One of the most memorable incidences involving the USS SAINT PAUL during the Korean War did not involve firing a single shot, and no blood was shed. Yet it involved many of the ship’s crew in this memorable incident. I did not personally live this story, – rather it is one told to me, and I believe it to be a highlight in the ship’s history.
The ship had been bombarding roads and rail lines near the Inchon area. It was observed that a lighthouse on small nearby island, Fusshi-To, was not functioning. A damage-control crew were sent over in a whaleboat to conduct repairs to the lighthouse. As the whaleboat approached shore, a small crowd of barefoot Korean children were spotted.
The ship’s repair party found 45 children on the island ranging in age from about one to fourteen. They were from an orphanage severely damaged by the war. The only building left standing was severely damaged with no heat, windows shattered and no sanitary facilities. The island was supposed to have been evacuated, but the 45 children and three supervisors had been forgotten and left behind.
Some of the children were sick and all were hungry. Clothing was tattered and torn. The island was devoid of supplies. The children had been sustained by a rationed, small amount of rice. No milk. Immediate word was sent back to the ship about the severe condition of the children and the lack of supplies.
A loudspeaker announcement was made to all hands with a request for assistance. SAINT PAUL sailors responded immediately offering clothing, money, soap and candy – anything they could spare. In short order, 1500 pounds of clothing and $500 were sent to the orphanage. One hundred pounds of rice, more gifts and a ship’s doctor arrived on the island the next morning. He found cases of pneumonia, malnutrition, rickets and beriberi.
The orphans were soon dressed in cutdown dungarees and Navy uniforms, eating a Navy meal and wrapped in wool Navy blankets. One of the ship’s crew discovered two large containers of powdered milk sitting in a corner of the abandoned building. When asked why it wasn’t used, a supervisor said they didn’t know what it was, had tried sprinkling some over rice and it tasted awful. They then assumed it was soap, but it didn’t clean anything and so was abandoned. Some sailors might think the very same!
Other crews were sent to the island to make repairs to the building. A crew measured each child for a pair of canvas shoes which the crew made. An old abandoned pot-bellied stove was found in Inchon, repaired and sent o the orphanage. Other crew found and reclaimed an abandoned well to ease the sanitation conditions. Some members of the ship’s cooks went to the island to instruct the orphanage workers on how to prepare some food.
Money was sent to Tokyo for seeds and materials to be planted on Fusshi-To for food in years to come. Ship’s crew sent letters home to tell of the experience of the island. Soon boxes of clothing, toys and food began arriving for the children on the island.
The lighthouse repaired and the orphans of Fusshi-To saved, the Fighting Saint moved on to combat the North Koreans. But with a more than passing interest and eye on the residents of Fusshi-To.
Many years after 1950, some members of the Association made a trip to Korea to celebrate the truce ending the “forgotten war”. They met with a group of the “orphans” from the Fusshi-To orphanage who wanted to express their appreciation and thanks for the remarkable effort made by the Fighting Saint that undoubtedly saved their lives.
Excerpts for this article are from “I Danced With The Lady.” USS Saint Paul Association, Publisher