Lakew Asfaw was born on January 12, 1934, in Hosaena, Kembata, in Ethiopia. During the tenth grade, he joined the Ethiopian Army. As a member of the Kagnew Infantry Battalion, he was sent to Korea before the war ended in 1953. He explains Ethiopia’s fighting dogma and its ability as a nation to help another nation stay free from an aggressor. Along with other Ethiopian soldiers from the Korean War, he received The Korean War Service Medal with the inscription “Korea 1943 (Ethiopian Calendar), year of mercy” from Emperor Majesty Haile Selassie. He shares that this medal and inscription represent Ethiopia’s support of Korea. He returned to Korea and is happy for the progress the Korean people have made.
No Ethiopian Soldiers Were Prisoners of War
Lakew Asfaw explains that Ethiopian soldiers refuse to give themselves over to the enemy. Unlike other nations, none of the Ethiopian soldiers were taken as prisoners of war. One experience he recalls involved a soldier being captured and how he started shouting for his comrades to take his life. During this incident, he remembers another Ethiopian soldier firing into the dark and killing the North Korean who was taking the soldier. He clarifies that soldiers would take their own lives before becoming a prisoner of war.
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Lakew Asfaw recalls some interactions with the Korean people because they would bring them food. He shares there was not a great deal of interaction because the Ethiopian soldiers fought alone. He expresses his appreciation for the Korean people because of their work ethic.
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Ethiopian People Were Proud of Their Service
Lakew Asfaw talks about returning home from Korea and the Ethiopian people being happy with their service. He continues to explain that Haile Selassie sent them to protect the freedom of any country against aggressors. He explains that when the communists took power in 1974; however, they were not as happy about the involvement in the Korean War.
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00:00:00 [Beginning of Recorded Material]
Interviewer: its November 12th 2019 the capital city of Ethiopia Addis Ababa. My name is Jongwoo Han I am the president of Korean War Legacy Foundation we are specially commission by the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs of republic of Korea to conduct this interview so that we can make a special website for the 70th anniversary of the breakout of the Korean War. It’s my great honor and pleasure to meet you sir and thank you
…for inviting me to your home. Would you please say your name and spell it for the audience please?
Lakew Asfaw: My name is Lakew Asfaw Wendem Agegnehu.
Translator: My first name is Lakew. L A K E W. My father name A S F A W.
Lakew Asfaw: Yes correct.
Interviewer: And what is your birth day?
Translator: መቼ ነው የተወለዱት? (What is your birthday?)
Lakew Asfaw: In 1927 in Ethiopian calendar.
Interviewer: So now you are 92 years old?
Lakew Asfaw: No I am 85 years old.
Interviewer: 85 year old?
Lakew Asfaw: Eight Five.
Interviewer: So that’s Ethiopian calendar than?
Lakew Asfaw: Yes.
Interviewer: Yes, so which is?
Interviewer: 1934. And what is your birth date? What month and what day?
Lakew Asfaw: It is January 12th.
Interviewer: January 12th?
Lakew Asfaw: Yes.
Interviewer: Yes. Where were you born?
Lakew Asfaw: My born in Hosaena. Kembata Hosaena.
Interviewer: And tell me about your family background when you were growing up? Your father, your mother, your brother, and sisters.
Lakew Asfaw: Yes my father is dead in “Mayichow” war and my mother
…she was here and she enough old she is dead now she is not alive.
Interviewer: Okay. And tell me about your school you went through in middle school and so on?
Lakew Asfaw: I was when I inter military I was 10th grade.
Interviewer: And when did you join the military?
Translator: መቼ ነው ውትድርና የተቀላቀሉት? (When did you join the military?)
Lakew Asfaw: In 1945 Ethiopian calendar.
Translator: In 1952 in Gregorian calendar.
Lakew Asfaw: Yes December.
Interviewer: And did you know anything about Korea before you left for Korea?
Lakew Asfaw: Yes. We suffered by snow in Korea and I know Busan and Seoul I visited that.
…In that time I was you know 18 years old.
Interviewer: 18 years old?
Lakew Asfaw: Yes.
Lakew Asfaw: You can see my photo there.
Lakew Asfaw: For 10 days it is for 10 days I go to Tokyo. But it is not where the war took place.
Interviewer: So when you first landed in Busan how was Korea? How was Korean economy? How was Korean people?
Lakew Asfaw: It was on that time you know it is on the
…war time you know I can’t say in detail. It was in Banker. You know Banker? We warn clothe of winter times always.
Interviewer: But what about Korean people
…at that time do they have problem what was the situation in Korea?
Lakew Asfaw: You know in that time we were not with the Koreans we was in the front of war place. But I visit for last two years Korea it is changed I was go. I visited Korea is not like that time you know it is very changed.
…This time when I visited Korea after Three two years ago.
Interviewer: How do you like it?
Lakew Asfaw: It is good.
Interviewer: And so when was when where you in Korea what year? 1952 or 53?
Lakew Asfaw: 53 I think. I don’t know
Translator: በኢትዮጲያ 1945 ነው?
Lakew Asfaw: በ45 ነው አዎ።
Translator: ውትድርና የገቡት? ጦርነቱስ መቼ ነው? ወደ ኮሪያስ የሄዱት መቼ ነው?
Lakew Asfaw: ኮሪያ የሄድኩት በዛው አመት ማነው በሚቀጥለው አመት 1948 ፣ 47 ነው እንደዚ ነው። (I went to Korea the same year I mean the year after around 1948 E.C or 47.
Translator: In 1953.
Interviewer: 53? So was war ended at that time?
Translator: ያማለት ጦርነቱ አብቅቶ ነበር አይደለ? (That means the War was ended right?)
Lakew Asfaw: No.
Translator: ስንተኛ ቃኘው ኖት አባባ? (What battalion were you?)
Lakew Asfaw: 4ኛው ቃኘው። (4th Battalion.)
Translator: I was in the fourth battalion at that time so
…when I was there the war doesn’t stop.
Interviewer: Still there?
Translator: Still there.
Lakew Asfaw: After 5 “Kagnew” this stop.
Interviewer: So explain us about the battle situation there. What did you do? And how was it? I mean young Ethiopian students will listen this interview from you so that explain them what was the battle situation and what did you do?
Translator: እንዴት ነበረ አሁን ይሄንን ኢንተርቪው የርሶን ቃለ ምልልስ የኢትዮጲያ ዘማች ልጆችም ያዩታልየኢትዮጲያ ልጆች ባጠቃላይ ያዩታል ስለዚህ እስኪ የዛኔ የነበረውን ነገር ይንገሩን? (How was it explain how the situation where because Ethiopian Veterans children and also young Ethiopian student will listen this interview.)
Lakew Asfaw: I was in the war place how can I know. You know always we are ready for war. We are looking after our enemy
…and they came to catch them or to shoot. But Ethiopian soldier not give hands you know nobody. You know 136 is dead but nobody to catch by enemy.
Interviewer: So there was no prison of war?
Translator: የተማረከ ማንም የለም ነበር? (No prison of war?)
Lakew Asfaw: Yes no nobody.
Lakew Asfaw: It is free
…there is written in our history. The American catch by but Ethiopians no. only the dead 136.
Interviewer: How is it possible not to be captured not even one Ethiopian soldier? How is it possible?
Translator: አለመማረኩ እንዴት ግን ሊቻል ቻለ? (How is it possible not to be captured?)
Lakew Asfaw: No the Ethiopian is our culture. Ethiopia nobody gives a hand
…in enemy he wants to kill himself. What I told you somebody one when she catches him please kill me she take me kill me he said. ተማረከ ተማርካ ይዞ ሲሄድ ወሰደችኝ አብራቹ ጨርሱኝ ሲል እንደ አጋጣሚ የኢትይጲያው ወታደርሲተኩስ በጭለማ ነው ሲተኩስ ግን ማንን ይመታል ኮሪያኑን ይመታል
…ይሄ መሳሪያውን እንደያዘ ነው አሁን ኮሪያው ሲሞት ወድቆ ሲተኩስ (one story I wanted to tell you so there was one soldier he was about to be captured so he shouted kill me she is about to take me kill me and the other Ethiopian soldier fire and shot the Korean soldier even it was in the dark)
Translator: ሰሜን ኮሪያን ነው ወይስ ደቡብ ኮሪያ? (Was it the North Korean or South Korean?)
Lakew Asfaw: ኖ ሰሜን ኮሪያን እንጂ ከጠላት እኮ የመጣውን ነው መታ ማረከችው ብድግ ስታረገው ወሰደችኝአብራቹ ጨርሱኝ አለ። ነፉደቴ ነፉደቴ በኦሮመኛ ነው ነፉደቴ ዊሊቲ ነፉጣ አለ ሲተኩስ ደሞ እንደ አጋጣሚ ማንንይመታል ያንን ኮሪያኑን ይመታል ያኛውን እና ወረደና እሱ እንደገና ስንቱን ጨረስ እልሃለሁኝ።
…የኢትዮጲያ ጀግና ምንም እጁን መስጠት ኖ። (Off Corse it was the north Korean he was about to be captured then he shouted and he was talking in Oromo language and after we kill the north Korean then he started to kill most of them. So Ethiopian heros soldier never give hand to enemy.
Translator: So there was one time we were in the middle of the battle so one of our soldier is going to be surrender and then he said ‘they are going to surrender me please kill me’ for us so likely he just shot the north Korean and he almost finished nine soldiers at there.
Interviewer: Wow. So Ethiopian soldiers were very brave right compare to other soldiers? What did you think?
Translator: ከሌሎቹ ሲወዳደሩ የኢትዮጲያን ወታደሮች በጣም ጀግና ነበሩ
…ምን ያስባሉ? (Ethiopian solider were brave compared to other soldiers what did you think?)
Lakew Asfaw: No doubt I believed.
Interviewer: What was the most difficult thing during your service in Korea?
Translator: በጦርነቱ ላይ ኮሪያ ላይ የሚያስታውሱት ልዩ የሆነ ትውስታ ካለ? (Do you have a special memory of Korea during the war?)
Lakew Asfaw: ነገርኩክ እኮ ልዩ ትውስታዬን ነገርኩህ በዛን ወቅት ተማርኮ ለጠላት እጄን አልሰጥም ብሎአብራቹ ጨርሱኝ እስከ ማለት የደረሰ ነው የኢትዮጲያ ጀግና። እና ለማንም ያልተንበረከከ ወታደር ነው
…ኢትዮጲያኖች በዚህ በኩል አሉ ከተባለ እንኳን ያውቃሉ እነኛ አተኳኮሳችንን አመካከታችንን። (I told you my special memories of being an Ethiopian soldiers is until death the soldier rather died then to be captured by the enemy. And the solider never bow for any one even they know when the Ethiopian soldiers come, how we fire and how we defense.)
Translator: The most thing I remember is Ethiopia is the only country that has never surrender ourselves so that was our best moment.
Interviewer: Where there any Korean people working with you or working for the Ethiopian soldier any Korean people that you know during the war?
Translator: ኮሪያዎች ወይም ደሞ ለናንተ የሚሰሩ የምታስታውሱት? (Koreans working for you that you remember?
Lakew Asfaw: አንዳንድ ጊዜ በስንቅ በምናምን አቅርቦት ያመጡልናል እንጂ ሌላ ከኛ ጋራ ኢትዮጲያ እራሷንችላ በራሳችን ነው የምንሰራው እንጂ ማንም ከኛ ጋራ አብሮ ተደባልቆ የለም። መትረየስ የሚመቱ አሉን ከባድመሳሪያም አለን እግረኛ አለ ሁሉ ነገር በራሳችን ነው። (Sometimes they bring us food but rather than that nothing, but no one else has joined us, Ethiopia was by itself. We have guns, we have heavy weapons, we have infantry, everything is on our own.)
Translator: They used to bring us food, but they never go with us with the war because Ethiopia the only country they go to fight by our self.
Interviewer: How did you like Korean people? Did you like them?
Lakew Asfaw: Yes they are very harder workers and I know them through night and day they workers Koreans will appreciate them.
Interviewer: So, did war stop when you were there right?
Translator: ጦርነቱ አቁሟል አይደል እርሶ ሲሄዱ? (The war was over, isn’t it when you were there?
Lakew Asfaw: በኋላ ከኛ በኋላ ነው እርግጥ እኛ ስንሄድ እየቀዘቀዘ
…ሄዷል። (It’s after us. Of course, it’s getting to stop as we go.)
Translator: It was about to stop when we arrive there but still there was some war.
Lakew Asfaw: ከኛ በኋላ ሌላ አንድ ሻምበል አለ የሻምበል ጦር ለጥበቃ። (There is another battalion behind us.)
Translator: There was one other battalion so after that one the war stop.
Interviewer: So when the war stopped how did you feel about it? Were you happy?
Translator: ልክ ጦርነቱ… (Just the war)
Lakew Asfaw: Yes we are happy.
Interviewer: Did you remember the day that war stop? What did you do?
…How was it tell me?
Translator: ጦርነቱ ሲያቆም የተሰማዎት ስሜት የዛኔ ምንድን ነበረ? (How did you feel when the war ended?)
Lakew Asfaw: We are very happy. We appreciate for Korean peoples good years, good life, good leaving.
Interviewer: So when did you leave Korea then?
Translator: መቼ ነው ከኮሪያ ወደዚ የመጡት? (When did you come from Korea?)
Lakew Asfaw: In 1948 at the end of 49 come back in Ethiopian calendar.
…ልክ ነሐሴ 16 ቀን ነው ወደ ኢትዮጲያ… (It’s August 16th to Ethiopia…)
Translator: አስራ ዘጠኝ ስንት? (Nineteen when?)
Lakew Asfaw: አርባ ዘጠኝ። (Forty nine.)
Translator: በአስራ ዘጠኝ አርባ ዘጠኝ? (In nineteen forty-nine?)
Lakew Asfaw: አዎ። (Yes.)
Translator: ይበዛል መሰለኝ? ብዙ ቆይተዋል ከጦርነቱ በኋላ? (I think it’s too much? How long has it been since the war?)
Lakew Asfaw: አስራ ሦስት ወር። (Thirteen months)
Translator: ያማለት በ አስራ ዘጠኝ አርባ ዘጠኝ ሳይሆን አርባ አምስት አርባ ስድስት አካባቢ ነው። they said we was go to in ninety fifty five we got to the Korean so we get back in ninety fifty six. (That means it was in ninety forty five or forty six not forty nine.)
Interviewer: He was there in ninety fifty three and then come back in ninety fifty six? So three years how long did he stay there?
Translator: He just said I was there for one year.
Interviewer: One year?
Lakew Asfaw: አስራ ሦስት ወር ነው የተቀመጥነው። (We stayed for thirteen month.)
Translator: እኮ አንድ አመት ማለት ነው? (It means one year?)
Lakew Asfaw: አንድ አመት ከ አንድ ወር ነው። (It means for one year and one month.)
Translator: One year and one month.
Interviewer: So you left Korea in 1954?
Translator: ያማለት በአስራ ዘጠኝ ሀምሳ አራት ነው የመጡት በአስራ ዘጠኝ ሀምሳ አራት ማለትበኢትዮጲያ አቆጣጠር በአስራ ዘጠኝ አርባ ሰባት ነው መስለኝ። (That means you came back from Korea in 1954, means in Ethiopian calendar in 1947 I think.)
Interviewer: So after you return from Korea how did Ethiopian people treat you when you come back?
Lakew Asfaw: Very happy my mother, brothers they are very happy and they enjoy with us not peoples that go. Imperial Haile Selassie he…
…ሰላምታ እየሰጡን እያንዳንዳችን ዳብሰ ስመውን ነው እንትን ያሉን። (Imperial Haile Selassie they greeted us each and kissed us each.)
Interviewer: So, but in 1974 communist seize the power right? Communist? And how did they treated you?
Translator: ያኔ እናንተ ከመጣችሁ በኋላ ያው ደርግ መቶ አልነበረ? እንዴት ነበረ እስኪ የሱ ነገር በናንተ? (After you come back the “Derg” has the power so how did it treated you that time to you?)
Lakew Asfaw I would not happy. It is you know
…we Haile Selassie we appreciate Haile Selassie about “Derg” I don’t know. እርግጥ እኛ የማንንም ነፃነት እንወዳለንያጥቂነት ግን ጠላት ነን ብልው ነው ሃይለ ስላሴ የላኩን። (Of course, we love the freedom of anyone, but aggression is our enemy said Haile Selassie.)
Translator: Haile Selassie sent us because they don’t want nobody no countries to be hurt that’s why they want freedom of any country that’s why they sent us.
Interviewer: What is the relationship
…between Ethiopia and Korea right now?
Lakew Asfaw: Now good you know they visit us and they Korea thank you I thanks Korea people. You know Korea loves Ethiopia and they gave us you know this Korea loves Ethiopia we also love Korea.
…So are you proud of as Korean War veteran?
Translator: እንደ ኮሪያ ዘማች ወታደር ይኮራሉ ወይ? (Are you proud of as Korean War Veteran?)
Lakew Asfaw: Off Corse. Why not. I am very proud.
Interviewer: But in Ethiopian school they don’t teach about Korean War why is that?
Translator: በኢትዮጲያ የታሪክ ትምህርት ውስጥ ለምንድን ነው የኮሪያን ትምህርት የማያስተምሩት ብለውያስባሉ? (Why do you think they don’t teach about Korean war in Ethiopian history?)
Lakew Asfaw: No I am old enough about I cannot know I don’t know about this.
Interviewer: So did you have any special message to the Korean people who will listen your interview?
Translator: መልዕክት አልዎት ይሄንን ኢንተርቪው ቃለምልልስ ለሚሰሙ? መናገር የሚፈልጉት ነገር? (Do you have a message for those who listen to this interview?)
Lakew Asfaw: Yes you are not forget us thank you Korean peoples long live I wish Korean peoples good life a lot peoples your country I will thanks.
Interviewer: Alright sir any other story that you want to say to this interview your
…Korean War experience?
Translator: መጨመር የሚፈልጉት አንድ ታሪክ አለ ብለው ካሉ መናገር የሚፈልጉት ካለ አንድ ታሪክቢነግሩን? (If you want to add a story, would you like to tell us a story?)
Lakew Asfaw: You know according age this time I can’t tell any history but I told you what I can. I cannot more than this.
Lakew Asfaw: This is enough for me.
Interviewer: can you bring to the medal.
Lakew Asfaw: No this is Korea. And የተባበሩት መንግስታት። (And from United Nation.)
Translator: From UN.
Lakew Asfaw: Union country and this is Haile Selassie.
Translator: Emperor Haile Selassie.
Lakew Asfaw: And this is Gold Medal from Haile Selassie we got.
Translator: From Emperor Majesty Haile Selassie gold medal.
Lakew Asfaw: My Imperial Majesty.
Interviewer: I see. That’s great.
Lakew Asfaw: Thank you.
Interviewer: Thank you sir on behalf of Korean nation I want to thank for your fight for the Korean nation so that Korea now has become 11th largest economy in the world and very strong democracy we never forget I want to thank you.
Lakew Asfaw: also thank you about visiting me. And I wish good life through your life you are visit has thank you I thanks.
Interviewer: Thank you.
Lakew Asfaw: You’re welcome.
[End of Recorded Material]