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The Forgotten 'Filipino Fighters' of the Korean War

Back in the ‘50s, Filipino soldiers fought for South Korea.
IMAGE WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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Before the Korean cultural wave, the Philippines was already tied to Korea—this time through blood and battle instead of K-dramas and K-pop.

A few years after World War II ended, it was North Korea's turn to stoke conflict when it started invading beyond the 38th parallel into Southern territories. Four months later, United Nations forces intervened successfully to seize the city of Pyongyang from North Korea. It was a ceasefire that happened in October 1950, which we still recognize to this day. Filipinos weren’t involved in the conflict, but joining the UN’s 16-country coalition to aid the South is one of the first foreign policy decisions of the Philippines after the Second World War ended.

There were approximately 7,000 Filipino volunteers placed in five battalion combat teams (BCT) that arrived a few months back in Korea, August of 1950. It was President Quirino who empathized with their cause and encouraged our people to answer their call for help. A documentary produced by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines entitled, March of the Valiant, affirms this through Korean War veterans who spoke highly of the late president being the inspiration for their participation. Quoting Quirino when he sent his remaining family members to the front, “In defense of democracy, I submit my own blood.”

The Battle of Yultong in 1951 is the most crucial battle the Filipino volunteers fought in when roughly 40,000 Chinese and North Koreans reached the UN battle line, guarded by the Philippine 10th battalion combat group with troops from Turkey and Puerto Rico. Filipino bravery in this deadly time allowed the US soldiers to withdraw from the battlefield.

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In fact, “The Fighting Filipinos,” is a nickname given to them when they were honored with the US Gallantry Award.

This important story of The Fighting Filipinos isn’t found in textbooks frequently, nor is it a staple in history classes. However, this momentous event that is proof of a Filipino and Korean connection is discussed on the What’s AP? Araling Panlipunan Rebooted podcast episode entitled,Kagitingan in Korea,” where historian Sab Schnabel discusses this lost footnote with history buff Ceej Tantengco. They call this our very own 300 moment, a reference to the Zack Snyder action film set in ancient Greece.

Decades after the war, South Korea still celebrates the Fighting Filipinos, otherwise known as the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea (PEFTOK). It was a small group of Filipino soldiers, but they led to major victories in the Korean War. To this day, Goyang City has a monument honoring the PEFTOK forces. There is also a plaque in the National War Memorial in commemoration of the Filipino soldiers who gave their lives to the cause. 

Uncover the interesting play of events and more obscure Philippine history topics with fresh eyes by listening to What’s AP: Araling Panlipunan Rebooted on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Marielle Fatima Tuazon
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