of a
military unit by the gate, put the child down and run away as fast as they could knowing that they could not survive with their income. They had no income, and the child would certainly die. If they left them with the GIs, there was a chance. [Abrupt start] At the 50thanniversary of the Korean War, the U.S. government Congress gave Administrative, not Administrative, the, uh, Dept. of Defense $9 million to celebrate the 50thanniversary.
Everything was about Inchon, uh, landing and Pusan Perimeter, you know, the Hill 22 and, you know, all, battle, battle, battle, battle. Nothing dealt with the humanitarian aid.
I: Um hm.
G: Nothing. I was upset. I had no intention of doing any of this, but I was upset. You know, let’s face it. When I left Korea, I hated Korea. You cannot imagine being in the camp in a tent in the middle of a rice
paddy that was fertilized with night soil regularly. I mean, it stank. You always confronted with, with extreme poverty, with people dying. I would go hiking in the hills, and I could still see the bodies lying by the side. You didn’t dare touch because they were booby trapped. The cold, uh, yeah. It’s, it’s famous for the cold. I hated Korea. I never, ever wanted anything to do with it, and did not.
I could not go to these military celebrations and whatever without crying. But I got so angry that everything, you know, the 50thanniversary talked about the, the battles. Or you had something like Nogunri
I: Um hm.
G: Let’s face it. Maybe if, true, 50, maybe 100 Koreans died, hey buddy, well we saved 1,000 children in one airlift.
Yeah, but what does that have to do with the news?
G: That, and, it, saving the children was meaningless. Even today it’s meaningless. You can, well, that’s what fascinated me in 2010, the 60thanniversary, I started to get really angry and was sending letters all over saying look, this has to be part of the Korean, this has to be part of the history of the Korean War.
I went to New York and spoke to the Korea Society. They were exploring Halberstam’s book, “The Coldest Winter”, and I said it’s garbage. It’s a political military analysis. It could have been fought on the moon. There is no reference to the millions of Korean citizens that died
I: Um hm.
G: of the 500,000 Korean children that died. At, you know, if that’s all we have for the history of the Korean War, forget it.
You’re missing the fact that American servicemen, to be trained to go to Korea, they had to be taught to kill, and I went through that stuff. You have your rifle, you have a bayonet, and you have a sandbag that are filled with sand, and you lunge at the sandbag screaming kill, kill at the top of your lungs. You have to be trained to kill. You don’t have to be trained to pick up the crying child to offer solace. Feed the hungry child, find shelter for
the homeless child, or take the injured child to a medic. That comes with being American. That, that was our values that we took to Korea
I: Uh huh.
G: to confront your values, excuse me for saying you, but you’re from Korea. But the Korean values I should rather say. I was determined that, that, that, that story of love and compassion has to be part of the history of the Korean War, not just the battles. [Abrupt start] The reality is this was not a command
project. The military, our military had nothing to do with it.
I: Um hm.
G: These were the GIs that were forming their committees to address the needs of the children. It was, it wasn’t that Captain Consaldo would say alright troops stay tough. Would you please donate at the pay table. As you go through the pay table, Drake will be there with the can, put something in, no. There was no official, um,
uh, orders of any sort in this.
I: How did you connect with your parents and your, uh, people back home and be able to, uh, help more childrens?
I: What did you do?
G: Go to my website. It’s all there. I mean, it, I, I wrote, in my first six months, I wrote over 1,000 letters home. Now, I got all the
GIs in the company to give me their home address and the name of their hometown newspaper. And I would mimeograph the letter, they would sign it and send it to their newspaper, send it to their parents, sent it to their church. We collected, uh, what, 12, 14 tons of material in one year. Our one little company of 200 men? Our 200 men donated over $4,000 from
our pay of less than $90 a month. And that was happening all over Korea, and that’s the problem. Why it has not gotten recognition. A newspaper reporter wants to interview me, and so the story is about George and what he did and one thing or another. And they’re not a sociologist. In other words, they don’t look at collective behaviors. They’re looking at individual behavior.
I: Um hm.
G: I’m a sociologist. That’s my profession.
I: Um hm.
G: I look at collective
behaviors, and I know the methodological shortcomings of my research. It’s all anecdotal. All of it. But my God, when you get 8,800 anecdotes that are similar showing the same thing, I think you’re close to finding some, you’re close to touching a reality.
I: Um hm.
G: So no, except for Asbury and his report to the military in 1954, I know of no other such comprehensive analysis of what was happening
in Korea with the children, the relationship of children to Korea at that time.
I: When, when did you station in Korea? When was the period that you went
G: Fall, I don’t know, August, September of, uh, ‘52
G: to December of ’53.
G: Yeah. I was there at the Armistice.
G: But also during some of the really nasty fighting at the end.
I: So you stayed there more than a year?
G: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. No, it was almost a year and a half.
I: Year and a half.
I: Uh huh.
And did you, did you establish orphanages by yourself, too?
G: No. No, no, no, no. In fact, on our orphanage committee, I wasn’t the President. I wasn’t the Treasurer. I wasn’t on the decision making committee. I was in charge of correspondence.
I: Um hm.
G: And if any package arrived, it went to me first, and I would copy the address of the donors. And the next day I’d get a letter off to the donors [KOREAN PHRASE]
I: Um hm.
G: Some of those are on my website, you know.
I: Um hm.
G: I, I lived under Manases Manor. I, I think I put 30 or so of those letters on the, on the website, uh, you know. You had, you had to thank them and then come on, send us some more.
G: Yeah. The American servicemen all over Korea were writing home. The material was sent by postal, post office to APO 391, I forget what it was
in San Francisco.
G: So the packages had accumulated so quickly and so many, the Army had to lease a freighter specially to bring it to Korea. Donations. You know, the American public supported their, their kids. That’s their, that’s that little Johnny from next door, and he wanted our help. They would have, a story. I wrote to my aunt living in Yakima, Washington,
and I said for Christmas, don’t send me a package for myself. Send me a package for the children. Here is, here is what the story is. So, and I told this story, they published that in the Yakima newspaper. A little girl
I: Do you have that piece on your website?
G: Yeah. Um, a little girl read that. A six-year-old girl. No, she, her mot her read that story at the dinner table, and
this little girl took her little wagon and went to the neighbors begging for donations for the Korean orphans. Six-year-old child.
G: So that was sent off to Korea, and I found out about it, and so there was t hen an article in the paper about this little girls going out collecting these, and when I had the ceremony here in Bellingham for the, the conclusion, the building of the
Korea War Children’s Memorial, I found her. Of course, now she’s 50 some years old.
G: Yeah. She wouldn’t come. It, she was, is, she was so, I wouldn’t say traumatized, she was so shaken by the whole thing that she, she could not, she, she wanted privacy.
G: Ask her.
I: Uh. She just did, following by asking for help, right?
G: Yeah, yeah. For the, for those little children.
Orphanages in America, the kids in these orphanages raised aid for the Korean War orphans. I have those stories, the Boy Scout troops, Girl Scout troops, church groups, eve, you know, Lions Club, Kiwanis Club. I mean all these animal clubs. They all, you know, pitched in to help. The amount of aid through the GIs, this wasn’t going to, to, you know, [INAUDIBLE]our Commanding Officer U.S. Forces. It’s going
to Private so and so and Corporal so and so or Air Force Sergeant so and so, and they then would take it, as you saw in the pictures. They would then take it to the orphanage.
I: Um. What do you suggest for us Koreans to do about this, the point that you made that we don’t want it to go back? We want to hide it. We haven’t talked about it. We haven’t healed it. What do you suggest?
G: More exposure? Um, when my
photo exhibits opened in Korea, GIs and Their Kids: A Love Story, of all places, it opened in this big, uh, hall at the, at the entrance of the big brand new city hall in, in metropolitan city of Kwangju. Now Kwangju is not known for a lot of the Americans. Kwangju the servicemen in the base nearby, American servicemen, were not welcome. The, the leaders
of that base had never been invited to any function at city hall.
I: Um hm.
G: And here comes Georgie Drake with his photo exhibit, GIs and Their Kids: A Love Story. For the first time ever Mayor of (Gwanta) Park invites the military to come in. They all came in civilian clothes. The Commander of the unit came in civilian clothes, and he said Drake, I’ve never been invited here before. The publicity on that was
all over Korea.
I: That’s the legacy of Kwangju. I am, I’m proud of it, yeah.
G: And I then met with the Public Affairs Officer of the U.S. Forces Korea, and he said Drake, you have provided us more positive visibility in Korea than we’ve had in the last 10 years. This is wonderful. And I said thank you. Not put your money where your mouth is.
Why should I pay for what your job is? You didn’t pay for that exhibit. You didn’t pay me to put it together? You put no money in it and yet you’re stroking yourself because of this wonderful publicity. That was your job. How about some money?
G: No. I have gotten not one single cent from the U.S. military.
I: Um hm.
G: One, one last comment. Uh,
G: Governor of Hwanghae Province
I: Um hm.
G: I appreciate him. He’s the one who saw that Seoul Broadcasting System video and contacted me and expressed personal appreciation. He cared. He, he said it was so emotional he had, he had to recognize it. That’s what we need is more Korean people, officials.
I: Where you born and so on?
G: I was born in northern New Jersey
I: Um hm
G: in a very, very poor family. Mind you, this is 1930
I: Um hm.
G: The, the Depression
G: I grew up, uh, first 12 years in the northern part of the state and, uh, I was witness to, uh, uh, acts of extreme poverty, people losing their, their, their apartments, everything moved out on the street, the old lady sitting on top of the pile and crying with no place to go. No place to go. This is 19, what, 34, 35?
Very, very poor. We moved to, uh, the southern part of the state, and we lived in a quasi-rural area. I went to a four-room school and then to a local high school.
G: In, in Manasquan, New Jersey.
I: New Jersey.
G: But, uh, I was one of these kids that always loved the outdoors, and so I became the expert on wildflowers for about 20 miles around. I knew them all. I knew where to find the Indian artifacts,
uh, from the old Indian tribes that used to live there and, and anyway, and when I finished high school, there was no money in our family for college, um. I had a job in a, in a, in a store, and I didn’t see myself working in that store the rest of my life, so I bought a bicycle and headed for South America. I spent the next year and a half working in Central America. I only got to Panama, uh, working back in the jungles
and the mountains doing incredible, uh,
I: You mean you rode down to the Latin America on that bicycle?
G: I rode to, to Guatemala. I, I sold the bike in Guatemala. No, I didn’t ride all the way.
I: I know. But you hitchhiked and
G: Well, I put the bike on the top of the bus or the back of the truck, but also I, I rode many, many, many, many, many miles. I still ride. I did my last bicycle race when I turned 80 years old. I got a gold medal in the State games.
G: 82. So, they,
but after um, uh, that experience, then I came home and enlisted in the Army and, uh
I: When was that?
G: That, I, I came home in June of 1950 and, uh, of course I was eligible for the draft, so I said you gotta find me, and I took off to Europe and hitchhiked all over Europe, uh, for six months
I: You ran away from the Korean War and but finally ending up with the orphans. [LAUGHS]
G: Well, I didn’t run away from the Korean War. I, I did, I had no interest
in getting shot.
G: Then knowing that I would be drafted, I came home, enlisted in the Army wanting to be in the Army Engineers and do topographic survey which is what I was doing in Central America. But they put me in the Army Intelligence, taught me, uh, Chinese and high speed Morse intercept and sent me to Korea where I could be useful. And that’s how I got to Korea.
I: And when and where did you arrive in Korea?
G: Oh God. Well, we landed in Japan first, and somehow we got, I think we probably flew into Kimpo. I don’t know. I don’t remember.
G: ’52, yeah, in the, in fall of 1952. I’d have to look up and find the dates. I have my paperwork on it. [INAUDIBLE] What else?
G: Then after that I went to University and became a University professor.
I: Yeah. What did you teach?
G: I taught Community Organizations, Community Systems Theory, Evaluation of Social Programs, Social Change, etc. I, at the University, I, at the Master’s level I did a review of Chinese language and also Tibetan language, and at the Doctoral level, I used Spanish and French and, uh, I’ve done a lot of research, uh, on the political power structure in Latin America, both in Mexico and in Columbia. But I’ve also worked with
tribes in the Amazon Basin and, and, uh, tribes in, in, uh, Peru and, uh, I’ve been involved in many activities in many countries.
I: Currently America is involved in several fronts of the war or quasi-war, and you’ve been there in Korean War. I saw the big banner in front of your office as Korean War veterans, no war.
I: What is the message to the young generations in Korea and all of the world about
what’s going around?
G: The, uh, I think, the first requirement is to recognize the price of war, and I don’t mean the wasted dollars spent on tanks and such that could have been spent on healthcare or education. The loss of life, the devastation, the destruction of the environment. The loss of 500,000
children, north and south. To me, it’s all one Korea. It’s too high a price to pay for failed diplomacy. We don’t, we have war academies. We don’t have peace academies. We have to do a better job of understanding. I can tell you this in a, in a, in a different way. I was invited as a Korean War veteran to talk to our local high school on Veterans Day. They invited different
I: Tell America program?
G: Pardon me?
I: Tell American program.
G: I don’t know what they call it, seniors, senior students. So I sat cross legged on top of the table. I’ll be damned if I’m gonna act like a academic, and I said, uh, you’ve got a live one. What do you want? One student said, um, tell us war stories. I said no. War is not entertainment. I didn’t come here to entertain you.
Ask me a serious question and I’ll consider answering it. Did you enlist or were you drafted? I enlisted. Why? Because somewhere I believe in patriotism. I believe in responsibility for your government and for your culture and your friends and your neighbors, your communities. And there was a call, and I went to defend democracy. And I said this is a Civics class. This is a Civics class.
Will somebody define democracy? No one could. No one could. I said what the hell you studying here? And the instructor was a little bit embarrassed.
G: And I said alright. Since you’re not good at theory, let’s talk about practice. Over the years, I’ve been a host for International Visitors program for the State Department. They have visitors that tour the United States for 30 days at full expense of the U.S. government.
And over the years, I’ve had 30, no, I’ve had, yeah, for 30 years, I’ve had over 100 delegations come to Bellingham. I’m to show them democracy in small town Bellingham. What should I show them? And one kid said oh, you could take them to the movies, and I said I saw Rambo in Chongqing, China last year. Do you think that portrayed America? Is that
what we want people to think of as democracy in America, Rambo? No. Another kid said well, you gotta have a beer bust. I said do you realize this is almost Kristallnacht was when the Nazis destroyed the synagogues of Germany and Austria and throughout Europe. And they had one hell of a beer bust. You think a beer bust has anything to do with democracy? And I turned to a kid in the back of the room and I said what would you have me do, and the teacher intervened
and said Juan has just arrived from Spain. He’s only been here a week. He doesn’t speak very much English. You would do better asking somebody else. And I said no bit it [INAUDIBLE] in Espanol.
G: [SPANISH PHRASE] I will receive three visitors from Panama, Costa Rico and Guatemala. What shall I, what should I show them to teach them democracy? [SPANISH PHRASE] and he goes [SPANISH PHRASE],
and he responded immediately [SPANISH PHRASE] take them to a meeting of the city council. Right on.
G: And a girl right up by me, would you translate? And I said no. If you think the only way to defend democracy is shoot somebody, you could start by learning another language.
G: You could start by going to another country and set on the curbs and find out
why they hate us and why, you know, what are their dreams, and what are their wishes, you know? Then
I: Almost so that’s the message.
G: So that’s what’s learned, yeah
G: The Koreans have to learn another language, too.
G: And they’ve gotta, they’ve gotta take a good look at their own culture.
G: There was a man who wrote a book about dealing with Korea, doing business in Korea.
I: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
G: He said he’s worked in 97 countries. The United
States is the most open and accepting of, uh, uh, diverse, uh, cultures and attitudes, and Korea is the least.
I: George, thank you so much for your time, your, uh, passionate energy and willing to talk, and I really appreciate your 14 years of work on this. [Abrupt start] What do you call this?
G: My cabin. Here is all [INAUDIBLE] 17 years, ah. That’s the way I looked with my knapsack. Yeah.
I: Oh my goodness. You keep all this.
G: I visited Indian camps. I visited national
parks. I visited Boy Scout camps, and I slept under bridges in city parks, and here’s my hand written [LAUGHS]
I: Look at all this. Planning a bike trip seeking Eldorado in 1948, and all this file he kept photographs, letters, notes, everything.
G: Yeah, may I, I would write these and send them home to my mother.
[End of Recorded Material]