A Christmas Miracle http://www.marad.dot.gov/education/history/korea/miracle.pdf
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New York Times Article
22 October 2001 New York Times:
Rescuer in the Korean War, Dies at 87 By RICHARD GOLDSTEIN
Brother Marinus Leonard LaRue, who as a merchant marine captain in the
Korean War evacuated 14,000 refugees from a besieged North Korean port, died
on Sunday at St. Paul's Abbey in Newton, N.J. Brother Marinus, who became a Benedictine monk after two decades at sea, was 87.
Three days before Christmas 1950, Captain LaRue came upon what he likened to "a scene of Dante's Inferno" at the port. On Christmas Day, he delivered all 14,000 refugees to safety on a South Korean island some 500 miles away
aboard a freighter designed to hold only 60 people. The United States
Maritime Administration called his feat "the greatest rescue by a single
ship in the annals of the sea."
Captain LaRue was the skipper of the 455-foot Meredith Victory, a
Moore-McCormack Lines freighter that had been carrying supplies to American servicemen in Korea on behalf of the Navy.
In December 1950, the Meredith Victory was summoned to the North Korean port Hungnam, which was jammed with 105,000 American and South Korean marines and
soldiers and more than 90,000 North Korean civilians retreating from a
Chinese Communist onslaught at the Chosin Reservoir. About 200 American vessels had converged on Hungnam for evacuation while American ships and planes bombarded the perimeter to hold off Communist troops.
I trained my binoculars and saw a pitiable scene," Captain LaRue remembered. "Refugees thronged the docks. With them was everything they could wheel, carry or drag. Beside them, like frightened chicks, were their
On the night of Dec. 22, the Meredith Victory began taking aboard a stream of refugees who feared they would be killed by Communist troops, who regarded them as American sympathizers for having fled their homes.
"There were families with 8 and 10 children," Captain LaRue remembered. "There was a man with a violin, a woman with a sewing machine, a young girl with triplets. There were 17 wounded, some stretcher cases, many who were aged, hundreds of babies. Finally, as the sun rode high the next morning, we
had 14,000 human beings jammed aboard. It was impossible, and yet they were
The refugees were crammed into the cargo holds of a freighter that held 47 crewmen and was designed to carry about a dozen passengers.
The Meredith Victory headed for the South Korean port Pusan, 28 hours away, traveling through heavily mined waters that were patrolled by enemy submarines.
The refugees had little food or water and there were no blankets or sanitary
facilities. The crewmen gave their coats to the women and children, but the misery was unrelieved. At one point, young men came topside seeking food, and a riot seemed imminent.
After a treacherous voyage though the Sea of Japan, the freighter arrived at Pusan on Christmas Eve, only to be turned away by South Korean officials, who were trying to cope with refugees already there. Captain LaRue was told to head for the island of Koje Do, 50 miles to the southwest.
The Meredith Victory arrived at the island on Christmas. But the dock was small and crowded, so the freighter had to remain on the open sea for a third frigid night. The next day, two LST's — Navy ships designed to land tanks onshore during combat — were lashed to the freighter, and the refugees
climbed onto them and finally made it to safety.
Not one refugee died in the evacuation; the number of Koreans aboard had, in fact, increased by five babies.
Captain LaRue, a Philadelphia native and a veteran of World War II merchant marine operations in the Atlantic, remained in command of the Meredith Victory until it was decommissioned in 1952. He received American and South Korean government citations for his rescue work, and the Meredith Victory was designated a Gallant Ship by Congress.
In 1954, he left the sea to join the Benedictines at St. Paul's Abbey, where he lived until his death. He left no immediate survivors.
"I was always somewhat religious," he reflected a decade after carrying out the Korean evacuation. "All the things in my life helped to cement my
determination to enter the monastery."
But he looked back on the rescue as a turning point in his life.
As he put it: "I think often of that voyage. I think of how such a small
vessel was able to hold so many persons and surmount endless perils without harm to a soul. The clear, unmistakable message comes to me that on that Christmastide, in the bleak and bitter waters off the shores of Korea, God's own hand was at the helm of my ship."