In March 1956, Harry Holt hired a young Korean man named David Kim to help him build a child care and adoption program in Korea. The following October, Harry’s daughter Molly joined her parents in Korea – where, for many years, she worked alongside David caring for orphaned and abandoned children. Here, David Kim shares some of his favorite memories from the early years in Korea working with his wonderful colleague and friend, Molly Holt.
In 1957, we were in dire need of our own childcare center, as the majority of our children came from other orphanages scattered all around the city. Because of the distance between the orphanages and our office, it was very difficult for us to prepare children for adoption processing. With inadequate public transportation, we wasted a great deal of time commuting back and forth to these orphanages. We were all very happy when Mr. Holt completed our new childcare center for incoming babies and children at Hyo-chang Park, and we were no longer dependent on the other orphanages for their care.
As the days passed, more children were admitted to the new facility – many from orphanages, and others directly from the birth mothers or relatives of the children. This influx at our newly built childcare center necessitated additional staff to care for the children, as well as to handle the continually increasing workload at the office. The most pressing need was to have someone knowledgeable to prepare accurate child reports in English, as well as to assist with the care of the children. We had enjoyed the assistance of a few volunteers from the United States, including a registered nurse. But she contracted hepatitis and had to return home.
Fortunately, Molly Holt traveled to Korea to join us in the summer of 1957. She had just graduated from nursing school, and it was a wonderful relief and welcome news to all of us. Molly was immediately immersed in the daily chores of the children’s care at the center, and her nursing and other skills were invaluable. I was very happy not only to have her assistance, but also her friendship. We worked together well – readying the children for adoption – and a strong bond soon developed between us. Molly has been a wonderful friend and colleague, as we have served homeless children together during these past 57 years.
During those early years in Korea, there were many unforgettable events we experienced together and of which I have fond memories. I remember that Molly was not only busy with her responsibilities as a nurse, but also served as a midwife for the mothers who delivered their babies at Hyo-chang Park. She was a great help when meeting and talking with the mothers and relatives who brought their babies or children to us for adoption.
When Mr. Holt was back in Oregon, Molly was the only person who could drive our station wagon – transporting sick babies to the hospital, or purchasing groceries for the children at the care center. During the Korean War, many American soldiers fathered children out of wedlock with single Korean women. Fatherless and born of mixed race, these children always faced the greatest prejudice in Korean society. I remember driving around the country with Molly as we looked for mixed-race children near the military camps, visiting homes, and other orphanages to bring the children back with us to our center. When these children came into our care, we did all we could to place them in loving homes.
Molly and I also traveled by train. We frequently rode together on the all-night train from Busan to Seoul, transporting as many as a dozen babies at a time. Periodically, Mrs. Hwang at the Isabella orphanage in Busan called to ask us to take babies who had been admitted to her orphanage during the past week or two. Some of these abandoned babies were weak and sick, due most of the time to long exposure to the elements at her orphanage gate, severe malnutrition, or illness. She was happy to have these babies adopted into new homes in the United States, where they would have a much better chance at life.
We usually purchased an upper and lower berth, to lay five or six babies on each bed. Molly and I each stood on either end of the berth, watching the babies all night. The train would depart Busan at 8 or 9 in the evening, arriving in Seoul early the next morning. It was almost a 10-hour trip, but we had to stay awake to prevent the babies from falling from their beds at sudden stops or departures. The babies would usually sleep during the trip, due to the rocking motions of the train, but sometimes they would wake up crying of hunger, or because of a soiled diaper or other discomfort. When one baby cried, the other babies would also wake up and cry at the same time. The crescendo of a dozen babies crying in unison would fill the car, deafening our ears, as well as waking the other passengers. We felt sorry for them, but by and large the other passengers were very sympathetic toward the babies, especially when they learned that they were orphans bound for overseas adoption.
Molly and I traveled to any place at any time, wherever there were babies who needed a family.
Our travels together during those early years were not limited to the ground. Molly was a great addition and comfort for me when we escorted children on charter flights to the United States, and she flew on most of them. We needed a medical doctor or several nurses on each of our charter flights to look after the sick babies during the long trip across the ocean. I could not imagine flying with more than 80-100 babies and older children on each 28 to 40-hour flight to the United States without nurses or a doctor. The majority of our babies and children were weak and sick to begin with. Often, the sudden changes in environment and cabin temperature, as well as the drinking water, induced diarrhea. The cold draft in the airplane cabin and inadequate heating systems on some of the planes caused the babies to catch colds, or even pneumonia. We needed someone knowledgeable about how to treat these conditions.
Each escort was responsible for eight to ten babies and older children during the flight, feeding them and changing their soiled diapers. Molly and I were most often responsible for additional babies and children when any of the other escorts became airsick or incapacitated during the flights. At each refueling stop – in places such as Wake Island, Hawaii, or Semiya in the Aleutian Islands – Molly and I would be busy cleaning the used bottles, and preparing new ones for the next leg of the flight. These chores, physical labor, and fatigue we could happily endure. More difficult for us both was the emotional stress of constantly worrying about the babies and children’s health and wellbeing. The vast majority of the children arrived safely into the arms of their waiting adoptive parents. Not all did. One of the most heartbreaking and indelible memories that Molly and I shared was the death of a baby during one of the flights.
She was very weak and often sick at the center before the flight, but we thought the best possible solution for her survival would be to unite her with her new parents at the earliest day possible. We were very happy when she was cleared for air travel. Tragically, during the flight she contracted pneumonia. Molly was holding this baby on her lap and I was incessantly pumping oxygen to her mouth from a manual oxygen bottle, but it was to no avail. Despite our efforts, she succumbed to her illness. Our inability to save a little baby crushed our hearts. It is an aching that remains with us both to this day.
My fondest memory of Molly however, is not of her nursing skill, or her compassion, or her tireless work, but of her propensity to cry, and of the time those tears brought us a miracle. Behind all the changes, growth and development at Holt came a new experience of growing pains. It would be unimaginable to operate a childcare center with more than 200 children and 70 staff without an effective communication system. However, that was our situation when we moved into our new Nokbundong facility. We had successfully brought in electricity, found a water source, and created plenty of space for the children while they awaited departure to the United States. But the lack of a telephone created inconveniences beyond description. It was like working in the dark ages, shipping goods by oxcart. Since the new center was located at the outskirts of town, we had to walk a couple miles to even use a public telephone. One of our staff members had to practically be a liaison person between our office and the public telephone. We did not realize the absence of a phone would create such havoc.
We contacted the telephone company to transfer our former phone service from the Hyochang Park Center, but they said it could not be done because no telephone lines had been installed in our area. The nearest telephone line was at the quail farm, several blocks from us. I made several trips to the telephone company, begging for a line to be installed to our center. I told them of our dire need for a telephone. We not only had a childcare center with hundreds of children, but also operated a clinic and a hospital. We needed the phone for emergency situations. They reiterated that their hands were tied. It was beyond their control, they said. They were unable to install any new telephone lines because they were already operating at maximum capacity.
A telephone was the most critical item for us next to electricity and water. Somehow, we had to bring in telephone service to our new facility. Of course, this was not the first time we encountered a seemingly unsolvable predicament. God had always delivered us in the past. I knew, somehow, there would be an answer to our efforts and prayers.
I decided to pay a visit to the Ministry of Communications to appeal our case, as telephone and communication matters were under their jurisdiction. Molly and I went together. As a foreigner, it was easier for her to get an appointment with a high ranking official, especially as the daughter of Mr. Harry Holt. We first went to see the director general of a bureau that oversees installation of telephone lines, but they weren’t able to help us. They gave the identical answer we heard earlier from the local people. We then made a formal request to meet with the minister himself, but our request was not granted – not immediately. First we had to talk with others below him. They all assured us it would be useless to meet with the minister. He would be unable to do anything about the basic shortage of telephone lines in the country. But we persisted, and we managed to see him at last!
The minister was a retired army lieutenant general named Lee, Eung-joon. He was a kindly old gentleman who seemed happy to see us. I explained our unusual circumstances and the predicament we were in. I pointed out to him that the quail farm just a few blocks away was blessed with telephone service, but a charity organization caring for hundreds of war orphans had to go without. While I was pleading with Minister Lee, Molly sat next to me wiping her tears. At times, the minister’s attention was directed more toward Molly’s tears than my pleas. He kept looking at Molly each time she wiped her cheeks. He had never seen an American woman crying before him and he seemed quite concerned. He had heard about the millionaire lumberman from Oregon who came to Korea to help our war orphans. It was a wonderful humanitarian service. He summoned his secretary to his office and ordered him to install a new telephone line to our center!
Molly and I were ecstatic at the sudden windfall of good fortune. I had begun to believe it was an impossible mountain to move. We kept saying, “Thank you, Minister Lee. Thank you very much, Minister Lee.” Molly’s tears were streaming down her cheeks. Her voice of gratitude cracked with obvious emotion.
Minister Lee told us they were releasing one of the phone lines reserved for emergency use. On our way home, Molly and I offered our thanks to the Lord for delivering us again from an impossible situation. On several occasions, I noticed Molly cried easily. I was always concerned, thinking I might have done something wrong or hurt her feelings. But I found out she cried for no particular reason — tears for all occasions. I kept telling Molly that the tears at Minister Lee’s office were some of the most precious and timely tears she’d ever shed. They were the tears that saved the lives of hundreds of children. The next day, crews from the local telephone office came to our center and installed a new telephone line, temporarily using the electrical poles until a permanent facility was installed in the area.
Dr. David H. Kim | Holt President Emeritus