“How can I describe the bleakness, the desolation of it all!” wrote Herbert M. Coulter. “Snow covering the roofs of the long, brick barracks, snow under foot, sharp stinging blasts of wind whistling about the corners of the buildings.”
The children remained on Russky Island until summer 1920, when the American Expeditionary Force, a contingent of U.S. Army troops, left. The troops had been deployed to protect American equipment loaned to Russia for World War I and to prevent the Japanese from exploiting the Civil War.
“They could have left the children behind, saying they had done all they could,” Molkina said, “but they did not. They saved my grandparents, and if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here talking to you today.”
A long voyage
Lipovetsky — originally named Kuperman; he regularly uses his pen name — describes how Riley Allen, the editor of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin from 1912 to 1960, arrived to report on the chaos in the Far East but became a Red Cross volunteer to save the children.
He refitted a Japanese cargo ship called the Yomei Maru and took 780 children, 50 teachers and 20 Americans on the voyage. Years later, Allen was at his desk the morning Pearl Harbor was bombed and put out an extra edition with the first newspaper reports of the attack.
By August 1920, the steamship was in California, and the San Francisco Chronicle published a front-page story Aug. 5 headlined “Russian Child Falls Into Bay,” describing a 14-year-old girl tumbling from the pier. Someone threw her a life preserver, which hit her on the head and knocked her unconscious, but a police officer dived in and rescued her. She was fine when the ship steamed off to the Panama Canal, New York and Finland the next day.
On Feb. 6, 1921, the New York Times published a two-paragraph article at the top of its front page, reporting that finally the last of the “little Russian waifs” had crossed the Finnish border and returned home.
“And everything was done by the Americans for absolutely someone else’s children,” Molkina said. “Wasn’t that a heroic deed?”