Fulfilled Promise: The Republic of Korea After 60 Years
Published: 21/06/2010 at 11:23 AM Newspaper section: News Sixty years ago in the predawn hours of June 25, 1950, Communist North Korea invaded the Republic of Korea, prompting the Korean War. Freedom in the Republic of Korea and the entire world was put to a historic test.
The Korean War was the first large-scale military confrontation to take place after the start of the Cold War. The United Nations responded by dispatching combat units comprised of troops from 16 member countries and medical support groups from five countries. They fought alongside South Korean soldiers to defend the freedom of ``a country they never knew and a people they never met''.
On the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, I would like to look back at the special relations between the Republic of Korea and Thailand and talk about the prospects for bilateral cooperation in the future.
When the Korean War broke out, Thailand became the first Asian nation to provide assistance to Korea. Except for the Philippines, it was the only Asian nation to send sons and daughters to fight in the Korean War. The number of warriors from the armed forces of Thailand, including a battalion-size unit from the army, amounted to 6,326. Pulling off brilliant successes in numerous battles, they came to be known as the ``Little Tigers''. During the war, Thailand sustained 1,273 casualties. Had it not been for their noble sacrifices, Korea would not have become what it is today.
The Korean War left the country in complete ruins. But the Thai soldiers helped us lay the foundation for freedom. We have always remembered their noble sacrifices; we did our best to keep the pledge of never letting their sacrifices be in vain. Koreans are proud of the achievements made by the republic over the years, and we also hope that the people of Thailand feel equally proud.
South Korea is now poised to make a positive contribution, however small, to the betterment of humanity. Six decades ago, the republic was barely recovering from the ravages of war with the assistance from the international community. After six decades, however, Korea has now become a member of the OECD Development Assistance Committee, the first former aid recipient to become a donor nation. Learning from our experience of war and poverty, the Korean people will not spare any efforts for the sake of promoting global peace and prosperity around the world. In particular, Korea will provide developing nations with an effective economic development model as well as educational and training programmes in light of its development experiences.
In addition, the Republic of Korea remains fully committed to making contributions to global peace. The republic is already engaged in peacekeeping missions in 14 countries. On top of this, Korea will play host to the G20 Summit in November and will hold the second Nuclear Security Summit in 2012. Through these major conferences, the republic will further bolster collaboration with other nations in the areas of the economy and security, thereby making increased contributions to the international community.
The stark reality, however, is that Korea remains the only country still divided by Cold War rivalries, and military tensions are still high. On March 26, the North torpedoed one of the South's navy corvettes, the Cheonan. The active cooperation and support of Thailand in the course of responding to the North's provocation again reminded both our countries of the importance of bilateral ties. The goal of the RoK's North Korea policies is not to confront the North but to persuade Pyongyang to alter its wrong course of action. Our ultimate objective is to bring about peace and stability on the peninsula as well as achieve co-prosperity and peaceful reunification of the Korean nation. The Korean peninsula has been synonymous with confrontation and division for too long. It is imperative to transform it into a catalyst for regional and international peace.
Once again, I offer my heartfelt gratitude for the selfless friendship Thailand showed us 60 years ago. The Korean people will never forget the valiant Thai warriors who fought in defence of freedom in the Republic.
It was cold, actually freezing cold, at –12 degree Celcius, in Pyongyang, North Korea, at 1900 o’clock on 26 November 1950, especially for Thai Soldiers who was just taking a responsibility of local security from the Philippines. The Thai soldiers had come from Thailand, leaving Bangkok on 22 October 1950, where it was very hot, compared to Korea, about 30 degree celcius. They had to work in the opened areas, where shelters were damaged and could not prevent the cold air, and with insufficient winter clothes, which would arrive much later from Busan.
This “Battles Resume” is prepared for the 55th Anniversary Commemorating Ceremony for Thai Soldiers in Korean War, being held on Monday 7th November 2005, at the Thai Soldier Monument in Uncheon-ni, Pocheon-si, Gyunggi-do, Republic of Korea. It is a story about Thai soldiers’ wars, their battles and their memories, in the Korean War.
At about that same time, the United Nations Command (UNC) wished very much to win the Korean War within the Christmas that year. Therefore, with no time to complete 8 weeks training to acclimatize and familiarize themselves with new US weapons, and no time for UNC to ease Thais into the war, on 18 November 2005, Thai soldiers were ordered to the front line in Pyongyang to be placed under the operational control of the 187th Airborne Regiment Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, 9th Corps, US Army.
The advanced forces of Thai Battalion reached Pyongyang on 26 November, the same day the Chinese Communist Forces started a big offensive against the UN forces. The war did not end that Christmas 1950, but continued for 31 months later until the Armistice Agreement was signed on 27 July 1953.
The main forces arrived Pyongyang on 28 November 1950, and Thai forces engaged the Red Chinese for the first time around an area 30 Kilometer east of Pyongyang. The UN forces could not then resist the Chinese forces, so the Thai Battalion was ordered to retreat with US forces on 4 December 1950 to Kaesong, then finally to Suwon and Osan.
After that first engagement, the Thai Battalion was sent to many kinds of mission, especially much-needed security patrols and posts, and was placed under command of many larger units from US and United Kingdom. They also fought along side South Korean forces many times. There were countless battle. Followings are summary of Thai Soldiers’ war for South Korea, and few memorable battles.
2. Advance to the Hwachon Reservoir: 26 March to 10 April 1951, started to commit into combat as one battalion of the 8th US Cavalry Regiment, 1st US Cavalry Division. The first KIA occured in early April 1951 the Thai Battalion finally went into combat in the hills south of the Hwachon Reservoir and lost its first man killed in action to sporadic Chinese fire.
On 26 March 1951, Thai Battaliaon was ordered to be attached to 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st US Armored Division, around Chuncheon, and become the 4th Battalion of the 8th Regiment, and given a name of “Scrappy Gold.” During the offensive operation between 3 to 10 April 1951, Thai Battalion could sustain and endure in prolonged combat and attack and occupied all targets assigned by the 8th Regiment, so it was honored as one unit of 1st US Armored Division, and allowed to wear its badge.
4. Patrolling Clashes: 16 July to 18 November 1951, being a reserve for two weeks then back to the front line around Sammyochon, northwest of Yonchon, aggressive “routine patrolling” in forces, “Outpost Eerie.”
5. Change of Attachment: 19 November1951 to 22 October 1952, placed under the 3rd US Division, then later under 9th US Regiment of the 2nd US Division, taking front line to strengthen the main defensive positions for the coming winter.
6. The Battle of Porkchop Hill:31 October to 11 November 1952, numerous battles struggling for the control of key and dominant outpost hills along the front line while having a truce talk at Panmunjeom. One of the most typical hill battle contests was waged at Porkchop Hill then held by soldiers of the Thai Battalion, resisting and winning the attack by the Chinese Communist Forces. For this gallant fighting at the Battle of Porkchop Hill alone, the Thais received one Legion of Merit, 12 Silver Stars, and 26 Bronze Stars, and they were further honored with the name “Little Tigers,” meant the small soldiers fighting like ferocious tigers, given by General James A. Van Fleet, the commander of the 8th US Army.
During the period from 31 October through 11 November 1952, in an-all out effort to capture Porkchop Hill, the Chinese Communist Forces attempted 5 times, first two to probe the defense strength and last three to take the hill, but all were resulted in vain on account of the gallant stand of the heroic Thailand troops
The Thailanders won the fighting, over the overwhelming number of Chinese forces, not simply by the superior weight of friendly air and artillery power, but because the Thai infantry, man for man in the hand-to-hand fighting, out-gamed the Chinese Communist infantrymen at Porkchop Hill.
10. Post-Armistice: 28 July 1953 to 23 June 1972. The Little Tigers had stood alert, working long, hard hours in the preparation of new defensive positions, and guarding against any further possible outbreak of war. In September 1954, the Little Tigers were detached from the 2nd Division and placed under the 7th US Division control, until leaving ROK in on 23 June 1972. The Thai Battalion was reduced to Thai Company from July 1956. They stationed at Uncheon from 1954 to 1970 before moved to station in Uijongbu during the last two years.
Finally, It is more appropriate to conclude this story by pointing out what Thai Soldiers remember most. First is being cold, second the confusion, third the Americans, and finally the Koreans. These words are taken from the book, “ Their Wars For Korea,” by Allan R. Millett.
What the Thais remember most is “being cold. The different in Temperature between Thailand and ROK in Winter is normally about 40 degree Celcius. This is not accounted for wind, and especially the war and loneliness.
General Surapol Tonpreecha, who was a platoon leader during the Korean War in 1950, remember that winter vividly. He said in Bangkok in1998, “We Thais had no experience with such harsh cold. Our wool American uniform, even when cut down for our small body, were too heavy, too cold when wet. We could hardly stand up, let alone walk. We didn’t have adequate cold weather clothing until we developed our own later in the war.”
General Surapol also remembered that the Thais were as confused as the Americans about the massive Chinese offensive against the 8th Army. Thai Forces were in Pyeongyang less than 10 days when they ordered to retreat. He said, “In total confusion we retreated south with the Americans to Suwon, which we reached on December 14. We wondered what we had gotten into.”
Thais also remember the fighting in many battles, but what they remember most is the fighting with the American soldiers, and the American food which was so foreign to them. Major General Prayoon Nootkan-janakool, who commanded the Thai Battalion in 1951, shared his experience by saying in 1998,
“… We got to enjoy US Army food prepared in kitchens and carried in insulated containers to our positions. Whenever we got a really good meal – ice-cream, steaks, real eggs – we knew someone wanted us to attack a tough position, usually with a night combat patrol. Senior American officers would visit the battalion when an operation was about to begin. Lots of smiles, lots of handshakes. The more VIPs, the more handshakes, the more dangerous the mission.”
Thais especially remember the Koreans, even until today, the friendship that Thai Soldiers and Korean Civilians gave to each other. The evidence is clearly illustrated by the figures of a Korean man and a Thai soldier on top of the monument. “KAP CHI KAP CHI DA, Thais and Koreans, we go together.” Thai soldiers remember what and how much hardship the Koreans received and endured during and after the war. That is why all veterans are so glad and happy for the Koreans now, that South Korea is one of the world top advanced and prosperous country, and that Koreans are now happy and can enjoy their life, freedom and democracy. Their sacrifice has been for nothing.
Finally, especially thanking notes is to the Koreans for remembering Thai soldiers. So, this story is finished when every one at the 55th Commemorating Ceremony saying, “TO THE THAI SOLDIERS, WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.”