MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s a miraculous story, from a time of war, more than six decades in the making.
WCCO-TV was there to witness the reconnection between a Minnesota Navy medic and his patient who once made headlines around the world.
Norm Van Sloun and Dan Keenen might sound like two old friends making up for lost time. They first met on the USS Point Cruz during the Korean War in 1953.
“I owe my life to the Point Cruz,” Keenen said.
Listen closely and you realize this connection is anything but two buddies playing catchup. It may just be one of the most amazing war stories you’ve heard.
“We had you aboard probably five or six hours, and the carpenters had made a crib already,” Van Sloun said.
Chaska-born Norm Van Sloun enlisted in the Navy at the age of 21. He trained as one of two hospital corpsmen to care for the 1,000 men aboard this massive aircraft carrier.
A small cry sailors heard on a walk in South Korea would change the course of Van Sloun’s service.
“He was found in an ash can in Seoul,” Van Sloun said.
A half-Korean baby born with blue eyes and blonde hair, left for dead after Korean orphanages turned him away.
“What I understand is they wouldn’t have anything to do with Caucasian babies,” Van Sloun said.
It’s when the ship’s medics became more like mothers.
“ASCOM was the compound area where he was found, and ‘Cruz’ was the name of the ship, so we named him George Ascom Cruz,” Van Sloun said.
A Japanese newspaper first told Baby George’s story, featuring Van Sloun feeding him on the front page. The picture eventually picked up in papers around the world. The baby boosted morale for home-sick service members led by a skipper proud to have a new passenger.
“Right below the American flag, he flew a diaper,” Van Sloun said.
They cared for George for three months, turning the sick bay into a nursery and establishing daily visiting hours on deck.
“They’d all line up to come see George, it was amazing,” Van Sloun said.
He told the story back home for decades to his daughters, who wondered what ever came of that little boy. But it wasn’t until his recent move to a senior living center where staff pointed his family in the right digital direction.
“I just posted on there that’s my dad and he would love to speak to him,” said his daughter Mary Beth Bouley. “The next thing I knew I was checking my email and I saw ‘Baby Responds,’ and I just got goosebumps and I thought, ‘It worked! It worked!'”
It led to the special moment when Baby George became Dan Keenen. The two would finally see each other for the first time in 66 years.
“Can’t tell you enough how much I appreciate all you guys did for me,” Keenen said. “If it weren’t for these guys, I literally wouldn’t be here today because I wouldn’t have survived there.”
Keenen was adopted by a Navy surgeon in Spokane, Washington, where he married and raised two boys of his own.
Eighty-eight-years old now, Van Sloun considers those months at sea his most important service. It was a mission of love.
“It’s a part of my life I’ll never forget,” Van Sloun said.
It took then-Vice President Richard Nixon to arrange for a visa for Baby George so he was able to be adopted. That process took months and kept him on the ship the entire time.
The story went on to be made into a movie in the 90s called “1,000 Men and a Baby,” which was later renamed “Narrow Escape.”