FVR attends Korean War Armistice commemoration

July 26, 2013 10:59 am 

By Ben Cal

MANILA, July 25 (PNA) –- Former President Fidel V. Ramos, a Korean War veteran, has arrived in Seoul, South Korea to attend the 60th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice to be commemorated on Saturday.

Ramos went to South Korea on the invitation of Prime Minister Jong Hong-won and former Prime Minister Kim Huang Sik, co-chairs of this year’s Commemoration Committee, with the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs under Minister Park Sung-choon as lead agency.

The former Philippine president will participate in the celebration as special guest in a series of activities commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice.

When war broke out on the Korean Peninsula on June 25, 1950, the Philippines, then a fledgling four-year old democracy was among the first to respond to South Korea’s and the United Nations’ call for assistance to “defend freedom and democracy” on the Korean Peninsula.

“It was General Carlos P. Romulo, then President of the U.N. General Assembly, who staunchly advocated the need to take strong collective action against North Korea’s aggression,” Ramos said in an e-mail sent to the Philippines News Agency Thursday.

“The first contingent of the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea (PEFTOK) landed in Busan on 19 September 1950,” he said.

Over a period of five years (1950-1955) the Philippines sent five combat battalions under the UN Command. Of the 7,420 Filipino soldiers, who volunteered, 116 were killed and 299 were wounded in action.

The former President was only a second lieutenant, who had just graduated from West Point in the United States, when he volunteered to go to Korea when war broke out.

Ramos served as a reconnaissance platoon leader of the 20th BCT in the Chorwon-Kumwha-Pyongyang area of North Korea.

One of the fiercest fighting during the Korean War that involved Filipino combat troops was the battle of Eerie Hill — then led by Ramos whose 44-man unit belonging to the 20th Battalion Combat captured the strategic plateau.

The 20th BCT was one of the five combat battalions of the PEFTOK sent by then President Elpidio Quirino when the Korean War erupted.

The four other BCTs were the 2nd, 10th, 14th and 19th that saw extensive combat during the Korean War.

The two greatest battles during the Korean War where Filipino troops proved their gallantry in combat as they did during the World War II were the battle of Yultong Bridge and the assault on the strategic Eerie Hill near Chorwon, South Korea.

Ramos volunteered to fight in Korea, together with 364 of his classmates at West Point.

Twenty-one countries, including the Philippines responded to the appeal of the beleaguered South Korean government for help when South Korea was invaded by North Korea and communist Chinese forces.

Among the five combat battalions, it was the 10th BCT that accounted the most number of battles, particularly the bloody fight at Yultong Bridge.

It was in May 1952 when Ramos was tapped to lead the assault of Eerie Hill which was occupied by heavily entrenched communist Chinese troops.

Then Maj. Felizardo Tanabe, the 20th BCT operations officer, recalled that “the mission was a necessary risk as Eerie Hill prevented the United Nations forces from advancing farther without suffering heavy casualties. The Chinese enjoyed a vantage strategic position which afforded them to observe all moving objects in the surrounding plains below.”

Eerie Hill’s landscape is comparable to the plains of Central Luzon where the imposing Mount Arayat is located. But unlike Mount Arayat, Eerie Hill’s configuration is much smaller.

Nevertheless, whoever occupied the strategic hill controlled the roadways down the slopes and the connecting arterial roads spread over a one-mile radius.

Col. Salvador Abcede, 20th BCT commander, had tapped Tanabe to prepare for the assault of Eerie Hill.

Abcede’s order was loud and clear: “The observation post and the bunkers must be destroyed.”

Eerie Hill had been previously assaulted by Abcede and his men nine times, killing over a hundred communist troopers but the Chinese withstood the searing attacks.

Capturing Eerie Hill became the obsession of Abcede all the more that he ordered Ramos to overrun the hill and destroy it.

An elaborate plan was prepared in the attack, including air support and artillery fire.

The night before the assault, they prayed fervently to God for protection.

Jump off time was before daybreak of May 21, 1952. The assault team was up at dawn to do a final check on their weapons. The M1 Garand rifles, Browning Automatic Rifles (BAR), two .30 caliber machine guns, grenades, bayonets and other equipment.

At exactly 4:07 a.m., the platoon moved towards its objective under cover of darkness.

To avoid detection, Ramos and his men crawled for two hours through rice paddies, occasionally tipping their canteens to quench their thirst. The reconnaissance platoon reached an irrigation ditch some 400 meters from the top of Eerie Hill.

Under the tactical plan, seven F-86 Sabre jet-fighter-bombers of the U.S. Air Force dropped napalm bombs on the heavily fortified enemy forces.

At the height of the bombing run, Ramos radioed the BCT headquarters to start the artillery bombardment.

Through binoculars, he spotted an entangled stack of blasted barbed wire and decided his troops would assault that part of the hill. He radioed his headquarters to cease firing their artillery.

Ramos and his men moved in quickly firing their guns as close quarter fighting erupted. The Chinese retreated but kept on firing. At that point, the Filipino soldiers were unstoppable as they gained the upper hand of the fighting.

The Ministry of National Defense of Korea says in its historical account of the Eerie Hill assault:

“From 0700 to 720, Lieutenant Ramos’s four teams (scout, rifle, sniper and forward observer), moved and maneuvered up to the crest of the Hill. As soon as the assault teams reached the barbed wire entanglements of Eerie at 0710, two tanks lifted their fire.”

During the initial stage of the fighting, the 11-man scout team headed by Palis went into action and there was a wide exchange of gunfire. Grenades exploded all over the place. As the riflemen kept firing, Palis and two of his men ran toward bunker No. 2, dropped several grenades and fired their guns, killing four Chinese.

Enemy troops occupying bunker No. 3 retaliated. At this point, Ramos joined Palis. Grenades exploded on their right flank, on the left and in front of them. Luckily, one of the Filipino soldiers was hit.

Hitting the ground on all fours, two of Ramos’ men suddenly dashed toward the bunker and exploded a grenande.

Two enemy troopers got out of the bunker but Ramos who was just four meters away, opened fire, and killed them instantly. His reflexes heightened, Ramos rolled away poised to fire again at any incoming enemy but there was none.

Then Palis told Ramos that they were running out of grenades. Ramos immediately ordered his two-man demolition team to move in and blast bunkers 2 and 3.

Then as Ramos and his men were clearing the bunkers, Chinese troops occupying a connecting trench some 200 meters away opened fire at them. They dived for cover as fighting broke out anew this time against Chinese troopers occupying bunker number 4.

Two Chinese tried to hurl a grenade at Ramos’ group but they were cut down by bullets before they could throw their hand grenades.Close range battle ensued, including bayonet fighting. The Filipinos prevailed as the remaining Chinese soldiers retreated hastily. Ramos again requested for artillery fire to make sure the area was clear of hostile forces.

The assault last for two hours and mission accomplished.

Of the 44-man led by Lt. Ramos, only one was wounded while the Chinese suffered 16 dead.

The gallantry of the Filipino soldiers had earned the praises from the United Nations forces who watched the deadly combat from a distance using binoculars as modern technology on live television coverage was not available at that time.

Two American battalions also watched the fighting from a distance.

For Ramos, it was his first hill and first kill, a soldier’s trek “to hell and back.”

As destiny had it, Ramos was elected as the 12th President of the Republic of the Philippines during the 1992 presidential elections.

In 1974 the South Korean government constructed the PEFTOK Korean War Memorial at Goyang near the Demilitarized Zone, a towering 21.5-meter high structure to honor the Filipino soldiers who fought in the war.

Ramos said the two Yultong Memorials at Yeoncheon County memorialize the valor of the 10th BCT led by Colonel Dionisio Ojeda, Captain Conrado Yap and Lieutenant Jose Artiaga who fought in the famous battle of Yultong in April 1951.

The former President quoted Col. Alexander Lancaster of the U.S. Eighth Army, joining the Allied Commanders in paying tribute to the Filipino soldiers’ gallantry, as saying: “Give me the Filipino combat team, and I will fight anywhere above-the 38th parallel.”

Ramos said the Armistice was the product of more than a hundred protracted and often acrimonious meetings between the two sides over a period of two years.

“The Armistice Agreement for the Restoration of the South Korean State was signed at Panmunjon on 27 July 1953, to ‘ensure complete cessation of hostilities,’ with the signatories pledging not to ‘execute any hostile act within, from or against the demilitarized zone,’” he said.

Ramos will be back in Manila on Sunday. (PNA)

JBP/RBC/RSM

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