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Gone West: Air Force Colonel Dean Hess

Helped Rescue Hundreds Of Korean War Orphans With 'Operation Kiddy Car'

The family of retired Air Force Colonel Dean Hess has confirmed that he passed away last Monday at his home near Dayton, Ohio at the age of 97.

Hess learned to fly at an early age, and as a young minister, barnstormed in a Piper Cub spreading the gospel in the Midwest until the U.S. was drawn into WWII. He enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program.

While in the Army Air Corps, and later the U.S. Air Force, he flew more than 300 combat missions during WWII and Korea.

The New York Times reports that during one of his bombing missions over Germany, he unintentionally hit an orphanage and school. Later, during the Korean conflict, he tried to intervene to provide relief for starving children orphaned and made homeless by the war. He was one of the funders of Operation Kiddy Car, which gathered together orphans in Seoul, found food, shelter, and clothing for them, and then using 16 "commandeered" C-54 transports evacuated the children to an Jeju, an island off the southern coast of Korea.

Col. Hess' actions led to a book "Battle Hymn", and later a movie by the same name starring Rock Hudson. Hess donated his proceeds from the book and the film to help establish an orphanage in South Korea.

But less well known, according to National Museum of the U.S. Air Force historian Jeff Underwood, was his role in helping train the fledgling South Korean Air Force, which had been his primary assignment in Korea.

Hess was awarded a medal by South Korean President  Syngman Rhee. He retired from the Air Force in 1969, and later became a high school teacher in Ohio.

(USAF Images. Top: Hess (right) with Korean orphans. Bottom: Hess trains Korean pilots)

FMI: www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=16856

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