Watch David’s Presentation

On Oct. 18, 2013, Koren presented at Asilomar, Calif., the saga of how he and colleagues kept airworthy aging civilian propeller planes (such as DC-6s and DC-7s) on their nightly sorties from the Portuguese colonial island of Sao Tome to a converted makeshift Biafran highway airstrip regularly attacked by then-dominant Nigerian military forces. His own personal audio recordings, made at the time of these events, give a dramatic glimpse of how things unfolded during the late 1960s.

Watch the video

Koren addresses how the airlift, while ultimately unsuccessful in securing a free Biafra, offered hope of survival for a new generation, including some whose children started new lives in the United States. His talk seeks to inspire contemporary Peace Corps volunteers to contemplate their own legacies a half century after their service and a lifetime of pursuing careers. Koren has documented his Peace Corps and Biafran airlift experiences in a memoir, "Far Away in the Sky" (ISBN1467996149-2011). Friends of Nigeria seeks to support activities in Nigeria and among the Nigerian diaspora in the United States. Most of its current members are former U.S. Peace Corps … [Read more...]

Listen to David on NPR’s BackStory

David was interviewed for the NPR radio program BackStory with the American History Guys. You can listen to the full audio here: Or read the full story at Published: September 13, 2013 With President Obama making the case for military action against Syria, BackStory takes on the history of humanitarian intervention. In 1898, President McKinley called for war with Spain to liberate Cuba from the “barbarities, bloodshed, starvation, and horrible miseries now existing there” – offering the kind of humanitarian rhetoric that has come up time and time again in American history, justifying numerous interventions around the world – from Haiti in 1915 to Libya in 2011. But where does the idea of a humanitarian obligation originate? When and why has the US felt justified to intervene in other nations’ affairs? And how have these interventions shaped Americans’ attitudes toward the world — and the world’s attitudes toward us? These are the questions that Brian, Ed, and Peter explore in this episode, looking to history to help us make sense of America’s … [Read more...]

A Review by Dick Hughes from

Reviewed by Dick Hughes (Nigeria 1962-64) In 1962, when I was in Peace Corps training at UCLA for a teaching job in Nigeria, the official U.S. message was that we were headed for Africa’s “showcase of democracy,” as my Nigeria IV friend Joanne McNeese Mills put it with appropriate irony. How much better the promise of that newly formed nation than that of Ghana, then under the sway of U.S.- educated Kwame Nkrumah, who was flirting with our cold war Soviet and Chinese rivals; and who, god help us, had this crazy idea of forming a unity of African states. Wonder where that idea came from? We all know how that turned out. Nkrumah was overthrown in a military coup in 1966 that, some have said, was inspired and supported by the CIA. Yet today, to risk simplistic recognition of outcome, Ghana has Africa’s most stable democracies while Nigeria has been riven by long periods of military rule interrupted with brief bursts of democracy, the latest in place now. What’s more, the violent conflicts between the Hausas and Fulani of Nigeria’s Muslim sub-Sahara in the north and its predominately Christian Yoruba’s in the west and Igbos in the east, persist in autocracy and … [Read more...]

Biafran Survivors as Successful Adults

By invitation I attended a conference in Chicago July 27-29, 2012 called "Amandigbo," a gathering of Igbo people from around the world. Many were survivors of the Biafra war, people who had been the starving children at that time. A fundamental consequence of the fact that we had to fly at night and leave Biafra before dawn to avoid being shot down by the Migs was that the children who were saved by our relief food never met those who delivered it. When those children, now grown, now professionals like doctors, physicists, professors, and business people, met me in Chicago, they cried, repeatedly hugged me and shook my hand, expressing their gratitude to the first person they ever met who had worked on the airlift. They presented me with an award, an inscribed plaque with my new Igbo name, Nwannedinamba (foreign brother-emphasis on “brother”) and the words, "On Behalf of the Biafran Genocide Survivors." On behalf of the Biafran Airlift flight crews, I accept the award and the obligation to serve as a conduit through which the gratitude of the people can flow to the airmen, living and dead, who saved a generation of fine people. David Koren … [Read more...]

A review from Friends of Nigeria newsletter

David Koren has many stories to tell.  Antiquated propeller driven planes with loads of vital food and medicines for starving Biafran women and children, night flights from exotic Sao Tome, then still a Portuguese island colony languishing on the Equator 300 miles from war torn Biafra,  to a runway, a widened highway between Onitsha and Owerri in the former Eastern Region, the strip lit only briefly by kerosene lamps then doused to  make more difficult the aiming of bombs by the Nigerian Intruder plane overhead placed there by Nigeria to impede the relief mission; unloading the planes in the midst of bombs or strafing Migs, in a hurry, so that the plane can make two or even three trips with night cover.. And there are the stories of delay: delays in departure from New York for Biafra which permits the rekindling of an earlier romance and an abrupt marriage; delays in permission to enter Biafra, which lead to unexpected jobs as warehouse manager then aircraft mechanic; later, delays while held prisoner by Biafran military who suspect Koren of being a spy for Nigeria. And there are characters:  a 52 year old former PCV farmer, also hired by UNICEF to expedite unloading in … [Read more...]

A preview by Tom Hebert, a former Nigeria Peace Corps Volunteer recruited by UNICEF to work on the Biafran Airlift

The derelict Douglas DC-6, loaded with food, engines leaking, hits a glide path for the bomb-cratered, kerosene-lit West African road and makes it. The rear door opens, the young loadmaster begins to pitch bags of salt. West Africa’s Nigeria-Biafra civil war of 1967-1970 — with its incessant grim photographs and nightly TV reports of thousands of starving children — much occupied the freedom-loving conscience of America. Fought in Africa’s largest and most important country and America’s so-called “showcase of democracy,” with an internationally-supported air, land, and sea arms and food embargo, the civil war ended in 1970 with between five hundred thousand and two million dying in a genocide not unlike today’s Sudan, Somalia and Bosnia’s Srebrenica. Like all civil wars, Nigeria’s secessionist region soon known as the Republic of Biafra quickly recruited an irregular assortment of expatriate fighters, supporters of every stripe, and relief workers. David Koren was among them. Far Way In The sky is Koren’s coming-of-age story as he and a small group of former Peace Corps Volunteers returned to the scene of their previous teaching service to prove themselves warriors — … [Read more...]

A preview by Joanne McNeece Miles, a former Nigeria Peace Corps Volunteer

December 12, 2011 While reading Dave Koren’s book I was brought back to the sights, sounds and smells of Eastern Nigeria, now Biafra, where I served as a Peace Corps volunteer teacher from 1962 to 1965. His presentation of life among those gregarious and welcoming people is very real. Though the country has had devastating conflict and boundaries have changed, the memories of the people and the life we came to know stay fresh. How many of us remember the children studying in their dorms at night, a ground nut lady who appeared at school each afternoon to sell ground nuts wrapped in newspaper cones, visits to village homes where generous meals of local food were offered as well as driving students through the bush to soccer games at distant schools? And we did things we had never dreamed of doing like actually starting a school library from scratch, introducing hamburgers to fellow teachers, frantically driving a snake bitten student to the nearest hospital for help or simply watching the wonderful African evenings turn into the darkest of night with the sound of noisy frogs and chattering students in the background . Having grown to love the country it was very sad … [Read more...]

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