My Thanksgiving story

Nov. 22, 2012 @ 01:31 PM

Everyone has a Thanksgiving story. Aside from the great Nebraska-Oklahoma game on Thanksgiving Day in 1971, a game I will never forget, there is a more humbling story to my life I would like to share.

I was down before I began to crawl. OK, I stole that line. But it easily describes the onside kick that was the first year of my existence on this mortal coil.

As my mother shared this story to me through teary eyes, it went like this. I was born in Seoul, South Korea, on Dec. 18, 1959, and abandoned by my birth family that very day. I was left on the steps of a hospital, where for some unknown reason a group of kids armed with bricks and rocks decided to use me as a human target. I still bear the physical scars. Great. Haven’t even seen a hospital corridor and already I’ve created enemies.

I was given a name and then handed over to the Holt Orphanage. Harry Holt, a farmer and sawmill operator from Creswell, Ore., began the orphanage. South Korea’s efforts, on behalf of orphaned, abandoned and impoverished children, are well-documented. Those of mixed race (of which I was not), were shunned by society. Many were abandoned and ended up in orphanage care. After the war, Holt Children’s Services (HCS) began finding homes for these children.

There were far more orphans than caretakers: Critical nurturing and bonding were woefully inadequate. Basic needs were barely met. Yet, the orphanage was the only haven for us.

Holt’s outreach also included a babylift program, which began in 1956. More than 2,000 Korean children had been placed in American homes by the time I came along. My dad, an Air Force pilot, first heard of the orphanage from friends in San Antonio, Texas, who adopted two of their own. I was legally adopted sight unseen in June, 1960, but because of the red tape involved, I did not arrive in the United States until January 1961.

A total of 53 orphans were airlifted to Portland, Ore. Holt, who personally financed much of the cost of the orphanage and the transportation to the U.S., nearly exhausted his funds. My parents picked up the remaining tab, including adoption fees, home study, visa, orphanage care fees and travel costs to the Pacific Coast.

I don’t think I ever had the chance to adequately thank my parents for giving me another shot at life. My mom died in 1990 of cardiac arrest. She basically exhausted herself trying to care for dad, who was in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease. He would leave us four years later. They would not live long enough to see my family grow, also through adoption. My wife and I adopted our two children through social services in 2004. The siblings came to us as foster children at ages 5 months and 17 months. Victims of domestic violence, drug abuse and neglect, they, too, were down before they began to crawl.

I struggle with parenting. We went from zero children to two in an instant. I didn’t even know what formula was when we got the call from the social worker. Since then, I’ve been behind the eight-ball when it comes to raising children. But someone gave me another chance, and we wanted to give these two children the same opportunity.

Nebraska, ranked No. 1, beat No. 2 Oklahoma on Thanksgiving Day in 1971. I remember craning my neck to see the game from the dining room between bites of turkey and stuffing. I will never forget that day

For that, and for much more, I give thanks.


Kim Gilliland is a reporter for the News-Topic. He can be reached at 828-758-7381, ext. 328, or by email at