By Brad Dison
Following World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union were embroiled in a bitter Cold War. On June 25, 1950, some 75,000 soldiers from Soviet-backed North Korea crossed the 38th parallel and invaded pro-western South Korea. Within a month, American troops joined the fighting on behalf of South Korea to halt the spread of international communism. Among those troops was the Third Combat Engineering Battalion to which 23-year-old Pfc. Chester Ray “Chet” Whisamore belonged.
The war was a deadly game of tug-of-war as soldiers fought back and forth across the 38th parallel. The number of casualties ultimately mounted to around five million, but neither side gained much ground. The war was in a stalemate for a year, then a second. Compared to both world wars, which received widespread press coverage, the Korean War garnered much less press coverage and became known as the “Forgotten War”.
In the middle of the forgotten war, during the 1952 Christmas season, the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce created the “Gift Lift” project to provide every serviceman in South Korea with a Christmas gift. Among the items most desirable were “flashlights with batteries, long candles for reading, fruit cakes, candy, cookies, books, stationery kits, canned meats and woolen socks.” Donors filled packages with Christmas presents for the soldiers and included nice Christmas cards to reassure the soldiers that they were certainly not forgotten, especially during the holiday season. The gifts were shipped to Korea and distributed at random to the servicemen.
Mrs. Julia Pearson’s son was fighting in Korea, so she wanted to participate in the program. In early November of 1952, Mrs. Pearson filled two big Christmas packages to send to Korea, one to her son and one to an unknown soldier. She addressed the first package of goodies to her son, whom she dearly missed. She addressed the “Gift Lift” package to “A Lonely Soldier in Korea.” She included a note inside the package with the message that she hoped the soldier who received it would enjoy it and signed her name.
Several days later, the “Gift Lift” presents were delivered to the servicemen in Chet’s outfit in Korea. Chet, who, like most of the other soldiers, longed to be home for the holidays, received two packages, one of which was a “Gift Lift” package. He opened the first package and found an array of items his mother had sent to brighten his holiday. He opened the “Gift Lift” package and read the note addressed to “A Lonely Soldier in Korea.”
Chet took out a piece of paper and began writing a thank you note for the Christmas packages. Chet wrote, “I got your package, mom, but what a shock I got when I opened one of the “Gift Lift” packages distributed to our outfit. It was from you.” In what was considered a one-in-a-million coincidence, both packages Chet received on that day were from Mrs. Julia Pearson …his mother.
- The Los Angeles Times, November 23, 1951, p56.
- Tulare Advance-Register (Tulare, California) January 29, 1952, p.7.
- The Manila Times, January 1952.
- Stars and Stripes Newspaper, Pacific Editions, 1945-1963, March 2, 1952.
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