Yilma Belachew served with the famed Kagnew Battalion from Ethiopia during the Korean War. He was Platoon leader of a very successful ambush patrol that saw no casualties. He went to Korea in 1952 and served for a year with the Second Kagnew Battalion. Yilma Belachew continued his service in the Ethiopian military after the war. Subsequently, he attained the rank of Captain. Yilma Belachew recently filmed a Korean War documentary to help keep the Korean War Legacy alive and also has a Korean War museum in his home. Further, he is very proud of his service and what South Korea has accomplished since the war.
Ethiopian Kagnew Soldiers
Yilma Belachew describes the Ethiopian soldiers' experience. He identifies that no Ethiopian soldier became a POW and that the soldier must sacrifice their life. Therefore, men who were injured would continue to fight even when seriously injured. Yilma Belachew also describes training by Swedish elite soldiers. Soldiers must prepare their minds for combat in addition to the physical battle.
Yilma Belachew describes the condition of Korea upon arrival at Busan. He describes the destruction he observed. For example, there were deceased people lying in fields and destroyed buildings. However, the people of Korea were still working in the fields during the Civil War. Yilma Belachew also describes having to retrain on newer American weapons in Korea.
Yilma Belachew describes his command of the Ambush Patrol. He describes how he would encounter Chinese on the front with just fourteen other soldiers. His platoon did not lose a single man. The patrols were very dangerous and difficult. Ambush Patrols were carried out in the dark with no lights and then waiting for the enemy with a small number of soldiers.
00:00:00 [Beginning of Recorded Material]
Interviewer: Today is November 11th 2019. The beautiful capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. My name is Jongwoo Han. I am the president of Korea War Legacy Foundation. We have about 15 Korean War Veterans interview from 19 countries including Ethiopia. We are doing this to preserve your memory as a Korean War Veterans but at the same time we want to honor your service and we want to make this interview
…into teaching materials so that history teachers in Ethiopia schools can talk more about the war that you fought for and the good outcome came out of your service which is Republic of Korea. We are specially commissioned by the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs of Republic of Korea to make special website for the 70th anniversary of the Korean War in 2020. It’s my great honor
…and pleasure to meet you sir please introduce yourself what is your name and say it to me please? What is your name?
Yilma Belachew: My name is Captain Yilma Belachew.
Interviewer: Could you spell it?
Yilma Belachew: Yes. Captain Yilma, Y I L M A. Belachew my second name is B E L A C H E W.
INTERVIWER: Thank you so much.
How old are you?
Yilma Belachew: I am 88 years old now.
Interviewer: Wow, I don’t see any wrinkle in your face where is it?
Yilma Belachew: It’s a magic.
Interviewer: Tell me share the secret please?
Yilma Belachew: I will keep it for some times before I give to tell my secret.
Interviewer: So, what is your birthday?
Yilma Belachew: Birthday?
Yilma Belachew: It is in September
…24 and October 5 in Europeans.
Interviewer: October 5?
Yilma Belachew: Yeah.
Interviewer: What year?
Yilma Belachew: September October 5
Yilma Belachew: 1932 I think.
Interviewer: Gregorian colander?
Yilma Belachew: Yeah.
Interviewer: Not Ethiopian?
Yilma Belachew: Ethiopian is in 1924.
Interviewer: 1924 Okay so where were you born?
Yilma Belachew: I was born in Ethiopia, in Addis Ababa here.
Interviewer: Oh Okay. And tell me about your family background when you were growing up about your parents and your brothers and sisters?
Yilma Belachew: You see I am not lucky I have been my family my father and my mother was early when I was early young.
…So I went to his Majesty he made he gave me a border school I was learning there in the border school and from there I have been graduated in. when I finished my elementary school I went to the commercial college and after that I interrupted that one I went to military academy.
Interviewer: What did you study
…in the college?
Yilma Belachew: Military science.
Interviewer: Military science?
Yilma Belachew: Military science. As normal military academy three years course we went there we were the second course I and colonel together. When I finished that one went to Korea immediately we didn’t work for our country we went to Korea.
Interviewer: So you were trained to go to Korea
…not for the Ethiopia?
Yilma Belachew: We were not trained by that one we were our country has been liberated five years we were governed by Italian invasion you see? After that when his majesty came on if you want to live with good harmony and with good prosperity you should have strength your military power his said. And then he was organized in this academy
…and we were graduate it was the hope of getting stronger the academies military to keep Ethiopia in peace. Because that time Europeans they were coming to Africa colonizing and so on you see to prevent that one you need strong military force.
Interviewer: I see.
Yilma Belachew: That’s why.
Interviewer: Emperor why emperor made decision to send Ethiopian soldiers?
Yilma Belachew: Because he knows how any nation I mean were having this kind of problem and as we were the members of the united nation world communications so he believed that one accepted immediately
…because he got the experience of invasion and no one has heard us about our complain and give us support so his majesty was the first man to give a good reply for the UN assembly.
Interviewer: That’s very nice because many country came to Korea but they have their own calculation. Ethiopians really
…kind of very different they didn’t really think about any calculation but they came to Korea to save Korean people from communist attack right?
Yilma Belachew: Yes. We went to Korea you see most of the people were young and we don’t know what was going on there we don’t know north we don’t know south. But we went there to accomplish the UN
…I mean establishment UN charter and so when we were in Korea I will give you one example why one American commander in chief when they received as for there they heard that these are very young people and very tiny ones how do you brought them to this
…far I mean war? And then the commander in chief immediately answer that one “we will reply it in a very short time” he said. So after three months that man came to visit the first action what Ethiopian has taken and he said “I made a mistake you must not compare
…people with their own body and so on” you see “you should have their inside feelings and strength so the Ethiopians are good soldiers so that he said.
Interviewer: Yes. So tell me about what are you proud of the Ethiopian soldiers during Korean War? What are the things that make Ethiopian soldiers special? Compare to other country?
Yilma Belachew: You know as a member of the Ethiopian troops I am not going to say that we are the only people who make this courage but there are over 20 nations who have participated in that war and so there are so many who fought a good fighting in Korea but Ethiopians by chance we got everything
…successfully it was its not a magic we are human beings you see. But after that there were psychological thing they afraid of us by our name only you see it’s I mean psychological effect so we fought them but at that time they couldn’t get even one man as a prisoner to prove that Ethiopians to learns more
Interviewer: That’s amazing.
Yilma Belachew: Yeah.
Interviewer: How can be possible explain it please?
Yilma Belachew: There were you see we were you see Ethiopian people when you fight, fight when you don’t fight, up to that up to the end you have to sacrifice. Never give hand to the enemy because this has been believed it is in their mind of everybody you see I know that there are
…some people who were wounded in very bad condition and they were having they tied themselves and they were even protecting the body the dead body not to go to the enemy’s hand you see. Even for this I remember that we have picked some people under the tanks the wounded
…and the dead bodies to bring back to our friends. So up to this sacrifice we sacrifice a lot.
Interviewer: When I read about Ethiopian participation in the Korean War I found out that there was no prison of war and I could not believe it I thought that they are lying about it. Because supposed to be there is a prison right? And prison of war? So that’s amazing story
…but another question did you learn or did you know anything about Korea before you went to Korea?
Yilma Belachew: My answer is no. The only thing when this kind of preparation came as I told you we were freshly graduated from our academy. We have good trained soldiers we were trained by
…Swedish elite good officers. Even they trained us a good you have to fight like this they give us every example what they have passed during their time. So they said you are not going to the wedding place in a wedding place you see for Harmonia and so on, you are going to Korea in Korea may be
…you will face some problems some armies or artillery will hit you, you will see your hand goes like this on the air, your legs like this up in the air. So you have to prepare, you have to be a good soldier, you have to must have good guts to fight the enemy so be strong and tell you that some of our instructors when they finish
…they believe us as their child and they were accompanied us up to our small training period there and to see the handover of these people the Americans and so on they have assured they believed that we can work a good Swedish officers they went with us and they returned
…from the back.
Interviewer: So I was in Sweden last month and I had an interview there the nurse and the doctors but they mentioned about this Swedish officers who trained Ethiopians soldiers,
Yilma Belachew: Yes.
Interviewer: So did you know about his name is he, he is not here right do you know about his name?
Yilma Belachew: You know I told you that I prepared this documentary film?
Yilma Belachew: When I prepared that documentary film I was having a good intention that to speak about the Sweden.
Yilma Belachew: I went to the embassy they don’t have the documentary you see. So I just know the name the courses they have some of the people who trained us from general to the point in every
…course I as I told you in my documentary I have their names.
Yilma Belachew: I have put that one and otherwise they don’t have documents about this people we could have had photographs and so on but they don’t have it you see. I will tell you one thing about one of the main academy leader he was a colonel
…he was sick in Sweden as I heard when he was sick treated in the hospital and so on he came to his house again and he said please put this flag here and this flag here both Swedish and Ethiopian flag he loved Ethiopia. And he said never take it off from this until I die and when I die I want
…that my body to be you know there are some believes that by air you spread their sinks out like that in Ethiopia. I don’t know how he was dead by this time but I told you they didn’t give us full information as one to one but I have asked even now I didn’t stop like that one I want to have their backgrounds very well but I know they are good officers
…because my family now my daughter has married Swedish. And she has Swedish family there also I even have idea to have I mean historical project by my family in Sweden even just one branch in future if I can be successful you see.
Yilma Belachew: Because in Sweden I have my grandchildren
…I have two grandchildren one daughter and one son so they learn a lot more about that because the Swedish went to war I know with the Korean War but Swedish went with this medical things. Even I spoke this with my son-in-law and he is following some information now I don’t know how we can be successful.
…if you can give me the information after the interview okay I will try to follow up ok because I was in Sweden. So you didn’t know much about Korea no?
Yilma Belachew: No we don’t know, we don’t know anything about much of Korea it is I mean how many miles nine thousand miles I think from Ethiopia.
Yilma Belachew: And the, it is rough road
we go long journey with unexpected condition of climatically conditions with the trip by itself by ship was very hard for us and it was very, very difficult for us it was a new vision for us you see never have been in African even that one we are the only people from Africa remember
…you should this
Yilma Belachew: Now there are some peoples are making mistake here that the Africans have been in Korea South Africa
Yilma Belachew: You know the meaning of South Africa it is not the present South Africa.
Yilma Belachew: they say they have another name all people from South Africa, African British colonies
…has been gathered and they contributed one squadron they are white people even participated there you see.
Yilma Belachew: Otherwise no black Africans been there during war.
Interviewer: That’s excellent point that real Africans were from Ethiopia only.
Yilma Belachew: Yes.
Interviewer: Yeah, so you were in the first dispatchment
…of the Ethiopian soldier to Korea right?
Yilma Belachew: Yes.
Interviewer: So you must have arrived on May 6 of 1951? When did you arrive in Korea where?
Yilma Belachew: You know when I went to Korea I was 19 years after graduates. I never had a house I never living by family I was living in military quarters.
Yilma Belachew: After that we went to Korea and so on. But
…I made family after I was released from prison you see. And from that prison I didn’t join the army from that one I stopped and I was working as the civilian.
Interviewer: But, when did you arrive in Korea?
Yilma Belachew: In 1952.
Interviewer: You were not in the first? You were not in the first dispatch?
Yilma Belachew: No.
…Six month after the first group.
Interviewer: I see.
Yilma Belachew: We went there because I was platoon leader of 75 millimeter caliber you see.
Interviewer: I see.
Yilma Belachew: So and me and other people mortar and so on went in advance.
Interviewer: So you arrived in Korea in 1952?
Yilma Belachew: 1952 Yeah.
Interviewer: What month?
Yilma Belachew: it’s I think I can’t recall it but it is in the book when you come to my house I will show you that one.
Interviewer: Yes. And when you first arrived in Busan right?
Yilma Belachew: Yes.
Interviewer: How was Busan please be honest describe in detail about the Korea you saw for the first time?
Yilma Belachew: In Korea when we arrived there
…after 22 days travel by ship in Bussan they received us. Your president at that time was Syngman Rhee.
Yilma Belachew: we had one expeditionary force commander ours who was in advance there he was living in Japan and was coordinating the front line and the staffs
…and other embassies and so on have been gathered there and received us in that time it was a good time and we had a training period but we that training period we met in short time. I will still give you reference about that.
Interviewer: Thank you for inviting me to your small museum here. I had a lunch with the Korean ambassador Lim
…today and he mentioned about your documentary and mention about the kind of book that you wrote.
Yilma Belachew: Yes.
Interviewer: And he said that he wants to translate into Korean yeah so my foundation is interested in doing that for you and for Korean embassy here okay so I want to talk about that too.
Yilma Belachew: Okay.
Interviewer: My question is
…when you first landed in Korea that was 1951 right?
Yilma Belachew: 52 I arrive 52 as a second group of first group of first battalion. I was second battalion the first group went in 1951, I went in 1952
…after six months.
Interviewer: Got it. I think you told me that you don’t much about Korea before you left for Korea right?
Yilma Belachew: Exactly.
Interviewer: So, explain the Korea you saw for the first time in 1952 how was it?
Detail description please because young students will listen your interview. They don’t have any idea.
Yilma Belachew: You know
…when you I went to Korea it was even another, another life for me the weather was different and everybody was different for me the language and so on. When I saw Korea it was destroyed everywhere is you go you see demolished even bodies you can see in the field which was not yet buried
on the way and it was a very bad condition when I saw that Korea that day and we pass that one and street went to the training position and we had strong…
Interviewer: You mean in Busan right?
Yilma Belachew: In Busan Yeah. That training was very hard but very interesting for us.
Yilma Belachew: Because we are going to go in the front line
…to have new American weapons to use that we were that won otherwise the tactics and other things is you know in our heart we don’t need anybody but about weapons we trained there in Korea.
Interviewer: You didn’t bring your own weapons from Ethiopia when you left for Korea?
Yilma Belachew: No.
Yilma Belachew: No. After first “Kagnew” the Americans they sent
…some weapons so they will be trained there in Ethiopia that one.
Interviewer: So how was it dealing with the new weapons from the United States?
Yilma Belachew: Really they have very good and very outstanding weapons.
Interviewer: But still that was coming from world war two?
Yilma Belachew: No even they have ones you see. For instance I was platoon commander
…of 75 millimeter recoilless rifle and that machine was not in Ethiopia but I was trained there it was establish for establishing I mean destroying tanks and the fortresses the enemy area and it didn’t took very many time we soon has been trained with that one.
Interviewer: I see.
…But I am interested hearing more about the Korean people Korean economy how bad was it give a very full description? How did it look to you what did you think about Korea at the time when you arrived in Busan?
Yilma Belachew: When we arrived in Busan received anybody except we saw by our eyes the Koreans the Korean ambassador and other representative but we didn’t have the chance
…to talk or to meet Koreans in that time we simply met our training personnel’s Americans and so on and went to straight to the Barak.
Interviewer: Where? In Busan?
Yilma Belachew: In Busan.
Interviewer: Okay but what about even later when you first see first saw the Korean kind of city and the people how was it the situation?
Yilma Belachew: When we were there on the way when we travel we see the Koreans though they have war but they were working hard.
Yilma Belachew: they were working hard the farmers they do their farming and even I don’t know this their rice farming is very new for us and very strong thing to work and that very
…hard for the Koreans but still they hear the shooting they hear the war but still they wore working on their jobs.
Interviewer: What about how have you been to Seoul city?
Yilma Belachew: To south?
Interviewer: Seoul. Seoul?
Yilma Belachew: Seoul city it was not after that after most probably we went there after six month there we saw Seoul place
…it’s a lovely city but it is still was dis organized and because of the war because that war has done so many damage for the Koreans and still they were working and that I have got a great impression between the news I heard and what I saw the Koreans I understood they were hard workers
…they work hard night and day and they know that the enemies they have a very big damages to themselves they learned a lot from Japan and so on already. But on that day when we went to the front while we are comparing to the others things when we was comparing with the other countries though
…we didn’t hear anymore but we got some impression that Koreans were hard workers. I mostly speak during my interview for so many people when they asked me about the Koreans I told them that Koreans are hard workers hard fighters and good people because of this with so many very few months they came
…from Busan to the North and they have showed a lot of things by overcoming those stresses on. So Koreans when you speak about a man who drinks to much you say alcoholism but Koreans they got good names.
Interviewer: What is it?
Yilma Belachew: Work holism. They call them work holism. This always has impressed me though.
…And I always speak this for the people for the Ethiopians and so on anybody comes I speak that the Koreans are work holism you see.
Interviewer: Compared to whom? I mean you have to have a basis to compare otherwise you don’t know whether Koreans are really working hard or not right?
Yilma Belachew: How?
Interviewer: Yeah how?
Yilma Belachew: How? We were moving in the some places and so on. We saw Koreans even they work with light from the cars
…night and day you see? That’s why stayed for some for one year and son on for six month and so on every week you see new things new development improvements you see.
Interviewer: Even at the time? Even at that time?
Yilma Belachew: Yeah.
Yilma Belachew: The Koreans you see you can’t simply that from themselves you see. Not
…old man, not young man, not women like that one by becoming together they work and at last they show us they are one of the biggest nation in the world. With 30 years, so Koreans are very good example for the world to teach the people of the world how to work hard.
Interviewer: So from Busan
…where did you go?
Yilma Belachew: We went to the front line.
Interviewer: Where did you remember the name of the area? Kumhuwa? Cheaon Chon, Huwacheon?
Yilma Belachew: Cheon Chon.
Interviewer: Cheon Chon?
Yilma Belachew: Cheon Chon area. In Cheon Chon area there are you see from Cheon Chon we went like this from east to I mean from west to east moving from one place to another
…place every time changing the other people so that frontline has. We have been there and those people has respected us very much.
Interviewer: What was your unit? Third battalion?
Yilma Belachew: Battalion? My unit? I was a platoon leader.
Interviewer: Platoon leader.
Yilma Belachew: I was second lieutenant after graduation simply went a platoon leader under I have two officers and other noncommissioned officers and soldiers
…which contains that platoon about forty people.
Interviewer: Forty people?
Yilma Belachew: Yeah.
Interviewer: And from Cheon Chon where did you go? Did you go to the front line, battle line or?
Yilma Belachew: We always move from place to place you see it’s according to that program they scheduled. We always go from one place to another
…maybe we change American soldiers.
Interviewer: I see. So you were always on move right?
Yilma Belachew: Yes.
Interviewer: Sometimes replacing US soldiers.
Yilma Belachew: Yes. And during our movements we always get hard place you see. When I say I hard place you can compare it with the stability of the place or stability
…of the front line where the enemy may be in the front there will be very strong enemy sometimes they use the Chinese they use different forces at that time Mongolian and so on and so like that one you see. They especially they move us to strong point two places always so in that places we have honored
…our area. Our area never been proved to be destroyed by enemy. And what was the movement at that time was the only patrol action. Patrol action means from three people ten people to
…one platoon and so on but that all gave us good time right hand for the Ethiopians we always caught the right place and we defeated enemy that cut.
Interviewer: But patrol is very dangerous because you have to be in the very front line and you may encounter enemies
…very often wasn’t it?
Yilma Belachew: Yeah. But all this has its own meaning you see. It is has its own tactics. For instance when I went to the patrol action I was having fourteen people to go as ambush patrol the enemy area…
Yilma Belachew: when I
…went there as an ambush patrol that place was very far from the frontline and it was very dangerous for me with fourteen men…
Interviewer: Exactly. That’s what I am saying. Dangerous.
Yilma Belachew: With fourteen men you can’t bring ambush patrol it is very, very difficult. It’s make I mean and son on.
…So by chance I didn’t arrive to that place in the middle of my way I heard the enemy coming and they were even powerful than me…
Yilma Belachew: more than one platoon I have fourteen men so that gave me chance to have a great victory on the enemy I stopped I told my unit backward
…I am not moving from this pace because I saw enemy coming the place was suitable for me good place I wait here and accomplish my accomplishment by fighting the enemy. So when the enemy came we made a surprise they heard us. It was very,
…very, very difficult to see each other you see. It was in June very bad time you can’t see one another. We were having even for our fight on out back illumination light with which we put in our watch you see to even to see a little bit who is in front of you. So I organized my people in tactically as
…a very large man three people, there three people there, three people there and waits for the enemy and we made a surprising fire attack and the enemy was endangered that’s what I got the chance. Otherwise it was difficult to go to the enemy’s area with small number of soldiers and brings the ambush patrol.
Interviewer: You talk about the patrolling operation right?
Yilma Belachew: Yes
Interviewer: And stunned by your own platen right? Your own platoon only no other platen joined your operation right?
Yilma Belachew: Yes.
Interviewer: So it’s completely independent operation?
Yilma Belachew: Not independent operation.
Interviewer: Why not?
Yilma Belachew: That bring that operation comes from the high ranking from division regiment and so on. So that one has to be accomplished
…as the direction they gave you, you see? But in the mean time when you go to the war you can’t find those people with you…
Interviewer: All the time?
Yilma Belachew: All the time and you can’t have them with this communication system also. So at that time you have to say you have to take your own decision.
Interviewer: Exactly. That’s what I am saying independent operation.
Yilma Belachew: Independent operation I took my independent operation.
Interviewer: That’s a lot of pressure actually right?
Yilma Belachew: Yeah. And that independent operation give you reference of book which you read in the future and also maybe if it is possible you take from the camera from the book and you read it from that.
Interviewer: Yes, Yes. How many were killed under your leadership your platen? Where there any soldier Ethiopia soldier killed
…in action under your leadership?
Yilma Belachew: No.
Interviewer: How come?
Yilma Belachew: I don’t know. That one even I mean only God know about that one. When the enemy comes we are having a line here with me I have four people with two to the right two to the left and the one who got the machine they said lieutenant, lieutenant the enemy is coming
…he told me then I immediately told shoot up as they shot it and it was a surprise shooting for the enemy was causalities were and they retired backward. The enemy one chance one Sargent has fallen in front of us we can’t see but it was very near with three meter
…like that one after that we found and that I put it on a stretcher and sent it to the back you see back to the headquarter and to wait me on the road and will go together. So that thing was done by grace…
Yilma Belachew: and the enemy thought we were so many people here and they couldn’t
do it and when I went from the start I went to the head quarter to arrange my plan and I had one artillery and air liaison officer from Korea in our battalion his Mexican I remember him we just told him
…Yilma told me you can’t tell me where you are and where you weren’t by what you call it? By map because I can’t read and it was very dark so we prepared code red, green, yellow and so on I told him when I say yellow you fire me here when I say black
…you fire yeah with that connection I ordered that artillery officer backward and so they helped us without any things with small in circled enemy circle where we penetrated afterwards and came to the front line.
Interviewer: What about logistics supplies like food and ammunitions and things like that when you are…
…constantly on move who provide it how did you get those?
Yilma Belachew: That’s a very good question. It’s the Americans they should be admired on this one. They are well organized with food everything you get, cake, egg I mean you can eat meat you can eat every kind of food even beer you can get when you are
Interviewer: Even when you’re moving?
Yilma Belachew: From the front line when you are behind you can get beer you see. Only in the front line they don’t give beer. But that all this has been even on their holidays they will bring you as the Turkish food on Thanksgiving Day and so the Americans every organization supply was excellent to the Americans. I mean
…when I go to town if my uniform is dirty I have to go to one shower take shower through what I have dressed there I take another one and change there. When I go somewhere and it is a lunch time I have to go and line out any place where you see another troop anybody with the UN troops or American
…troops gets the food from there. That one of the excellent thing.
Interviewer: So what was your favorite menu from the seriation American food? Remember?
Yilma Belachew: Yeah there are so many I mean you have everything there you see it is thin food, in everything you have chicken, you have meat you have everything but I can’t call you this one,
…this one but it was very excellent for us.
Interviewer: Who actually deliver the food to you and ammunition wasn’t it Korean?
Yilma Belachew: No, no Americans.
Interviewer: Americans deliver?
Yilma Belachew: Americans deliver all this. American delivers all this things to our S4 supply officer.
Yilma Belachew: And the supply officer distributed to the companies.
Interviewer: Tell me one episode
…where that you could have been killed? Describe the detail about the situation where you could might have been killed very dangerous moment?
Yilma Belachew: My dangerous moment was this work which I met because I as fourteen men leading fourteen men go to the front line and be in front of my soldiers that was my last day but I was saved
…from that one not only me all my soldiers were saved not even wounded we came back that one and we are lucky of that one. I tell you that one truth one story when we are back to the head quarter after that war when I arrived there you know what I called from the front line I mean headquarter they said
…Yilma you have done a good job you have to go again to that place we will re force you one platoon with one officer with you, you might find some people who are wounded there or another information and bring us they told me this I saluted yes sir
…I took that report and those fourteen men I told them rest and in their places and I went again another 3,500 meters one way when I come it was seven thousand when I go back 3,500 when I comes about 14 hundred.
Interviewer: Why is that?
Yilma Belachew: Because they said that they will get a good result my going and it was a war and I have no choice I said yes sir and went because this is the order military order. But instead of going seven kilometer fourteen kilometer walk I have done that time.
Interviewer: I see.
Yilma Belachew: You see?
…And still I was very bad. The next day they called me for briefing in the regimental office I briefed them everything like that one about the situation and told them as you have interviewed I told them I have done the job they said thank you and one of the senior Ethiopian Democratic I mean force colonel
…who was supposed to go to Addis with some days he said you have ordered this man two times in one night two nights two times is the patrol so from that day this officers young officer should be in the operation officer and assisted operation officer and bring him from the front line that order has been given for him from that day on
…I went back and became an assistant operation officer.
Interviewer: I see. So you were part of this whole Ethiopian operation and its “Kagnew” right?
Yilma Belachew: Yes.
Interviewer: So tell me what is “Kagnew”?
Yilma Belachew: “Kagnew” they give different name different people they go to the dictionary and say that. “Kagnew” means when you see it go and look
…when you say it go and observe all this meaning is to get that like that one but his Majesty’s meaning was another one “Kagnew” the horse name of Haile Selassie’s father who got a good defeat or I mean victory with the Italians with his horse.
Interviewer: Got it.
Yilma Belachew: His horse was “Kagnew”,
…Aba “Kagnew” they call him this Aba “Kagnew” was that and they gave us his name and “Kagnew” was the horse name of Haile Selassie’s father.
Interviewer: Father? Not emperor’s but emperor’s father’s horse?
Yilma Belachew: Haile Selassie’s emperor father yes.
Interviewer: Yeah. So what should we know about “Kagnew”? “Kagnew” operation in Korean War
…what does that “Kagnew” you symbolize? What does the meaning? Can you explain us?
Yilma Belachew: Yes. Now it’s not only now you are intending to teach your people in generation the grandchildren…
Yilma Belachew: To know about the Korean War…
Yilma Belachew: We also wanted to teach Ethiopians about the “Kagnew”. “Kagnew” is not
…a name given any time in Ethiopian territory it was done outside of Ethiopia 9000 thousand miles a trip of 32 days with ship and we didn’t we fought without knowing any ice our eyes is different
…we call it Hell here its strong one was very cool it was under 16 when we was there. All this things was beyond our capacity so this “Kagnew” has done a good thing and not because of going to Korea but it was on the belief and understanding of United Nations charter
…world. That United Nation organization in Geneva couldn’t understand we were a small we got a small five years Italian occupation in Ethiopia…
Yilma Belachew: and the Italians has finished our people with poison by poisoning their eye like raining
…poison from air. So Haile Selassie has given this statement to that station after that one they stop the war and great tactical reiteration for evacuation for five years and we got this victory again. So to remember this victory “Kagnew” what has done
…in the world is that one. And not only this everybody including Koreans, Americans and other and its people heroes has witnessed about its accomplishments you see we want to teach this one even for our people and what we did is that one and that’s why I prepared my documentary the Korean
…and Ethiopian friendship in Korean War as they know it in the future and they prepare to do number one like this one and two even I prepared that one because his Majesty’s message recommendation for me to pass this message to the world and said that
…Ethiopians and Koreans blood shaded war friendship should be always noticed and this has been demonstrated and we have to have a big rally historical rally for this one…
Yilma Belachew: and never stop it here. What I meant by rally is you know this rally a game with a stick isn’t it? I ran and give you the stick
…you give to the next one…
Yilma Belachew: Yeah. So last won. So like that one I call it historical rally.
Interviewer: Good. You had a chance to talk with the Emperor Selassie right? Selassie?
Yilma Belachew: Off course.
Interviewer: Tell me about it? How did you meet him and what did he tell you about?
Yilma Belachew: Haile Selassie was even very he always tell you what your mistake is.
…He even sometimes speaks as like prophets you see and after that he was like that one.
Interviewer: When did you meet him actually?
Yilma Belachew: When I met him…
Interviewer: When you returned from Korea right? Did you meet him after you returned from Korea?
Yilma Belachew: Yes I met him always we meet then as I told you after my Korean return. I went to Korea by the way two times.
Yilma Belachew: Even the second “Kagnew” and fourth “Kagnew” after the ceasefire.
Yilma Belachew: Because some experienced officer to learn more and to teach more we went there and I was working as assistant operation during the fourth “Kagnew”.
Interviewer: I see.
Yilma Belachew: After that I came back became in Ethiopia
…to be editor of the first newspaper in Ethiopian army.
Interviewer: After you returned from Korea?
Yilma Belachew: Yeah when I returned from Korea. During second “Kagnew” I was working with the Americans in Korea this with the Americans office learning about how to work on public relations and so on. And even when I came
…to Ethiopia United States information service in Addis Ababa like that one I improved myself there and I was working for that newspaper for the last three years and I was promoted to captain and from the captain I went to Israel as a Para command officer. In Israel I loved
…a good organization I mean a book profession I always liked that my paratroop and commando experience and so after that as I told you yesterday during the coup d’état I was out of the army.
Interviewer: But you didn’t tell me why emperor wanted to meet you
…and talk? Why?
Yilma Belachew: You know whenever you go there
Interviewer: Go where?
Yilma Belachew: To meet we always go to meet with his Majesty and so on he ever calls you called to speak anything from for the officer who find him near there. But my occasion was different…
Interviewer: Tell me please?
Yilma Belachew: Haile Selassie said called our general officer
…General Mengestu his name was the imperial body guard general officer you can see the picture there when I giving him the thing. There was one general there. He gave that recommendation for him saying during the war with 24 hours we were even explained about our soldiers in Korea and I am very glad that you that one. And very soon
…you bring me some documents what they have done after the war, out of the war when they were with the other peoples where they meet and so on. So I prepare about 90 page documentation within few days not only that one with the what do you call it small explanation
…between the photos with a photographic I gave him that one. He said thank you but we know that this history is the greatest history and never put it back pass it to the next generation. So Ethiopia has done a good job for the world.
Interviewer: But did you have that report?
Yilma Belachew: No I don’t have I told you yesterday in that my report
…because I was living in a military barrack
Yilma Belachew: And soon as during the coup d’état everything has been demolished and our house and documents even taken my photograph all I had so many preparation on that time and it was destroyed and we went into prison after when I am out of the prison I started again this job by collecting myself so many documents
Interviewer: So what was the kind of most difficult thing during your stay in Korea was it like a weather or was it like what bother you most?
Yilma Belachew: The most difficult thing there is nothing now we are young we never feel anything you see. Everything for us is like a joke to run and run. Because we had strict
…training when I was in cadet school even in Korea war we didn’t feel it anywhere but the most important thing is we was very bad we know that our study became good so we tried everything on that and never met very bad things you see.
Interviewer: But then what about what was the saddest
…thing that you experienced during your stay in Korea? Saddest?
Yilma Belachew: The saddest thing was that one our brothers were three strong academic course training in Ethiopia with our anything they went to Korea as the two countries friendship we fought there
…they are 19 and 20 years we lost them I always feel about them you see. I am now 88 I was together with my brothers I thank God for everything I have seen that one and I am witnessing about that thing now but that thing I feel it in my heart because when you go to war you are not going as I told you
…to marriage a place where you dance you have to fight or die get kill or die. So that one always have been and I don’t thing I have so many things on the Korean War but I am very happy and I am very happy to see Korean now very great nation with in about 30 something
…years they become one of the 14th or 15th or 11th…
Interviewer: 11th largest economy
Yilma Belachew: Yes and become a country that is absolutely great and so on. And this friendship never will be I mean will try to make this great friendship get together in the future.
Interviewer: So that’s my biggest concern okay everybody die and sooner or later there will be no Korea War Veterans in the world?
Yilma Belachew: Yes.
Interviewer: Right? I am sorry to mention about it but i also die so it’s fair to everybody and what is after that how can we keep the legacy of what you did and Ethiopian soldiers did for Korea and now Korea backing back to you now?
…How can we keep this?
Yilma Belachew: You know this is always I feel it. It’s a great question. We die tomorrow or after tomorrow and say. When some Koreans come here you do good things for this people we might not see you next after five years I told them before 10, 15 years now. They say when they come Yilma
…you promised five years but you still you are here they told me some times this. But we have to give this for our children.
Interviewer: What are those?
Yilma Belachew: For other children you see and their children and grandchildren also and this was not accomplished for us was not we are not lucky to discuss this one because we had different kinds of
…government up to now some support you some they don’t support you.
Yilma Belachew: But i think now we are in good condition and as long as we live because we want to have Korean Veterans even to go in the Senate and discuss. You have it in your senate? This…
Yilma Belachew: Veterans
Yilma Belachew: in Korea to study it correctly and help this people together and our children they remember it forever otherwise it is good for them. We have about 140 people now…
Yilma Belachew: Everybody has died. Otherwise why, why should I give you this testimony and so on?
Yilma Belachew: even this should be helped for us
…by the Korean government to arrange this thing because we don’t have experience but I hope we are only few people others are sick. You can have my friend the President here he response it he is tired of it and I am tired of it and there are some people but we need somebody to help us to organize this things it is the matter of the Koreans.
Interviewer: Exactly. That’s why I think we need to do two things okay. The first thing is to have an organization of Korean War Veterans Descendant,
Yilma Belachew: Yes exactly.
Interviewer: Descendants you know? Why there is no organization for descendent now here in Ethiopia?
Yilma Belachew: How you can organize you can’t organize in Ethiopia by the past I mean up to now we don’t have a good
…government you see they have different ideas the others all such they communist idea before the other ones they have another one now. I think now maybe this the present one for instance now we have this like Korean War we had this people they would took their mission which we organized 70 years before they keep this government
…is keeping that one together with them we have to organize this one you see.
Yilma Belachew: For the children and grandchildren.
Interviewer: That’s what I wanted to do.
Yilma Belachew: Yes. We still they have to go to the school they have to be learned and so on. And our children has to be strong people.
Interviewer: But I think the more important thing is you all veterans they all of you need to support your own grandchildren
…and support them to form their own organization independent organization.
Yilma Belachew: Yes.
Interviewer: Do you support that?
Yilma Belachew: Independent organization you see we don’t have power how can we support that we don’t have money.
Interviewer: No, no, no I’m not just talking about money your passion and encouragement and just help in your heart.
Yilma Belachew: Encouragement we can done. We always will be fighting for instance I am
…always fighting for this one now.
Yilma Belachew: I have finished my responsibility as presenting the most important thing Korean War Ethiopia and its I mean historical rally that’s stays for generation now. With it itself nobody will take
…it or respect it unless we make this strong thing. From now on i am just fighting something so that grandchildren…
Yilma Belachew: The grandchildren are going to be with me the government will do better now the government people who have their they have their own public relation they promised me to come here and
…by next week and talk with me so they have done good thing. Will fight for that one will find good way for those people at the Korean Veterans you see.
Interviewer: Good. My foundation is willing to work with the grand children here okay? So let’s do that together. But I want to ask this question have you been back to Korea after you returned from Korea?
Yilma Belachew: I went about five six times.
Interviewer: Oh boy? Tell me, tell me what’s the change?
Yilma Belachew: The change is great.
Interviewer: Give me the detail.
Yilma Belachew: The change is great when we went to Korea after five years I went to Korea and then when I saw that big building and the neatness of Korea, how it is clean and so on. Because before we were sniffing.
Yilma Belachew: You know I had a friend he was the lieutenant says Papa, papa captain Yilma he said perfume like that but this time you have to go down and kiss the ground of Korea you see. They have done a good job and they have done great thing. It’s a great nation and we have a good respect about the Korea.
Interviewer: So when did you left when did you leave Korea
…from the second “Kagnew” I mean the fourth “Kagnew”? When was it 1956?
Yilma Belachew: 56 in fourth “Kagnew” Yeah.
Interviewer: And let me ask this question when you left Korea in 1956 the fourth “Kagnew” had you ever imagined that Korea would become like this today?
Yilma Belachew: Yes. I always had this one in my heart.
Interviewer: You are quite different
…from all are different. This veterans they said they never imagined that.
Yilma Belachew: I respected Korea very much because I understood how they were working hard with those farming like the rain all like this. So I had a great respect that Koreans are going to be big nation.
Interviewer: That’s a very different answer from
…all other veterans because they said to me that they never, never imagined that because Korea was such miserable place at the time when they left.
Yilma Belachew: When they left yes. When they left may be McArthur should say that one. Because McArthur when he was in Korea south to yellow river he brought the nation victory after that he went to Korea
…and he said may be they spoil the structure but he has done a good job quarreling with this Truman and so on. You see? It has done a good job. But even now I myself as i went to the fourth “Kagnew” battalion when I came back day to day information or improvement has made me
…believe that Korea will be a great nation.
Interviewer: But the problem is in Ethiopia history book textbook and history class they don’t talk about the Korea War why is that?
Yilma Belachew: They don’t know about the history nobody taught them the history.
Interviewer: Why not?
Yilma Belachew: Because nobody has taught that one and nobody has release about that one. I am the first one now who
…prepared this documentary film the first man and I am sure nobody will prepare this one again.
Interviewer: But sir in the history class in Ethiopia they teach about world war two and other war but not Korean War why?
Yilma Belachew: Because they don’t have the background you know I will tell you that one.
Interviewer: But whole Ethiopian soldier more than six thousand people went there
…and fought and has a good outcome coming out of it and you still don’t talk about it.
Yilma Belachew: It has its own imagination you know during the Mengestu’s regime you can’t improve this one you can’t tell anybody and tell about this communist regime and after that this soldiers they were in bad condition they don’t have anything to live even not to teach
…and the other one I will tell you one example one man came and he has written a book last time and somebody brought him here to me and he interviews and he wants to have some information about Korean war I gave him the information he is a doctor of Agriculture export I told him why do you want you are agriculturist why did you like this one?
…He said it is true he has been in Sweden the doctor…
Yilma Belachew: He told me that I have been in Sweden and so on, so on, I was attending submit meeting when we meeting or when we talk to that nobody knows about Korea even they say Korea the countries they don’t know it. Sometimes they say that Ethiopian troops
…they went there they don’t know. So all this things gathered has told me why this great history have been told.
Yilma Belachew: So that’s why I did this one and he prepared a book in English and Amharic note and even he inaugurate last two month he is a doctor. So
…people has to be now it is everybody is improving now somebody has telephoned me that he wants to interview me next time I told him okay you telephone me next week I will tell you the exact day. So nobody release him it’s not Yilma or Melsse who release this information the other soldiers are old now even older than us.
Yilma Belachew: Even they have I mean small imagination about the war. and sometimes as I told you before they try to have some what do you call it such exaggeration about the war and so on which is not because people think that exaggeration makes you as a big man for instance if I tell you that I put
…I bine to the enemy you should they say Yilma is like that one. I didn’t do like that one. So people say like that one. So there are so many I means invisible which you can’t see history you see.
Yilma Belachew: But now I hope it is on the road for instance my documentary film
…rally has played wrote about this one.
Interviewer: I see. The doctor you mentioned the agriculture…
Yilma Belachew: Yes?
Interviewer: did he write anything about Korean War?
Yilma Belachew: Yes he wrote.
Interviewer: So I think we need to know about that natty okay? And then…
Yilma Belachew: If you tell I will tell I will telephone him he will bring you the book and he will give you.
Yilma Belachew: I will telephone to night.
Interviewer: Yes. Thank you. And
…that’s why the second thing that I want to do here in Ethiopia is to create teaching material for teachers history teachers and that’s why I met the chairperson of the history department of University of Addis Ababa this morning. And I want to work with the professor history professors here so that we can use this interviewees and other
…things you made the documentary and things and put that into a teaching material so the teachers can use and teachers can talk so that young generation in Ethiopia can learn about this war. What did you think?
Yilma Belachew: Its good one. You mean you want to take in to improve this one rewrite it again you mean?
Interviewer: We can use that book and then add more and this interview
…can be added as a teaching material.
Yilma Belachew: Yes, Yes.
Interviewer: Yeah, that’s what I wanted to do.
Yilma Belachew: It is alright. It is great idea. Because you can’t find it from one person only history.
Yilma Belachew: Different people different side.
Interviewer: And different perspective.
Yilma Belachew: Yes.
Yilma Belachew: So it is a great thing.
Interviewer: Okay. What is Korean War to you?
Yilma Belachew: Korean War?
Yilma Belachew: To me?
Interviewer: Yeah. What is the importance of the Korean War and what is the importance of Korean War personally? In history and personally? Why is it important and why young Ethiopians needs to know about it?
Yilma Belachew: You know Korean War for Yilma is great…
Yilma Belachew: I was to the military academy
…learned military tactics and military science straight after that my graduation I went to Korea and I didn’t even spend one hour for Ethiopia when I spent my life for Korea though I was alive that is great for me for Ethiopians also. Even now
…there is no country that is in my heart Korea because it is in my blood what I have done what and in my history.
Interviewer: So I feel like I’m in the history Museum yeah and I see the picture of emperor and you yeah it is special place for you right?
Yilma Belachew: Yes. You know why I started this one
…you know that one the main museum started by myself.
Interviewer: Right. I tool a picture of it all of it.
Yilma Belachew: 30 years before it was started by me all that history and before ten years it was been inaugurated and so on. But I was closed like this one and nobody knows it but now I said I have inaugurated not only me
…with the help of my brothers.
Yilma Belachew: Specially the present president my colleague we have done a good job that’s what I put it on the data never, never change that one I mean put it out of the record you see in the future. So after that my children told me not to go out because of transportation
…and so on should be accident…
Interviewer: I see.
Yilma Belachew: So they told me to stay home I don’t want to stay in the house. So t told them that so I took this office from my children and I took I said this place should be a place where Ethiopian and Korean blood shaded friendship
…historical rally room.
Interviewer: See? That is the question I am asking to you.
Yilma Belachew: Yeah.
Interviewer: Next year will be 70th anniversary of the breakout of the Korean War…
Yilma Belachew: Yeah.
Interviewer: it’s been already 70 years.
Yilma Belachew: 70th years?
Interviewer: Yeah. It is actually ridiculous because we don’t have a peace treaty yet we are technically at war against North Korea it’s a one nation but divided do you have any special message
…to the Korean people about 70th anniversary of the Korean War.
Yilma Belachew: If they invite me I will pass that message.
Interviewer: Tell me first did you have any message?
Yilma Belachew: For what for this one?
Interviewer: For 70th anniversary to the Korean people.
Yilma Belachew: When is it?
Interviewer: Next year.
Yilma Belachew: Okay I wish them a good country a good
…improvement not a nation worldwide great of this tenth and so on but I hope Koreans will be one of the third country in the world and help themselves Koreans and others the Ethiopians. I never I always
…wish peace for Koreans Northern Koreans if they be together. The Germans they are one nation if they being like that one, sometimes I always say I speak gradually speak like that one with friends I think now with this North Korean president you don’t like president of like American and so on…
Yilma Belachew: Yes Trump. If I go myself to negotiate this one I will be successful. So I will speak on that one so I wish every, every good thing every respect for Koreans. I love Korea forever and if I live up to that time I will
…send another message if not I will ask them to take care of my family okay?
Interviewer: Thank you. Yeah and you didn’t know about Korea before you left for Korea this is it is like of hearing kind of daydreaming one Ethiopian soldier didn’t know young man didn’t know anything about Korea now you telling like you are
…Korean man it’s like are we daydreaming or what’s going on why is it happening to you and to your life?
Yilma Belachew: This thing?
Yilma Belachew: Because I know recently I told you about Korea when we first told us they took it to that English School Sanford they took in one hole and tells us the Korea war like that one you people now go to Korea
…to support the united nation they said like that one. That’s all information where is South Korea where is North Korea we don’t know. Now all that things we learned in the ship you see map studying great map studying during the war you have to study the map otherwise if you don’t study the map you couldn’t fight.
Yilma Belachew: You couldn’t move even like it’s your second eye
…like that one you see. So that’s why I want to pass for my children all these things and so on. So I started from my first going from my graduation up to my children year how I am going to give them the power to take over this responsibility about Koreans
…documentary rally film historically rally and some we did. Some hear you see there is Ha’s project Korea project.
Yilma Belachew: And Yilma’s family here. And here also you see how that innocent man he was the priest of Mr. Lee who comes every Christmas.
Interviewer: I see.
Yilma Belachew: Wishes us good happy New Year
…and so on. So all that documents there and all these are Korean Ethiopian ambassadors to Korea to Ethiopia their memorial pictures.
Yilma Belachew: And here my pictures with his majesty and so on and other people you can see that one. And there you can see Yilma’s picture with different kind my pictures that to
…the biggest one there you can see it how I went to Korea at the age of 19 you see?
Interviewer: So I think I wanted to conclude this whole interview by saying that there was no Korea in the map of Ethiopian people in 1950 but because you and other soldiers went to Korea
…now Korea is big in the Ethiopian map how about that? By the way when did you lose your sight? You cannot see now right?
Yilma Belachew: it’s in 1997.
Yilma Belachew: 1997 the Korean hospital man senior pastor Lee is a very good man somebody has recommended me from them and he approved me too big to go to Korea…
Yilma Belachew: be treated they tried they couldn’t do it. It is a glaucoma case.
Interviewer: I see.
Yilma Belachew: I was there for one month and so on but I tell you he is a good Christian he was even come to my bed side and he was prayed for me there in the hospital you can see a bed there I can’t see he come and get me prayed for me and so on. From that day on it has the power only diminishing otherwise stopped you see?
Interviewer: I see.
Yilma Belachew: So for the last I don’t know 20 or something years now I am like this and my hearing is like that one thanks God I can hear even my television I can see something now.
Yilma Belachew: A little bit. So with this one I had done a good job and I hope I thank God because at the edge of mine any kind like me all my friends I know some of them are sick and son on but me I am alright. I am in good condition you see. I can do even now I can even go and organize a good front line for the Korean if something comes you see?
Interviewer: I really want to thank you for this opportunity to sit in your small museum. It’s a past and current and because of this I think Ethiopia and Korea now two good friends. So I think that is the most important thing I want to say. And I want to thank for your honorable service and your passion to pass this you know baton to younger generations here I’m going to work on that okay.
Yilma Belachew: Thank you.
Interviewer: Thank you.
Yilma Belachew: Thank you very much.
[End of Recorded Material]