Photo Information

Brig. Gen. Kelvin Gallman, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing Assistant Wing Commander, and Col. Ronnie Michael, Camp Mujuk Commanding Officer, tour the Pohang Sunrin Aeyukwon, an orphanage founded by U.S. Marines during the Korean War on March 14, 2024. Brig. Gen Gallman visited the orphanage after the conclusion of Freedom Shield 24, the largest bilateral exercise between the U.S. and Republic of Korea militaries on the Korean peninsula.

Photo by Capt. Tyler King

AWC visits ROK Orphanage Built by 1st MAW Marines

1 Apr 2024 | Capt. Tyler King 1st Marine Aircraft Wing

“While Marine jet fighters roared overhead on their death missions, a small group of First Marine Air Wing men dedicated a work of mercy.” This opening line of a 1952 Marine Corps Gazette article may have left many readers believing this statement paradoxical, even antithetical to the Marine Corps mission to fight and win under any circumstances. Yet, while the fury and violence of the Korean War raged around them, many Marines found themselves serving in a unique capacity: one focused on saving lives rather than taking them.

Japan invaded Korea in 1910 and made the peninsula its territory until 1945. Immediately after World War 2, the country of Korea was split in two along the 38th parallel. The Russian government administered the northern half of the peninsula, and the south by the United States. After several years of rising tension stemming from political ideology between the two countries, North Korean communists invaded South Korea in June 1950.

When U.S. forces arrived in Korea in July, the South Korean military had been isolated to the Pusan perimeter. Surrounded by North Korean soldiers and the sea, the South Korean people quickly found themselves on the precipice of being overtaken. After the daring Incheon invasion and several successful military campaigns, however, the Allied forces pushed the North Korea military back out of South Korea to the Yalu River, the border between North Korea and China. This action prompted the Chinese to enter the war and soon the allied military found itself facing a much more poised and tactically proficient enemy force. The years and combat operations that followed left both sides in a virtual stalemate, eventually leaving North and South Korea to sign an armistice ceasing military activities on July 27, 1953.

The Korean War stands out in the annals of history among the worst in terms of non-combatant suffering. Estimates vary wildly, but historians estimate between two and three million Korean civilians died during the Korean War. The carnage of war spared no one, and the most vulnerable among the war-torn civilian populace were those unable to defend themselves from violence – children. Protecting these young lives become a priority for the United States, and the Marine Corps in particular. In 1952, more than 2 years after the beginning of the war but still a year before its end, the Marines of 1st Marine Air Wing built an orphanage, naming it simply, “The Marine Memorial Orphanage.” Colonel Arthur Binney, the air group commander, told the audience at the orphanage’s opening, “Marines, while fighting men, are not cruel men….Here in Korea we are particularly affected by the plight of little children, homeless and without parents through no fault of their own.”

The First Marine Air Wing Marines raised $3,500, almost $41,000 in today’s money, to open the orphanage. And once open, Marines and their Allied counterparts distributed clothing, food, and medicine to countless thousands of children affected by the war.

Over 70 years later, and now called the Pohang Sunrin Aeyukwon, the orphanage continues to operate in Pohang, caring for local orphans, and standing as a reminder of the bond the United States shares with the Republic of Korea. U.S. Marines based on Camp Mujuk, a small Marine Corps base outside of Pohang, visit often, volunteering their time performing lawncare and building maintenance as a continued measure of service to the people of Pohang.

This past March, Brig. Gen. Kelvin Gallman, Assistant Wing Commander for 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), visited the orphanage and spoke with the workers there. While touring the property Gallman said, “As I look around these grounds, I can’t help but feel immense pride in the work that has gone on here. This is what being a Marine in all about; we see something that needs to get done and it gets done. And in war, saving lives is just as important as taking them.” Recently, Maj. Gen. Eric Austin, the 1st MAW Commanding General, visited in 2023 and Maj. Gen. Brian Cavanaugh, the MAW Commanding General from 2021-2022, visited in 2022.

While the Marines who began this work have long since passed, Marines continue to dedicate their time and talents to sustaining the mission of caring for the Republic of Korea’s youth. After 70 years on service, the Sunrin Aeyukwon in Pohang stands as a testament to the age old saying: there is no worse enemy, and no better friend, than a U.S. Marine.