02 January 2013

An Ethiopian in Korea

I was looking at an article on the Korean War and I saw something I neer knew before- that Ethioian soldiers ought in that conflict.  In total over 6,000 Ethiopian soldiers, drawn from the Imperial bodyguard fought in what were know as Kagnew Battalions.

They fought with distinction in a number of engagements including Pork Chop Hill.The battalions  suffered over 650 casualties during the course of the war but not one was ever taken prisoner.

 I also found this BBC  articlethat was written a few months ago:

///In 1951, the Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie, decided to send thousands of troops to fight as part of the American-led UN force supporting South Korea against the communist North and its ally, China. They were called the Kagnew battalions and were drawn from Haile Selassie's Imperial Bodyguard - Ethiopia's elite troops.

Capt Mamo Habtewold, now 81 years old, was then a young lieutenant in the 3rd Kagnew Battalion. He clearly remembers a send-off from the Emperor himself, as he was about to leave for the other side of the world.

"Always when a battalion went to Korea, he came himself and made a speech and he gave each battalion a flag - and he ordered us to bring that flag back from Korea," Mamo recalls.
When Ethiopia had been invaded by Italy in 1935 Haile Selassie had condemned the League of Nations for its failure to act. Now, as a staunch ally of the US, he was eager to practise what he had preached. "As you know our King, Haile Selassie, was a great man for collective security. And when the UN asked him for troops for Korea, he accepted without any question," Mamo says.

The Ethiopians fought as part of the US 7th Division... And Mamo is proud of their record in Korea.
"We were the best fighters. The three Ethiopian battalions fought 253 battles, and no Ethiopian soldier was taken prisoner in the Korean War," he says. "That was our Ethiopian motto: 'Never be captured on the war field.'"

In 1953, while peace talks dragged on, the two sides hoped to strengthen their negotiating position by battling for control of the barren, rocky hills and ridges which lay in front of the main UN front line.
Some of the hills had nicknames: Old Baldy, T-bone and, most famously, Pork Chop Hill. Defence of this area was assigned to the US 7th Division, which included the Ethiopian Kagnew battalion.
One night in May 1953, Mamo led a small patrol down from his hilltop outpost to scout out the land below. What he didn't know was that his patrol was about to be enveloped in a major Chinese army assault.

"We were 14 Ethiopians and one American in our patrol. It was written later that we were fighting 300 Chinese soldiers - one man against 20," he remembers. Four members of the patrol were killed, including the American corporal. Everyone else was wounded.
"They tried to take my radio operator prisoner, but I killed the Chinese soldier and saved that man. And one time they came to finish us when we were all wounded, and I was left with one hand grenade and I killed them. It was very hard."

The fighting continued on and off through the night. Cut off, his men wounded, Mamo feared they could not hold out much longer.

 From the BBC

"I was wounded several times, I was tired, exhausted and I fell unconscious twice. The most important thing was to find a radio to contact the American artillery. But my three radios were destroyed.  I gave one soldier my pistol to cover me while I went looking for a radio. I fainted again, and I was afraid I might be captured...'"

In the end he did find a radio. He called in American artillery which halted the Chinese attacks. Reinforcements got through and under the cover of smoke he and his wounded soldiers were withdrawn. Back at base, Mamo was the only one of his patrol left standing.

For his actions, he was awarded Ethiopia's highest military honour. The Americans also gave him a Silver Star for gallantry in action.

After the war, Mamo was promoted to captain. He was forced to leave the army in 1960 in the aftermath of an attempted to coup by members of the Imperial Bodyguard. He went on to have a career as a businessman and administrator.

This year the South Korean government announced it would give pensions to the surviving Ethiopian veterans of the Korean War. Mamo still hopes to return to South Korea one last time and see the place where he became an Ethiopian war hero.


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