Lest we forget:
Filipinos in the Korean War
by JB Casares
While I was happily watching Showtime on TFC one Saturday afternoon, Vhong Navarro, asked Ryan Bang, a Korean comedian acting as a co-host for the noontime show, what his wish is, for the coming New Year. He replied by saying, “Sana wala war sa Korea next year" [hopefully there will be no war in Korea next year].”This could be the wish of many others, not only Koreans, but we Filipinos as well. On November 23, 2010, residents of Yeonpyeong, a tiny South Korean island located 80 kilometres west of Incheon and 12 kilometres south of the coast of North Korea, were terrified after a deadly artillery shelling by the North that left four South Koreans dead, two wounded and a massive amount of devastation.
As early as May last year, North Korea announced that it was abandoning the July 27, 1953, Military Armistice Agreement, signed between the United Nations Command represented by Lt. General William K. Harrison, Jr. of the United States Army and the Korean People’s Army and the Chinese People’s Volunteers represented by General Nam Il on the other side.
The Korean War
Historian and writer Patrick Souty had asked, “How is it that within a five-year period Korea was divided into two parts and found itself at the centre of a conflict that drew in all the nations of the world?” The following events leading to the conflict explains why. Five years after World War II ended, the Korean Peninsula which was once under Japan, found itself in the middle of a political turmoil. The North was liberated by the Soviet Union and the South by the Americans. In 1948, the division between the two Koreas worsened due to the failure of holding an election throughout the entire peninsula. Korea was divided along the 38th Parallel. Despite continued talks for re-unification, each side eventually established their own governments. Soon thereafter, South Korea’s President threatened to unify the two Koreas by force. The North was however more aggressive as it launched an attack against the South in the early morning of June 25, 1950. And the rest is history.
Despite having to contend with the Communist HUKBALAHAP on its own, the Philippines was the first Asian country to respond to the call of the United Nations to defend South Korea. Comprised of five Battalion Combat Teams (BCTs) and totalling to about 7,150 officers and men, President Elpidio Quirino sent the Philippine Expeditionary Forces To Korea (PEFTOK) to fight in the Korean War in September 1950. In his article for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Art Villasanta wrote, “Over 110 Filipinos died in this ‘Forgotten War’ that saved South Korea from being conquered by North Korea and Communist China. More than 400 Filipinos were wounded, some disfigured for life or mentally damaged.” This may be inaccurate as other sources indicate about 700 deaths for the Filipino troops in the Korean War.
The Battle of Yultong
The 10th BCT was the first to be deployed in Korea. They landed on the shores of Pusan on September 19, 1950. Originally a “motorized” battalion, they arrived in Korea without the tanks promised by the Americans, they were re-organized into a heavy weapons company. The 10th saw many actions in Korea, but as Col. Ramon J. Farolan wrote, “the most dramatic engagement of Filipino troops in the Korean War was the battle of Yultong Bridge on April 22 and 23, 1951.” The 10th BCT fought valiantly against the Chinese People’s Volunteers and the North Korean People’s Army as the communists launched their largest offensive of the Korean War known as the “Great Spring Offensive”. It is important to note the heroism of Captain Conrado Yap, who was killed in action while trying to rescue and retrieve the body of Lt. Jose Artiaga Jr. Yap was posthumously awarded the Medal of Valour for his heroism, while Lt. Artiaga received the Distinguished Service Cross for leading his heavily outnumbered platoon against the superior strength of the enemy. 15 Filipino Soldiers lost their lives in the Battle of Yultong, 26 were wounded and 14 men were MIAs (missing in action).
The Battle of Hill Eerie
A heavily fortified position with a commanding view of the plains below, Hill Eerie was a military outpost that was taken several times by both sides. From May 18, 1952, the Filipinos under the command of Lt. Rodolfo Maestro launched a series of raids on Hill Eerie, killing 28 Chinese Communist Forces and a further 23 the following day, before disengaging with the enemy while tanks and artillery continued to bombard the outpost. On May 21, 1952, Col. Salvador Abcede, Commanding Officer of the 20th Philippine Battalion Combat Team ordered the battalion’s operations officer, Major Felizardo Tanabe, to prepare the final assault on the Chinese position to capture the outpost. Major Tanabe sent the 44-man 2nd reconnaissance platoon to sabotage the position. A young Filipino graduate of the United States Military Academy, 2nd Lt. Fidel Valdez Ramos led the platoon. Ramos would later become President of the Philippines.
Divided into four groups, the assault team crawled through rice paddies and scattered trees for two hours before it reached an irrigation ditch, about 400 meters from the top of the hill. The United States Air Force pounded the enemy positions with napalm, coupled with artillery support. After the bombardment, Ramos’ men discovered a hole in the blasted stack of barbed wire and were able to seize the front part of the trench network. The Filipinos launched an attack from all sides of the hill and were able to take control after two hours of fierce fighting. They suffered one injury while the enemy had 11 dead and 10 wounded. This was the final assault by the UN forces on Hill Eerie.
The Chinese forces sought to recapture the area on June 18, 1952, against the 19th Philippine Battalion Combat Team, under the command of Col. Ramon Z. Aguirre. The enemies launched an intense artillery and mortar barrage as the Filipinos held their ground and were able to force back the Chinese attack. On June 20, 1952, the Chinese forces advanced sufficiently and engaged the Filipinos in hand to hand fighting, but the Filipino troops were able to hold their position. The allied forces successfully defended Hill Eerie, resulting in an estimated 500 casualties for the Chinese Communist Forces while the Filipinos had 24.
The Forgotten War
Overshadowed by World War II and the Vietnam War, the Korean War is referred to as the “Forgotten War.” Many young Filipinos, today, are unaware of the sacrifices of our brave soldiers that participated in this war so that South Korea may enjoy the democracy and prosperity that it has today. Most, if not all of our history classes do not discuss this important event in our country’s past. Coming from a country with the longest running communist insurgency in the world, who knows what might have happened to the Philippines, if the war ended in favour of the North. I hope that their sacrifices will not be buried with their comrades and that, the next generation of Filipinos would continue to commemorate the heroism and gallantry of our Korean War veterans. (sources: wikipedia.com, inquirer.net, pepftok.blogspot.com, veterans.gc.ca
JB Casares is a commissioned officer in the Philippine Army Reserve Force.