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Above the Clouds

A Story on the Korean Orphans and the Aftermath of Permanent Separation

Upon entering the US Embassy, Harry Holt’s Korean assistant, David Kim, was nervous in the mid-1950s. His hands clutched two suitcases stuffed with visa applications for children to be processed for adoption. After the much-needed approval, the Korean children would finally meet their American parents who had already received their photo and paid the fees set up by the Holts. David Kim needed to somehow convince the newly assigned vice-consul at the US Embassy to approve the applications, but the new government official assigned to the task was known for being “strict” and following the law. Mr. Kim was nervous because he had a working relationship with the former vice-consul and the last two batches of applications had been smoothly given stamps of approval, allowing for two airplane loads of children to be exported. 

A third airplane left South Korea loaded with 80 children dispatched to the US.

By this time, photos of “happy families with their newly adopted children from Korea ran in newspapers and monthly magazines. With the increased publicity, more mothers relinquish their children to us for adoption. Our orphanage is overflowing and we were again desperate for more space.”  The Korean mothers were made to feel comfortable and the hard work paid off. “We processed nearly 100 adoption cases. We had a new vice-consul at the US Embassy handling all our pending cases.”

At this point in his life, David Kim, more than a mere trainee and interpreter, had become a devoted assistant of Harry Holt, a fellow fundamentalist Christian, and he worried the new vice-consul would not endorse the next batch of applications. The consulate “made many demands when we apply for visas. He emphasize that if he was responsible for issuing the visas, he would operate in strict accordance with the laws.”

The prospect of not being able to fill orders would cause Harry and his wife, a farming couple, and married first cousins. To Mr. Kim’s awe, Harry Holt, a mountain of a man in comparison, appeared at the US Embassy to assist with ensuring the approvals. While David Kim stayed behind, he watched his boss march into the government office. The large American entered that day determined to get the bulging suitcases full of applications immediately approved.

“A few minutes later I heard a thundering noise coming from the consular section. It sounded like an explosion! Suddenly the office became completely quiet. You could hear a pin drop.”  

“The consulate office door opens and Mr. Holt slowly walked out nursing a bleeding fist. Astonished, I gave him a handkerchief to stop the bleeding and asked what happened? He did not answer. He appeared somewhat agitated and murmured to himself, “wise guy!”

Kim later learned that Mr. Holt got upset and tried to punch the Korean man in the face. “luckily, the vice-consul retreated and Harry missed him, but his fist landed in a thick ashtray on the desk, exploding it into several pieces, sending ashes and cigarette butts flying everywhere. His hand bled from the broken glass.”

David Kim could not believe what he had learned. “Mr. Holt is incapable of doing that! He is too kind and humble.”

While Mr. Holt was perceived as a “terrifying man,” the assistant interpreted his boss’s demeanor as an “indomitable spirit that would never surrender to injustice.” The Korean man compared Harry Holt to cowboys in western movies where the “good guy” protects the weak.

Later Harry chuckled about the incident: “people trying to exercise their two-bit authority.“ He did not like the vice consul’s “arrogance and disrespect” against his determination to fulfill a dream. Mr. Kim was impressed. “Mr. Holt was not afraid of government officials.”

To David Kim’s surprise, a new vice-consul soon replaced the strict one. And Holt’s assistant was treated “cordially and respectfully by the consular staff.  Furthermore, the new [replacement] vice-consul was very kind and said he would be happy to help us any way he could.” Mr. Kim was impressed. “Thereafter, The US Embassy always provided excellent service for our children. I understood how Mr. Holt became a successful businessman. He could do things no ordinary men could do! Over the next few weeks, the embassy issued us nearly 100 visas.”


This would be one of many endless flights bursting with Korean children being flown out—even today. We’re going on more than sixty years since the Korean War, and children are still being processed for overseas adoption. Much more than 200,000 Korean children have been processed overseas to numerous western nations.

Today, the great majority of adult adoptees no longer believe God arranged their adoptions, but rather their adoptions were processed by “humans.”  Are humans perfect? Could Pioneer Harry and his staff be considered “fallible” humans despite their claim that they are doing “God’s work” and fulfilling Harry’s divine dream? 


Harry’s devotees and customers loved and followed him, there are many adult-adoptees who no longer believe Harry Holt was a saint. Some would call him a sinner and blame him for their lifelong separations from their biological family. There are more than a few who also see the parallel between the Pioneer Harrys and Pastor Sheas of the world.

If the children were truly orphans, then sure, maybe, gather them up and export them. This draconian solution had been initiated and organized by a network of European Catholic Priests as early as 1618, copied by the ministers of the Protestant churches, became a prevalent practice in 1854, and then easily utilized by the pioneering missionaries headed to Asia and Africa, as mentioned in the book Adoption History 101: An Orphan’s Research and motivation for the upcoming Adoption Trafficking Awareness Symposium.


On second thought, like mentioned, let’s stop the bad habit. The word orphan has been expanded in adoption law to include those of us who have single or poverty-stricken parents. When there is no agenda and if no money crosses hands, then all measures would have been made to reunite immediate or extended family members. That way, the children would one day be able to return to their families. Instead, identities were routinely altered and children were processed and transported overseas as if God had created a new family—normalized within adoptive parent culture as the “better“ family, due to religious fundamentalist beliefs. 


When products are unethically sourced, wouldn’t that be grounds for investigation? Does it matter less that we are dealing with human lives? The least authorities could do is place a temporary moratorium on overseas adoptions. Let’s stop holding the adoption pioneers in such high regard—hailed as if saints. Better yet, how about an investigation into the adoption empire? Let’s at least start to monitor the child market from an equal-rights stance and see it for what it is. Will there be anyone who will protect children from being swiped up from living destitute families? Who will answer the orphan’s call? So far, no one.

Adoption History 101: An Orphan's Research

Rev. Dr. VANCE, Janine Myung Ja

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