Korean War Legacy Project

Seifu Tessema


Seifu Tessema was born November 19, 1934 in Harar, Ethiopia. Just as he was preparing for his secondary school, he enrolled in the Imperial Formal Bodyguard Cadet School. Upon graduating, he was sent to Korea with the 4th “Kagnew” Battalion, named after his Majesty’s horse and bestowed upon them by Emperor Selassie. Upon arriving in Korea, he found the weather to be challenging no matter the season and the people to be suffering from the lack of all basic needs. On the battlefield, his unit had a motto to kill or be killed with an understanding that no one would be taken as a prisoner of war. Today he is thankful to see the darkness lifted and Korea thriving as a nation.

Video Clips

A Dark Korea

Seifu Tessema describes the darkness that fell over Korea during the war. He recalls the plight of the Korean people and how they were struggling to simply survive. He remembers his unit's motto of kill or be killed and never be taken as a prisoner of war.

Tags: Fear,Front lines,Impressions of Korea,Living conditions,Poverty,South Koreans

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Sick at Sea

Seifu Tessema describes how uncomfortable the voyage to Korea by ship was and how many suffered from motion sickness. He remembers how difficult it was to exercise due to the confinement and having to be creative to move about. He recalls it voyage taking many days.

Tags: Cold winters,Impressions of Korea,Living conditions

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Video Transcript

00:00:00          [Beginning of Recorded Material]

Interviewer:                            its November 12th 2019 the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. My name is Jongwoo Han I am the president of Korean War Veterans Legacy Foundation. We have about 1,500 interviews from 19 countries including Ethiopia. It’s my great pleasure and honor to be here and we are doing this to preserve your memory buy at the same time we want to make this interview


…into teaching material. History teachers in Ethiopia can talk about the war that you fought for and the wonderful story that came out of it. Which is simultaneous economic development and democratization in Korea.

Seifu Tessema:                       Thank you.

Interviewer:                            We ae specially commissioned by the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs of Republic of Korea to make a special website for the 70th anniversary of the Korean War break out in 2020 which is


…next year. Again it’s my great pleasure and honor to have you here please introduce yourself, your name and spell it for the audience please?

Seifu Tessema:                       My name is Seifu Tessema. I was a member of fourth “Kagnew” battalion.

Interviewer:                            Fourth “Kagnew”?

Seifu Tessema:                       Fourth “Kagnew” yeah. Fourth “Kagnew” Battalion. Unless it is shooting or something we are on frontline for three months, for three months


…we are in front line. We are going out posing and then we will come back. We stayed almost six months in frontline then we came back. We were making training with one, with what can I say we are business almost business. The other is training,


…we were training in military field, we were what do you call it? አሰሳ ምንድን ነው የምንለው? (What is browsing?)

Translator:                              Searching.

Seifu Tessema:                       አሰሳ እናረግ ነበረ። (We used to search.)

Translator:                              We used to search.

Seifu Tessema:                       You better give me a question I will give you the answer.

Interviewer:                            Yes.

Seifu Tessema:                       That is much better yeah.

Interviewer:                            Yes. So let me ask we have many, many question and answer please in those.

Seifu Tessema:                       Yeah.


Interviewer:                            When were you born? Where were your born?

Translator:                              መቼ ነው የተወለዱት? የትስ ነው የተወለዱት? (When were you born? Where were you born?)

Seifu Tessema:                       In 1934 European calendar in 1934.

Interviewer:                            And what is your birthdate?

Translator:                              የት ነበር የተወለዱት? (Where were you born?)

Seifu Tessema:                       “Harar”.

Translator:                              I was born in “Harar”.

Seifu Tessema:                       Yeah I was born in “Harar”.

Interviewer:                            And what your birthdate? The month and the date?

Translator:                              ምን፣ ምን ወር ነበር የተወለዱት ቀኑስ ምን ነበር? (What, what month were you born and what was the date?)

Seifu Tessema:                       It is November 19.


…በኛ እንኳን በ 12 ነው 7 ቀን ይጨምራል የነሱ። (In our calendar its in 12, 7days will increase on their calendar.)November 19th, 1934.

Interviewer:                            So how old are you? Now you are 85?

Seifu Tessema:                       Almost, exactly eighty five years old.

Interviewer:                            I don’t see any wrinkles from your face what is going on?

Seifu Tessema:                       It’s a nature. It’s a nature. Mostly I use to physically exercise,


…I walking, I was also healthy I don’t have any serious sickness or something like that I am okay.

Interviewer:                            Very good sir. Tell me about the school you went through?

Translator:                              የተማሩበትን ትምህርት ቤት እስኪ ይንገሩን? (Tell us about the school you went to?)

Seifu Tessema:                       My elementary is in Haile Selassie first school “Harar”. “Harar” first school. Up to grade


…five during my learning grade five was almost ready for secondary grade five was almost ready for secondary. Then I joined Imperial Formal Imperial Bodyguard cadet school. Yeah.

Interviewer:                            When was it?

Seifu Tessema:                       It was in 1944. In 1953, 52 53.

Interviewer:                            That is even after


…the Korean War.

Seifu Tessema:                       Then I stayed for three years course and I have been graduated in 1953 immediately I graduated I went to Korea. Immediately graduate I went to Korea. Then Korea we stayed almost for 13 months.

Interviewer:                            13 months?

Seifu Tessema:                       Yeah. Almost a year and a month.

Interviewer:                            Was it after the war or before the war?

Seifu Tessema:                       No.

Interviewer:                            During the war?

Seifu Tessema:                       Fourth “Kagnew” was


…no war in our period. There is no war. There was the agreement of peace. Stop firing stop. Firing stop. Yeah there was agreement of stop firing. Fourth “Kagnew” was not in the battle field.

Interviewer:                            Okay. So that you are in the fourth “Kangew”?

Seifu Tessema:                       Yeah.

Interviewer:                            And it was after the war?

Seifu Tessema:                       Yeah it is after the War?

Interviewer:                            What is “Kagnew”? Can you explain it because I mean hold up? The American young children


…will listen to you. Will listen from this interview so they don’t know about “Kagnew”? So what is “Kagnew”?

Seifu Tessema:                       Exactly I cannot expain you. But “Kagnew” means…

Interviewer:                            Yeah.

Seifu Tessema:                       It is a name of our Majesty’s horse name. You know in our country there all heroes. They have got their own horse name. So this “Kangew”, “Kagnew” was a horse name of our Majesty.


Interviewer:                            Emperor?

Seifu Tessema:                       of our Emperor yeah.

Interviewer:                            Yes.

Seifu Tessema:                       of our Emperor. So when we go to Korea for the battle he gave us his horse’s name. This is “Kagnew”

Interviewer:                            Yeah.

Seifu Tessema:                       “Kagnew” is almost on in English it is like scouting, like scouting. And we stayed in there for 13 months. We were it was hard time


…for us especially when we were Voyage, Voyage you know in by ship.

Interviewer:                            Yeah.

Seifu Tessema:                       Yeah.

Interviewer:                            Tell me about it how was it?

Seifu Tessema:                       It was hard time, it was very hard time.

Interviewer:                            Why?

Seifu Tessema:                       It is almost 22 days, day and night when we go it was almost 22 days and night. You know what is the wrong is we don’t have any exercise of walking in ship


…especially long journey. It is almost 90 or nine miles from here to Korea.

Interviewer:                            9,000 mile.

Seifu Tessema:                       9,000 miles yeah.

Interviewer:                            Yeah.

Seifu Tessema:                       It was day and night then there was what do you call it…?

Interviewer:                            Wave?

Seifu Tessema:                       Movement, Wave, wave of the ship that was we call it ship sick.

Interviewer:                            Sea sickness.

Seifu Tessema:                       Yeah, ship sickness.

Interviewer:                            Yeah.


Seifu Tessema:                       It was we don’t eat because a lot of moving up and down it was hard time especially when we go. But when we return back to our country there was no, 18 days we called our ship was “Blush board” the ship we go on were “Blush Board” but when we return back


…“Houieser” we call it “Houieser” so almost we stayed there if there is no fire we were almost ready in the battle fourth “Kagnew” we were ready, we were doing exercises strong exercises, we were adopting ourselves with ice exercise ice, then rainy


…season. It was very difficult air in Korea. The hot is hot too hot to strong hot we cannot coat or shirts only with inner shirts there was strong hot when the hot go to out there will come rain the rain is too strong too. All the bridges will be


…fill up and it was hard time for us to adopt ourselves with the air. Ice time there was ice period, with ice period you cannot even touch your ear with your hands we have we use gloves hand gloves and we wear special shoe which was ready for ice time, ice period.


Interviewer:                            So tell me what was your unit and what was your rank and what was your specialty?

Seifu Tessema:                       Our regiment were in the regiment of the Americans seventh division.

Interviewer:                            Yes.

Seifu Tessema:                       Seventh decision our code name was Orange we were in Korea our code name was Orange. And in the battle was company the first company is be called “Nadew” the second was


…“Menter” the third was “Agged” the fourth was “Nadew” we were using code names not exactly you know in the battle the battalion is called Orange.

Interviewer:                            Orange battalion?

Seifu Tessema:                       Yeah Orange battalion.

Interviewer:                            Yes.

Seifu Tessema:                       So this was.

Interviewer:                            Very nice you speak in English and you give me a lot of information about your unit so I really appreciate it.


…And what was your job what was your specialty? Was you riffle man was you radio what was your job?

Translator:                              ስራዎት እዛ በነበሩ ጊዜ ሬዲዮ ኦፕሬተር ነበሩ ተኳሽ ነበሩ? (Were you a radio operator when you were there? Were you a shooter?)

Seifu Tessema:                       አይደለም። (No it’s not.) No. no infantry. I was infantry.

Interviewer:                            Infantry?

Seifu Tessema:                       Yeah


…infantry, military police, company commander, platoon leader I was a platoon leader, company commander, I was training officer.

Interviewer:                            You were the officer?

Seifu Tessema:                       Yeah. I just served ten years in the imperial bodyguard.

Interviewer:                            I see.

Seifu Tessema:                       So during this long services I used to be military infantry, we call it infantry.

Interviewer:                            Yes.

Seifu Tessema:                       Not artillery, not engineering or something like that but I was used in the infantry.

Interviewer:                            Okay, so there was after the war and what did you do there? What was the main mission?


…What was the issues there at the time when you were in Korea?

Seifu Tessema:                       When I was in Korea?

Interviewer:                            Yeah.

Seifu Tessema:                       We were using training, training.

Interviewer:                            Just training?

Seifu Tessema:                       Military training.

Interviewer:                            Yes.

Seifu Tessema:                       How to use adopting ourselves with the different climates. Off cores we played volleyball we were exercising ourselves when we are back, back from the front line. We were in the…what do you call


…it in the, not in the front line we just come back, back.

Interviewer:                            What did you do in the front line? Were there…

Seifu Tessema:                       In front line it was very strong for us. The first hand we are going out to posting, you know there are demilitarize zone.

Interviewer:                            Yes.

Seifu Tessema:                       2kilometers theirs, 2kilometers ours. So we are always ready to control every detail, every movement


…of our 2kilometers. We are using as a posting in front line you know the Americans use dogs scouting so those dogs will pass thorough us we call it “Bezabeh Ber” “Bezabeh Gate”,  “Bezabeh Gate” this is posting where we are doing posting. You know we are not going


…2kilometers over there and they are not coming we were watching each other in the free area we were watching each other. The Americans use their dog company they go out they stay there up to four o’clock in the evening five o’clock in the evening they always daily they are scouting, daily scouting.


Interviewer:                            Where there any dangerous moment when you were in the frontline?

Seifu Tessema:                       Nothing, nothing it was peace but we are always ready. We are ready for battle. Our clothes ready for battle, we were going to scout, we were scouting special area. When you go back,


…when you come back we call it you know we were watching a no civilian Koreans or especially women’s not to come to our area. We were watching them exactly when they came we will keep them stay then we will sent them to headquarters. We were clearing.

Interviewer:                            Were there any


…Korean children working for you or Korean people working for you?

Seifu Tessema:                       Yeah. Our chief cook was “Deboch” we call him “Deboch” because he was too fat and he eats too much yeah. And he was chief cook. He was preparing good food.

Interviewer:                            Korean food?

Seifu Tessema:                       No,


…you know our supply was directly America isn’t it? So all foods are European food. Exactly that time we don’t know whether it is a Korean food or not, but its European food.

Interviewer:                            Okay, any Korean boy working in the tent or in the banker?

Seifu Tessema:                       When I was in front one, two Koreans one


..American two Americans and myself were staying in posting when we stay in posting there are two Koreans, two Americans and myself we were five officers.

Interviewer:                            Did you pay them Koreans people?

Seifu Tessema:                       Nothing. That time no payment we know nothing about payment. Exactly when we are ready


…to in the ship they give is pocket money.

Interviewer:                            Yeah but Ethiopian government payed your salary right?

Seifu Tessema:                       When we are here before leaving Korea we will what do you call it this much for our families, this much for me, we could just. 260$ will be paid Ethiopian dollars.


…When we are in front we have orders by my own wish. I was in that time one Ethiopian dollar was 2 American dollar 2.50 not 2.50 2 zero five. They don’t pay us in front nothing.


…But as I told you before we are leaving here we wish our salary to be given to our families such amount, for me up to Korea such amount, to my if I have children’s I don’t have that time if we have just share it we divide, we divide our salary.


…So I was 50$ up to Korea mine was 50$. That time 50$ was almost Ethiopian American 20$. Ethiopian 50$ was almost American 20$.

Interviewer:                            Were you married at the time?

Seifu Tessema:                       Yes?

Interviewer:                            You were married?

Seifu Tessema:                       Never. As that time no.

Interviewer:                            No you were single?

Seifu Tessema:                       I don’t have, no I was single.

Interviewer:                            Yeah.

Seifu Tessema:                       Yeah. Most of us was single.

Interviewer:                            Okay. And let me ask


…this question. When you arrived in Korea how was Korea? How was it? How was economy? How was people?

Seifu Tessema:                       After the war I have visited Korea before two years. Before two years I was visiting Korea that I cannot tell you I saw Korea before the war and during the war and I saw Korea in now in peace it is up and down.


…What I mean is now it is well civilized, well advanced, it is almost amongst known countries. I cannot compare the battlefield times and the visited I made before two months it is quite different.

Interviewer:                            How? How different? Tell me?

Seifu Tessema:                       By everything, by everything they


…quite different by building, by civilization, by economy everything is quite different.

Interviewer:                            Did you know that the Korean economy is now 11th?

Seifu Tessema:                       Exactly, I think it was up to ten eleven, yeah seven, ten what I have heard it. Seven best yeah amongst


…seven best or ten best.

Interviewer:                            Can you believe that?

Seifu Tessema:                       Yes?

Interviewer:                            Can you believe that all those change?

Seifu Tessema:                       Seeing is believing as I saw it that time last two years even I can I judge better that this, better than eleven, you said me eleven?

Interviewer:                            Yeah Eleven.

Seifu Tessema:                       Eleven? Even in my judgment


…seven to ten yeah five to ten among in the middle of five to ten.

Interviewer:                            So you left Korean in 1955 right?

Seifu Tessema:                       Yeah.

Interviewer:                            And when you left Korea did you ever imagined that Korea would become like this today?

Seifu Tessema:                       You see it was dark time when we were in Korea it was dark time there was


…hunger, thirst, no uniforms especially woman’s was very eager to get money. So it is my dream Korea that Korea is this Korea. You know what I said? That Korea that I saw it in…

Interviewer:                            1950s?

Seifu Tessema:                       In 1950 and the


…Korea what I saw now is quite different, quite different, quite, quite, quite different.

Interviewer:                            Do you like that?

Seifu Tessema:                       And I don’t believe…

Interviewer:                            Do you like that it’s been change so fast?

Seifu Tessema:                       Yes off cores it is a big change. A big change.

Interviewer:                            But the Korean War known as forgotten war and in Ethiopia in the school they don’t teach about the Korean War why is that? Why they


…don’t teach about Korean War that you fought for?

Seifu Tessema:                       You know what they gave us is or our motto, our aim was to kill to get killed or to kill to get killed you know our mission this is our mission so that is why we don’t have any prison of war prison. Our principle in the front line kill


…or get killed. That is unless I join the war until I killed I try to kill, I will try to kill. No possible to go back, no possible to be prisoner especially this is our mission. So kill or get killed.

Interviewer:                            And what was most difficult thing to you in your service in Korea?


Seifu Tessema:                       You know as I told you we were not in the battel field we were back. We will go R&R we call it rest & recreation, rest & recreation we come to Korea that time everything was dark no movement, no business it was hunger you read people hungry or hunger it was


…hard time after the war Korea we were visiting only Seoul.

Interviewer:                            How was Seoul at the time?

Translator:                              ሶኡል እንዴት ነበረች በዛ ጊዜ? (How was Seoul at that time?)

Seifu Tessema:                       That is what I am telling you. Seoul was very dark, no movement work, no movements, the people was in hunger. I cannot explain it roughly. It was very hard time. For them and for us too


…because we cannot rest as we wish everything was no shop, we don’t have any shopping in Korea that time. No attractive material to buy or what did you call it?

Interviewer:                            Yep. So when you return to Ethiopia what was the kind of impact of your service as Korean War Veterans in your life?


Seifu Tessema:                       Yeah. We got good experience the battle in Korea. When we return back to our country I was mostly infantry as I told you I am infantry. So we got good experiences we were with the civilized country in front we especially were with French soldiers.


…When we were in shipping we were with Greek soldiers, Turkey so we have got very good experiences. Yeah.

Interviewer:                            Okay. And now what is the relationship between Korea and Ethiopia right now?

Seifu Tessema:                       Mother & father. I cannot explain it for you mother and father. Because Koreans they never forget what I have done for them. They never forget always


…they are thankful, thankful. We will like Koreans what did you call it? They are men who never forget where they are and they never forget friend all friends they never forget all friends. Though they will give us every help here.

Interviewer:                            Like what?

Seifu Tessema:                       Like for example not government but hospital


…is free, because of Korea you know this new building they gave us two buildings before. Have you seen it we have another building who build by Korans down there? Have you seen it?

Interviewer:                            No.

Seifu Tessema:                       You better see it.

Interviewer:                            Yeah.

Seifu Tessema:                       It is very nice building. They build two buildings, one for the office


…this is one, one for the income where we get income from the rent, rent house. That is we don’t have government budget but we are almost administrated by the Koreans by the rent. By from the rent income that is our income.

Interviewer:                            Got it.

Seifu Tessema:                       We don’t have any income no budget from the government.


Interviewer:                            So you helped us during the war now Korea become very established.

Seifu Tessema:                       Yes.

Interviewer:                            And so that now is Korea to pay back to you right?

Seifu Tessema:                       Yes.

Interviewer:                            Yes. Okay so next year will be 70th anniversary of the break out of the Korean War, did you have any special message to the Korean people?

Seifu Tessema:                       Off cores. Korean people is they are good.


…They are very, very honest for us, they are honest for us they want to help who helped them specially who helped them. I can’t say everything is Korean people. They are thankful, their behavior, their character is special. What did you call it what I


…remember is especially is ሰላምታ (Greeting.) you know very kind, they are kind to every people, they are honest for every people this is I notice from Korea.

Interviewer:                            So thank you for your service.

Seifu Tessema:                       Thank you.

Interviewer:                            Before you fought for us we have opportunity to rebuild our nation and I think we can grow together okay?

Seifu Tessema:                       Thank you.

Interviewer:                            Thank you sir.

Seifu Tessema:                       Thank you.

Interviewer:                            Yep.

Seifu Tessema:                       Thank you.



[End of Recorded Material]