Remembering a forgotten war
On an early Sunday morning in June 1950, some 90,000 North Korean People’s Army infantrymen accompanied by Russian-made T-34 tanks, swept across the 38th Parallel in the Korean Peninsula. The conflict would sometimes be referred to as “the forgotten war,” mainly because after 70 years the war technically continues since no peace treaty has ever been signed by the two opposing forces. What was agreed to in July 1953 was an armistice that established “complete cessation of hostilities in Korea.” A 4-kilometer buffer zone known as the DMZ was created that separated the two Koreas at roughly the 38th Parallel. The Berlin Wall has fallen. The 17th Parallel no longer divides Vietnam. The last and possibly the most enduring symbol of an ideological conflict involving communism and the free world, is a small village, Panmunjom, just below the 38th Parallel where representatives of the UN High Command and North Korea meet from time to time.Filipinos should remember the Korean War for two good reasons.
First, it was the first time the country sent a combat force to help another nation defend itself against aggression. At that time, we only had 10 existing battalion combat teams (BCT). The 10th BCT had the best training and in a send-off at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in August 1950, President Elpidio Quirino called on the troops to do their best. As he turned over the Philippine flag to the battalion commander, Col. Mariano Azurin, he declared “You are first to carry the flag of our sovereign nation abroad in this war for freedom.”
Attached to the US 25th Infantry Division, the 10th BCT was immediately thrown into action and barely a month later, suffered its first casualty, Private Alipio Secillano of Libon, Albay, the first Filipino soldier fighting under the flag of an independent Philippine Republic to die in combat abroad. Azurin would later be replaced by Col. Dionisio Ojeda.
The most dramatic engagement of Filipino troops in the Korean War was the Battle of Yultong on April 22-23, 1951. Capt. Conrado Yap, Philippine Military Academy Class 1943, commander of a tank company, and one of his junior officers, Lt. Jose Artiaga Jr., Class 1944, along with 41 enlisted personnel, perished in action against superior enemy forces while inflicting heavy casualties on them. Yap was awarded the Medal for Valor while Artiaga won the Distinguished Conduct Star.
The 10th BCT would be followed by the 20th BCT under the command of Col. Salvador Abcede. They would be followed by the 19th BCT led by Col. Ramon Aguirre, the 14th BCT under Col. Nicanor Jimenez (father of our beloved Letty), and finally, the 22nd BCT commanded by Col. Antonio De Veyra. A total of 152 officers and 6,900 enlisted men served under the UN Command in Korea. Of this number, 56 were killed in action including the two officers mentioned.
Another reason why Filipinos should remember the Korean War is because it brought to a dramatic end the career of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Among many Filipinos, MacArthur was a god-like figure, a brilliant, handsome general who made good a promise to return. We credit him for the liberation of the Philippines. We must also hold him responsible for the destruction of Manila, as it was artillery fire from MacArthur’s forces that razed the city to the ground, making it the second-most devastated Allied city during World War II. Japanese marines murdered thousands of Filipino civilians in a rampage similar to the Rape of Nanking.
In November 1950, as UN forces moved closer to the borders with Manchuria in what appeared to be a final drive against North Korea, Chinese troops numbering 260,000 suddenly launched a furious counterattack, taking the UN Command by surprise and leading to a bloody retreat all the way back to the 38th Parallel. MacArthur issued a proclamation to the Chinese communists, threatening to expand military operations to coastal areas and bases in mainland China, and offering to meet the Chinese commander in order to reach a settlement.
President Harry Truman, in his “Memoirs,” declared “it was an act totally disregarding all directives to abstain from any declarations on foreign policy. It was in defiance of my orders as President and Commander-in-Chief. I could no longer tolerate his insubordination.” In a conversation with author Merle Miller, he made a more graphic description of his decision, “I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was… I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the President.”
On April 11, 1951 the headline everywhere was the same, “Truman fires MacArthur.”
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