Monday, July 28, 2008

Unsung Filipino Heroes of Korean War

MANILA, Philippines--On June 25, 1950, war broke out between the northern and southern parts of the Korean peninsula.

While the battle did not affect any part of the Philippines, the country sent 7,000 Filipino soldiers to fight on the side of the South Koreans.

They were the first foreign troops from Asia to come to Seoul's aid, next to the United States and United Kingdom.

The Filipino soldiers--though not individually named in local history books--were considered among the best fighters who stood by the South Koreans during the war.

One of them, Maximo Young, an 86-year-old retired major, was a member of the 10th Battalion Combat Team (BCT) and among the first batch of 1,400 Filipino troopers sent to Korea. They were also the first to see overseas combat since World War I.

Young said that while the North Koreans were known as "hard fighters," the Filipinos were just as well-trained, disciplined and experienced, having been exposed to guerrilla fighting from facing the Japanese and the Hukbalahap.

Between October to November 1950, the members of the 10th BCT crossed the 38th parallel which separated the North from South Korea. They were there to secure the town of Syngue.

Along the way, the Filipinos were ambushed by a North Korean battalion at the town of Miudong. "We were attacked from higher ground. Our infantry was pinned to the ground," said Young.

During the critical situation, Young, who was commanding one of the tanks, immediately launched a counterattack.

He said he remembered opening the turret hatch, swinging the .50 caliber turret machine gun toward the enemies and firing away, sending many North Koreans scampering out of their foxholes to seek more secure positions.

His action inspired the other members of the battalion to mount a rally. The victory at Miudong was the first battle won by Filipino troops in a foreign land.

Koreans, in gratitude to the soldiers who fought alongside them, encourage them to visit the country, shouldering most of their expenses.

"The Koreans have never forgotten us," said Young.

He added, however, that the most touching gesture of gratitude he experienced was made by a young Korean who sat beside him during an event.

Young said that when he introduced himself as a Korean war veteran, the youngster respectfully took his hand and placed it on his forehead--much like the Filipino tradition of "mano po."

"Had it not been for these soldiers, we would have been enslaved," the youngster said his father had told him.

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