Bernardo M. Villegas
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Remembering the Korean War

           Last September 1 to 6, I had the fortune to be the only Filipino invited to one of the events commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the Korean War.  The trip was sponsored by the Ministry of Patriots and Veteran Affairs and the Korean War Veterans Association.  The importance given to the celebration by the Korean Government (I was with some 108 U.S. war veterans and their families as well as 53 Belgian veterans whose six-day stay in South Korea was also sponsored by the same agencies) was only a small manifestation of the eternal gratitude of the Korean people to the officers and soldiers of the Allied Forces who fought for the freedom of a people that "they did not know and never met."  Some Filipino journalists already attended two previous commemorative events:  the Jipyeong-ri Battle (May 26) and the Commemorative Ceremony of the 60th Anniversary of the Korean War (June 25).  I chose the September 3 Anniversary of the Nakdong River Battle, a very crucial encounter that definitively turned the tide against the North Korean aggressors.

          Sixty years are both a short and a long time.  It is short if one considers the amazing accomplishment of the Korean people of transforming the poorest and most devastated country in East Asia into a First World country (the 13th richest country in the world) in just three generations.  The advanced countries of the world like the U.S., Japan, Germany, France, the U.K. and other European countries took more than a century to be fully developed.  That is why I saw tears in the eyes of some of the war veterans when they expressed with emotion that the deaths of their comrades in arms and their risking their own lives were well worth the sacrifices.  The people of South Korea had repaid their efforts with the economic miracle that they wrought with their patriotism, hard work and entrepreneurial spirit.

          But sixty years can also be too long for the younger generations who have completely forgotten what their grandparents and great grandparents had to suffer to secure for them the economic and social progress so palpable everywhere you go in South Korea.  The same thing may be said of the present generation of the Filipino youth who may not even know that five Philippine Army Battalion Combat Teams (BCTs) totaling more than 7,000 officers and men served in Korea from 1950 to 1955.  They were known as the Philippines Expeditionary Forces to Korea or PEFTOK.  Among the Filipinos who fought to prevent a communist takeover of South Korea by the combined forces of the North Koreans and Chinese with some materials support from the Russians, was former President Fidel Ramos, who is scheduled to lead the Philippine contingent in the September 15 enactment of the Incheon Landing Operation.

          The Koreans I met during the various commemorative events, which included a tour of the War Memorial, reenactment of the Nakdong River Battle, and a visit to the Demilitarized Zone, expressed their deepest gratitude to the Philippines, which in the1950s was still recovering from the ravages of the Second World War.  Despite our own meager resources then, the Philippines was the third UN country, after the USA and the UK, to commit ground troops to liberate the South Koreans from the North Koreans who had occupied Seoul within three days after declaring war.  The Filipino battalion arrived on September 20, 1950 and completed adaptation training within ten days.  At the beginning, they were deployed in the rear area to sweep for guerillas but soon after were sent to the front.

          The Philippine Battalion was assigned to the US 65th Regiment and distinguished itself in the battle at Mr. Gunja near the ImjinRiver at the North Korean border.  A Filipino rifleman is especially remembered for having destroyed an enemy machine gun nest while under fire.  A Filipino machine-gunner continued delivering fire support throughout the battle, despite having been badly wounded.  A Filipino medic evacuated the wounded at the risk of his life.  The war veterans from other nations reiterated the fact that these and other Filipino soldiers served as role models for all the UN forces which also included Canada, Turkey, Australia, Thailand, the Netherlands, Colombia, Greece, New Zealand, Ethiopia, France, South Africa and Luxembourg.  Countries that provided medical support were Denmark, India, Norway, Sweden and Italy.

          The South Koreans are a very grateful people.  They will never forget the sacrifices of close to two million members of the allied forces that prevented a communist takeover of their country and enabled them to demonstrate to the rest of the world what is now known as the Miracle on the River Han.  But we Filipinos, especially the younger generation, should also express our admiration and gratitude to the 7,420 Filipino soldiers who risked their lives to fight for freedom in another land.  Of these, 112 were killed in action, 229 were wounded, 16 were missing in action and 41 taken as prisoners of war.  Together with our Korean friends--many of whom are living in our midst--let us never forget what they did.  For comments, my email address is