by Ben Cal
SEOUL, South Korea — The Philippines is second among 21 Allied Forces to receive two “Taegeuk Medals” (Medal for Valor), South Korea’s highest military decoration given to a soldier for bravery in combat during the Korean War.
Only 15 allied troopers were awarded the coveted “Taegeuk Medal” during the three-year war that broke out on June 25, 1950.
The United States topped the list with eight “Taegeuk Medals”. The Philippines was second with two, and one each for Belgium, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and Canada.
The two Filipino soldiers who were recipients of the coveted “Taegeuk Medal” were retired Maj. Maximo Young and the late Capt. Conrado D. Yap, both members of the famed 10th Battalion Combat Team (BCT) of the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea (PEFTOK).
Young received the award during the anniversary of the Korean war last week.
According to historical record of the Korean Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs (KMPVA) about the Korean War made available to the Philippine News Agency (PNA), Young and Yap and their men stood their ground against all odds when they fought a numerically superior force of Chinese soldiers in the fierce battle at Yultong that lasted for two days on April 22-23, 1951.
In an interview, Kim Taehoon, KMPVA director, cited the heroism of the Filipino soldiers during the two-day fierce battle that stopped the invasion of thousands of Chinese communist forces at the outset of the war.
Despite the huge disparity in numbers, the 900-man 10th BCT clashed with the numerically superior 40,000 Chinese and North Korean troops that forced the latter to backtrack.
Exactly 61 years ago, from April 22-23, 1951, 900 Filipino soldiers of the 10th Battalion Combat Team (10th BCT) of the Philippine Expeditionary Force To Korea (PEFTOK) successfully defended and threw back the numerically superior elements of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (CPVA)’s 44th Infantry Division and the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) numbering about 40,000 in non-stop fighting that drew widespread admiration — even from the enemy.
The Chinese and North Korean invasion caught the South Korean and Allied Forces by surprise.
The Chinese 44th Division attacked the U.S. 65th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division near Yeoncheon on the night of April 22 that trapped the 10th BCT and lost contact with the main PEFTOK headquarters.
Nevertheless, the Filipinos stood their defensive position and continued fighting, and forced the enemy to retreat and allowed U.S. 3rd Division to withdraw.
It was the battle at Yultong that the Filipinos once again proved their bravery in combat that made real the words of Gen. Douglas McArthur during the fighting in Bataan in the Second World War when he said: “Give me 10,000 Filipino soldiers and I will conquer the world.”
At the height of the gun battle in Yultong, the Filipinos were pinned down but still managed to launch a counter-attack driving the Chinese and North Koreans away.
When Yap learned that some members of the 10th BCT were killed and wounded a few distances from where he and other troopers held their position, he went to the area to rescue his comrades trapped in the war zone.
He was told not to proceed because of the very dangerous situation, but still, Yap insisted that he cannot leave his men behind.
Yap ahead and fought the Chinese in close-quarter fighting.
Unfortunately. Yap was killed in the close-quarter fighting.
On the other hand, Young, now 97 years old, but still strong and healthy like he is only 70, was invited by the South Korean government to visit South Korea in connection with the 69th anniversary of the Korean War, together with Undersecretary Nesty G. Carolina, administrator of the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) who headed the group.
In his Korean War memoirs, Young wrote how the 10th BCT defeated the Chinese during the epic Battle at Yultong 69 years ago.
Young, who saw action in World War II, narrated his combat experience in the Korean War.
“I have fought for the defense of freedom and democracy which are precepts that have been dear to our motherland, against foreign enemies in three wars: World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War,” Young told the PNA.
“I have been shot at and shelled. I have seen my friends die in battle and have killed my country’s enemies, in turn,” he said, adding that “I have seen the worst of human nature in war. And my experience has taught me that there is nothing redeeming about war. War is only gruesome death and senseless destruction. And it involves tremendous remorse.”
“But…by the grace of God, I am still here,” Young said.
He thanked God that in all his battles during the Second World War against the Japanese and the Korean War against the Chinese and North Koreans, “I was never wounded.”
Young said he almost died in World War II when the boat, the M/V Legaspi he was a crew member of was sunk by the Japanese and captured them.
The ship was carrying supplies and Filipino soldiers from the Visayas to Luzon when it was intercepted and sank by Japanese naval forces off Puerto Gallera, Mindoro.
But Young and other Filipinos luckily managed to escape and rejoined the guerrilla forces.
After World War II, Young continued his military career in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
When the Korean War broke out in June 1950, Young volunteered to go to Korea and was a member of the 10th BCT of PEFTOK.
“PEFTOK, to me, is the embodiment of Filipino patriotism,” Young said in his war memoirs.
The 10th BCT was the first PEFTOK unit that saw action in the brutal Korean War and was the only Philippine Army tank battalion for which he was a tank commander.
The Filipino troops arrived in Busan, South Korea on Sept. 15, 1950, after four days of rough sea voyage aboard a U.S. Navy ship.
It was winter when they arrived in Busan and was shocked to see “frightened and thin Korean refugees, many of them children, begging us for food.”
“One of my enduring memories of my first month in Korea was the seemingly unending stream of Korean refugees fleeing the fighting. And there seemed to be so many parentless children among those refugees (and) there were almost no young men to be seen,” he recalled with sadness.
When the 10th BCT arrived in Korea, it was attached to the U.S. 25th Infantry Division in the city of Waegman.
Heavy fighting was raging when the battalion arrived. The battle was in North Korea.
Young said it was at the outskirts of the town of Miudong, North Korea that the 10th BCT fought its first pitched battle against North Korean forces.
The Filipinos defeated the communist North Koreans in “the Battle of Miudong, the first battle fought, and won, by the Philippine soldiers in foreign soil.”
A proud Young said: “At the time of this victory, I was a First Sergeant and a Tank Commander of the Reconnaissance Company.”
He was the commander of five M24 Chafee light tanks each armed with a 75mm gun. It was also equipped with a .50 caliber heavy machine gun mounted atop a turret.
The task of the 10th BCT “was to clear and secure the town of Singye inside North Korea just above the 38th Parallel, the line that divides North and South Korea,” Maj. Young said.
The battalion moved towards Singye in a long column in the early morning when as “my tank platoon had just cleared a bend of a winding mountain road leading to the town of Miudong when an explosion disabled the track leading the column,” Young recalled.
In an instant, this was followed by a heavy volume of fire coming from the North Korean forces dug along the slopes of the hills on the right flank of the Filipino troops.
“The sudden storm of fire drove our men to seek cover. We were pinned down and managed to fire back with desultory fire.”
They were expecting an attack in waves, but fortunately, no mass attack came.
“I could not see the enemy positions from inside the tank. My gunner was yelling at me to tell him where to aim the tank’s 75mm cannon. There was only one thing to do,” Young said.
“I flung open the turret hatch, clambered out of the turret, braced my feet against the metal hull and fired the big .50 caliber machine gun at the enemy positions. The machine gun had no gun shield and I was fully exposed to enemy fire that continued to strike my tank,” he said.
He said as the North Koreans ran, their men chased the retreating enemy forces into Singye, whose defenders, two battalions, fled before the attack.
As the fighting ended, there were 42 North Koreans killed, body count, and some 100 others were wounded.
Young said that one Filipino soldier was killed and a few others were wounded.
He learned later that during the fighting, American soldiers of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division and some foreign officers witnessed the fighting atop a hill from a distance.
“They (Americans) congratulated me for my part in the combat,” Young said.
Col. Mariano Azurin, the 10th BCT Battalion Commander, and Maj. Delfin Argao, the battalion’s Executive Officer, congratulated Young for his heroism.
When the UN Command launched a counter-attack in February 1951, the 10th BCT again went into action.
The battalion captured hill after hill in a series of fighting in March and April 1951.
Without fear, the 10th BCT pushed northward to the 38th Parallel and defeated the Chinese forces in fierce gun battles along the way.
“By April 14, 1951, the 10th BCT was the northernmost of all UN Command units. We were exhausted after close to two months of non-stop fighting, but we were in high morale. The battalion was down to 900 men. Most of our casualties, however, were non-battle in nature,” Young said.
After scoring victory after victory, came the great Battle of Yultong where the 10 BCT again displayed its bravery in combat against all odds.
“The Battle of Yuldong was the greatest Filipino victory in the Korean War,” Young wrote in his memoirs.
“It was one of many battles fought by the UNC in an effort to repel the biggest offensive of the Korean War: the communist’s ‘Great Spring Offensive of 1951.’”
Some 40,000 Chinese soldiers struck with vengeance the 900-man 10th BCT, which had only occupied the areas a day before.
For several hours, the savage close-quarter fighting continued without let-up, but “we prevented the Communist Chinese from overrunning our positions, thereby putting a fatal brake on the communist’s advance.
Hundreds of Communist Chinese fell to the rifles, machine guns and mortars of the battalion.
“By 6 a.m. of 23 April, the 10th BCT was only one of the only two UNC units on the Western Front not overran or wiped out by the tremendous Chinese assault,” Young said.
“The Communist Chinese Army – which we kept at bay, and which we even counter-attacked, could have given the communist the extra strength they needed to carry the greatest communist offensive of the Korean War to final victory, (but) as it turned out, the defeat of their Great Spring Offensive forced the communists to open peace talks with the United Nations Command,” Young said. (PNA)