As early as December 1947, requests started coming to the Heifer Project for animals for Korea, which had lost about half of its cattle in World War II. The need in Korea stayed on HP radar until finally in August 1951, Heifer Project Executive Secretary Thurl Metzger made a trip to Korea during the Korean War to investigate possibilities.
In cooperation with the United Nations Korean Reconstruction Agency (UNKRA), the first project turned out to be 216,000 hatching eggs. Divided into three air shipments a week apart, the eggs would help reconstruct the decimated Korean poultry industry. So the first cowboy to Korea turned out to be a “flying cowboy” rather than seagoing.
On April 1, 1952, Warsaw, Indiana, poultry breeder Hobart Creighton, on whose farm the eggs were produced, took off from Midway Airport in Chicago in a cargo plane carrying 200 boxes of Leghorn hatching eggs. He accompanied the shipment as a consultant for the United Nations to oversee proper transport, incubation, and distribution of the eggs.
After a stop to gas up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the plane hit icy conditions on its leg to Seattle, Washington. “Ice over windshield and on wings,” Creighton notes, “but the pilot said the DC4 could carry a lot of ice, so we let him do the worrying.” The plane made further stops in Anchorage, Alaska; Shemya Island in the Aleutian Islands archipelago; and Tokyo, Japan, before landing safely in Pusan (now Buson), Korea.
This historic Heifer Project shipment made news in the U.S., as Richard “Dick” Simons of The Indianapolis Star traveled with Creighton and a reporter from Life magazine met up with them in Tokyo. “We were met by the ‘Big Brass’,” Creighton says, “General W. E. Crist, a host of Colonels, Lt. Colonels, Majors, the Korean Minister of Agriculture, and Representatives of UNKRA and UNCACK (United Nations Civil Assistance Corps Korea). There were four trucks and a host of Korean laborers who in no time flat had unloaded the plane and had the eggs on the way to hatcheries, to Taegu.”
A couple days after their arrival in Korea, Creighton was guest of honor at a dinner where he was well entertained by “Kieson gals”, with one assigned to each guest. “One fed me with the chopsticks and saw that I had plenty of sushi,” Creighton says. “They were good singers and dancers and very interesting companions.” Moderately dressed in velvet skirts, they exhibited “nothing bordering on vulgarity or sex that one finds in American performances.”
Creighton stayed in the area a good three weeks, meeting the next egg plane, walking the back roads to visit Korean poultry farms, and visiting the hatcheries. He was present at the hatchery in Kumhae when the last of 14,400 eggs delivered there were placed in the incubator.
At one hatchery, there was one egg case that Creighton hadn’t gotten instructions about in time, however. “It was an egg case full of cookies made by [my daughter] Jo,” Creighton says. “Dick reported later, the incubator workers said one case of eggs was especially tasty!”
Creighton had the opportunity to be taken to the front lines of fighting while there. “Shortly we were passing ruins of all kinds,” he says. “Seoul was shot up pretty badly. Bridges out. Some repaired, others still dangling, locomotives and trains burned out and left lying. In the country five miles south of the 38th parallel there has been, and still is, complete evacuation of civilian population. The rice paddies are idle for the third consecutive year.”
They drove on another 65 miles to the battle front. A Scotch 2nd Lieutenant took them up Hill 238. “Below were the red panels, marking the points of furthermost advance of UN line,” Creighton says, “and there was no man’s land about one mile in front of us. [The Lieutenant] had his crew fire two or three shots from the 82 mm guns mounted on top of the Centurian tank. We watched the projectile and saw the exploding 100 feet or less from the target. We wondered if our fire might bring a reply, but not this time.” Creighton’s party returned to their billet in Seoul in time to watch the American movie “Too Young to Kiss.” A day in contrasts.
Before leaving for his roundabout trip home with stops throughout southern Asia, Creighton had the opportunity to see some of the Creighton Brothers’ chicks at hatcheries and be present at their distribution. UNKRA’s agricultural reconstruction of Korea had begun.