The motto of Ethiopian fighters in Korea in 1950s

“one for all and all for one” to “fight until we win or die”

By Lee Hyo-won (2010) Kimon Skordiles, a Greek war correspondent travels across the globe to cover the first armed clash of the Cold War. But instead of trailing the battlefield feats of his countrymen in the Korean War (1950-53), he ends up writing a book on Ethiopian warriors. It’s not hard to see why the soldiers of Ethiopia, one of the 21 U.N. member nations to send troops into the inter-Korean conflict, struck the fancy of the journalist: The Kagnew Battalion, bound by the motto “one for all and all for one” to “fight until we win or die,” won all 235 of its battles against North Korean forces. And true to their motto, there were 124 deaths and 536 injuries but not a single one of the 6,037 warriors went missing or became a prisoner of war. They literally either died or survived to a victorious end, Kimon Skordiles observes in his book. “Kagnew: The Story of Ethiopian Fighters in Korea,” published in 1954 shortly after the armistice was signed, is now available in Korean as well.

Though the book chronicles extraordinary battles, a most touching instance of heroism and friendship shines through in a rather minor incident. One fateful morning, the enemy opened fire at South Korean civilians who were employed to lay wires. Melese Berihun of the 1st company heard the cries of a man who did not have time to escape and jumped to the rescue ― “The Ethiopian soldier did not understand what the wounded Korean was saying; but the painful cries were directed not only to the ears, but to the heart.” A shell fell nearby and the two men died in each other’s arms.They were buried in a common grave in Busan ― which serves as “a symbol of their common sacrifice, in a common struggle, for a common goal,” writes Skordiles. “ David In-yeup Song, who served as chief representative of KOICA in Ethiopia for two years, took the initiative to translate the account. “I came across the book a couple months after I arrived in Ethiopia. I knew Ethiopia had sent troops but I was surprised to learn about their amazing achievements,” he said in a recent Korea Times interview in Seoul. “I spent sleepless nights reading the book. I decided to translate it because it passes on an important lesson to the younger generation. They enjoy a materially rich life thanks to the sacrifice of such warriors like the Ethiopians, but many don’t even know when the Korean War broke out. Moreover, they can learn about integrity, teamwork and courage from the Kagnew Batallion,” he said.

Their perfect battle score did not go unnoticed, as then-U.S. Secretary of State J. F. Dulles paid the battalion a visit during a trip to Korea in 1953. Among them, Haile Giorgis, who served as 2nd lieutenant during the war, became promoted as military protocol chief to the emperor in 1972.

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