When Capt. Jack Heald, Jr., returned to Texas after duty in South Korea in 1963, he organized a relief effort for the needy people in the area around Kunsan AB. Volunteers from Tarrant County in the Fort Worth area supported his project, which was named Operation Kunsan. Contributors included Fort Worth Jaycees, churches, and local fire departments. By early 1964, the benefactors had donated a stockpile of almost 30 tons of food, clothing, medical supplies, agricultural tools and supplies, and sewing machines.
The Air Force approved the airlift of humanitarian supplies to eastern Asia aboard cargo planes on training flights on a space-available basis. The 442d Troop Carrier Wing arranged the operation for the Kunsan needy, employing the 916th Troop Carrier Group, based at Carswell AFB, Texas.
During the second half of January 1964, the group used three C–124 Globemaster IIs for the South Korean airlift. The 7,000-mile flights from Carswell AFB to Kunsan AB stopped at Travis AFB, California, and Hickam AFB, Hawaii. Col. Ben J. Mangina, the commander of the 916th Troop Carrier Group, served as aircraft commander of the first plane, which launched on January 18 and landed at Kunsan on the 24th. Another Globemaster II soon followed. Kunsan AB personnel unloaded and distributed supplies to orphanages, schools, and hospitals in Cholla Puk Do province. A third plane delivered medical supplies to Taegu for a civilian hospital.
I, SSgt Merritt accepted the responsibility of the distribution of the donated clothing, food, medical supplies and agriculture tools and supplies to a number of orphanages in and around Kunsan City. I had numerous problems trying to deliver the donations because the majority of the orphanages were located on narrow roads and hills. Two locations, the roads had to be widen and I organized local Korean Volunteers and numerous American GI’s to manually restructure the roads upward which took a few days. With the exception of infant children, the clothing had to be resized to fit, therefore, the sewing machines came very useful and at the right time.
I had orders to be reassigned to Japan for the next 4 years and I made numerous visits back to Kunsan to see how they were doing. With my working knowledge of the Korean language and fluent in Japanese there was language difficulties. Most of the older Koreans doctors, nurses and administrators understood Japanese and therefore I had always a way out. I haven’t been back since the early 90’s and retired since 1976 and getting a little too old to travel long distances.