Melese Tessema is the president of the Ethiopian Korean War Veterans’ Association, serving the 142 surviving Ethiopian veterans from the Korean War. He is a retired colonel who fought in Korea shortly after graduating from the Ethiopian military academy in 1951. As a second lieutenant of the Imperial Ethiopian Army, he led a platoon in Korea for fifteen months. Upon return to his country, he led security forces until Haile Selassie left office. After that, he worked for welfare associations until accepting his current position with the Korean War veterans. Although he had never heard of Korea before he left for the war, Melese Tessema now knows far more about Korea and loves its people. He wishes the best for the Korean people.
Children Crying in the Streets
Melese Tessema arrived in the first detachment on May 6 of 1951. The city was in ruins. Orphaned children cried in the streets. Poverty reigned. He returned five years ago and was surprised at the progress of modern Korea. Haile Selassie donated $400,000 dollars to Korea during the war. Now Melese Tessema notes that Korea’s and Ethiopia’s roles have reversed economically.
Fear and Commitment in Battle
Melese Tessema acknowledges feeling afraid as he joined the fighting in the Korean War, but he asserts that soldiers cannot allow fear to interfere with a mission. He arrived in Kumhwa and fought the Chinese on Hill 358. Shrapnel from a mortar shell injured his leg during the fighting. Melese Tessema received Korean, Ethiopian, and United States awards, including the United States bronze star.
Chinese Artillery Barrage
Melese Tessema considers the Battle of Triangle Hill Battle his most dangerous experience. His platoon had just arrived at their location and thus had not yet dug many trenches. The Ethiopian soldiers had the high ground, but large numbers of Chinese approached. The Chinese had difficulty climbing in the steep terrain. Still, he lost fellow soldiers, including his dearest friend. Melese Tessema and the other platoon officers spoke English, but soldiers from the lower ranks did not, creating language barriers across groups. At one point his platoon provided machine gun support to Korean forces nearby. After fighting ended, their only hope was to communicate in sign language.
Testament to the Bravery of Korean Soldiers
Melese Tessema attests to the bravery of South Korean soldiers, describing hand-to-hand combat of South Koreans during the Battle of Triangle Hill. Though his memory is sharp, he has not preserved his letters. He wrote many letters, a few to his girlfriend, but more to his mother. As an only child, he knew his mother missed him terribly. His happiest moment during the conflict was returning to Ethiopia in June 1952. Since his return from Korea, Melese Tessema has wished that Ethiopia could learn from the economic successes of South Korea.