Page last updated at 01:03 CST6CDT, Friday, 04 February 2011 PH
I went through some moments of discomfort as I was surrounded by hundreds of war veterans from the Korean War. Many of them thought I was a Filipino war veteran until I told them I was only 11 years old in 1950 when the Korean War broke out on June 25 of the year. In an apologetic tone, I told them that I was wearing my hat as a newspaper columnist. But as we traveled far and wide around the Seoul area, I could not help looking at things with the eyes of an economist. As the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea said in one of the lunches we attended, it is clear today that the Korean War did not end in a tie or a stalemate, as some are wont to say. Seeing South Korea as a First World country today, especially after the Olympics of 1998, the World Cup of 2002 and now the G-20 meeting this coming November in Seoul, the economic victory of South Korea over the economically backward North Korea is quite evident. This "Miracle on the River Han", however, has been purchased at a very high price, which will include the blood shed by Filipino soldiers. A moving phrase emblazoned everywhere we went contained the stirring words: "Freedom is not free."
It was my duty to tell the Korea war veterans--both Korean and foreign--about the heroism of the Filipino soldiers, especially in the Battle of Yuldong fought April 22 to 23, 1951. As recounted in one of the publications commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the War, it was in the Yuldong battle that the Filipino 10th Battalion Special Forces attached to the US Third Division fought against the Chinese Communist 34th Division at Yuldong, north of Yeoncheon. On the night of April 22, 1951, during the Chinese Communist Spring Offensive, the Chinese infiltrated Battalion Headquarters after passing through the adjacent unit on the right flank and overran part of the companies positioned on the right side and in the middle of the Battalion. The Filipino soldiers fought valiantly and defended their position until the end and helped the unit on the Battalion's right flank to retreat. The 10th Battalion Special Forces was withdrawn to the rear following an order from UN Forces Headquarters.
For posterity, it would be good to mention a few names of the Filipino officers and soldiers who risked or gave up their lives to win freedom for the South Koreans. The commanding officer of the Filipino troops at Yuldong was Colonel Dionisio Ojeda. Despite their being outnumbered, Col. Ojeda gave his troops the order to counter attack the Chinese position. At around 1200H, 23 April 1951, however, the commander of the 3rd US Division gave orders for the 10th BCT to withdraw for the frontlines. Col. Ojeda contacted Conrado Yap by radio: "Disengage immediately." Yap answered that his men were still counterattacking and trying to recover the bodies of their comrades who fell during the night battle. Capt. Yap wanted to bring his men back at all cost. He did not want to leave anyone behind, dead or alive. Shortly after BCT had started counterattacking, he was informed that the hill had been captured the night before and that special weapons officer Lieutenant Jose Artiaga Jr. had died in the fight (Lt. Artiaga, after whom there is a street named in San Juan, Metro Manila, is the uncle of UA&P economist Victor A. Abola).
What ensued showed the heroism of our Filipino soldiers: "When Captain Yap took a look at Lt. Artiaga's hill again, two enemy machine guns chattered. He thought that there might still be some of his men fighting, some of whom could be wounded and unable to retreat. Captain Yap decided to spearhead a rescue operation. When he called out for volunteers, several wanted to go with him. Among them were Lieutenant B.V. Baquirin and Lieutenant Bonnie Serrano. Captain Yap, along with several Filipino solders, started to climb the hill. Burst of heavy rifle fire and mortar rained on the hill. Upon reaching the top, the rescue team saw wounded men and the bodies of fallen Filipino soldiers, including that of Lt. Jose Artiaga Jr. . . . "Corporal Oscar Peralta undertook one of the most dangerous aspects of the rescue operation. He and another soldier were the ones who examined or peeped into each foxhole to find Filipino soldiers defending the hill along with Artiaga. In one situation, Peralta peeped inside a hole and a Chinese started to attack. Peralta hurled a grenade inside the foxhole and killed him.... When they were preparing to leave the hill, Captain Yap found out that one soldier was missing. He moved out to resume the search. However, a fire from a Chinese forces' nest hit Captain Conrado Yap, who instantly collapsed. They had to move the wounded Captain downhill under heavy fire.
"The problem was for Captain Yap's remaining men to withdraw through the maze of enemy positions and rejoin the rest of the 10th BCT. The bulk of the BCT was then no longer in sight. Alone now, Captain Yap's men had to break through or face annihilation. They knew there was a wide gap somewhere. Lt. Bonny Serrano and his men managed to secure the withdrawal route and finally rejoined the rest of the BCT. Captain Yap's remaining officers and men were almost literally dragging themselves and their rifles when they came within sight of the elements of the BCT who had withdrawn ahead. As the survivors were to learn on their arrival, Captain Yap was dead."
These are only few of the examples of the heroic sacrifices the more than 2,000 Filipino soldiers and officers made to secure freedom for the South Koreans. It is only fitting that today the Philippines and South Korea are among the two East Asian countries that have very strong mutual bonds. The grand children and great grand children of South Korean and Filipino soldiers who fought together against the North Korean and Chinese forces are now forging closer bonds of friendship as tens of thousands of South Koreans come to the Philippines to learn English and as also thousands of Filipinos workers go to South Korea to work in various sectors of the economy. May this commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of the Korean War serve strengthen even more the bilateral ties between our two countries. For comments, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.