EHRI dedicates display to a chaplain assistant
Bill Chivalette, curator for the Enlisted Heritage Hall, discusses the Staff Sgt. Merle Y. Strang exhibit during a dedication ceremony Nov. 5. The exhibit features Strang’s uniform and information about his efforts in 1950 to rescue 6,000 orphaned and homeless children in Seoul, where he served as a chaplain assistant. (Air Force photo by Kelly Deichert)
EHRI dedicates display to a chaplain assistant

by Donovan Jackson
Air University Public Affairs

11/16/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- In honor of a sergeant who demonstrated service before self, the Enlisted Heritage Research Institute at Gunter held a display dedication ceremony Nov. 5 in memory of Staff Sgt.Merle Y. Strang, a chaplain assistant.

While assigned to the 5th Air Force in Seoul, Korea, during the Korean Conflict, Strang distinguished himself as a hero by exemplifying devotion and valor that succeeded beyond his call of duty as a chaplain assistant.

Strang was heavily involved in the rescuing of an estimated 6,000 orphaned and homeless children scattered throughout war-torn Seoul in 1950.

With the assistance of city officials, volunteer organizations and 5th Air Force Chaplain Corps personnel, he was a key person in instituting the Seoul Receiving Center. Here, orphans were bathed, fed and given medical attention, clothing, and shelter.

"Staff Sgt. Merle Y. Strang is a very deserving hero for this exhibit," said Bill Chivalette, curator for the Enlisted Heritage Hall. "He was a humble man, and was simply doing what he felt was right, all while serving his country. I really hope that Strang's story appeals to all military audiences as well as civilian audiences."

In the display, three mannequins are outfitted in Air Force uniforms with the proper medals, badges, ribbons and patches worn by Airmen of the time. One wears Strang's uniform, featuring a Bronze Star.

Strang was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star on Sept. 27, 2005, which his brother, the Rev. Homer Strang, accepted on his behalf. The Bronze Star is awarded to service members in all branches of the military for combat heroism or meritorious service.

"In my opinion, this display embraces the return of a hero," said Tech. Sgt. Clarence A. Shuford, Readiness Course coordinator and adjunct instructor for the Basic Chaplain Course at the Air Force Chaplain Corps College at Fort Jackson, S.C.

According to Shuford, working on the display required a lot of research.

"The most difficult part was researching and finding uniforms that were worn by Air Force members during the Korean War," said Shuford.

Although working on the display was a difficult task, Shuford says it was a "very enjoyable experience" to contribute to Strang's legacy.

"I really enjoyed the experience and I learned a lot of information about the Korean War. Strang is a hero, and I appreciate and value all the contributions of great military service members whom have laid a foundation for us all."

Shuford said he felt blessed to be a part of the team preserving this moment in Air Force history. "Strang is a hero that will never be forgotten. I am extremely proud to be a member of the Air Force Chaplain Corps."

Chaplain assistants facilitate the free exercise of religion for Airmen and their families. They provide spiritual care and are exempt from performing additional duties or details that impede ministry accomplishment.

"This display, in this marvelous facility, makes me feel really proud to be a chaplain," said Chap. (Maj. Gen.) Howard D. Stendahl, chief of chaplains.

"I feel that chaplain assistants are essential, for spiritual care, growth and access to religion within the Air Force," he said. "The servicemen need us."