April 20, 2005


Bridge from Seoul to the Bosporus (Altay Atli, 4/21/05, Asia Times)

Travelers arriving here in the Turkish capital by train are greeted by an extraordinary monument. It is a tall pagoda in the middle of an Asian-style garden right in front of the train station. The monument, which is dedicated to the Turkish soldiers who fought in the Korean War in 1950-53 to support the efforts of the US-led coalition to rid the peninsula of the communist threat, had a very special visitor last weekend: Roh Moo-hyun, president of the Republic of Korea.

Roh became the first South Korean president to visit Turkey since 1957, when diplomatic relations were established between two countries. He took with him not only dozens of Korean businessmen with plans to invest in Turkey and the traditional messages of friendship and solidarity, but also memories of the Korean War, the forgotten conflict of the last century. [...]

In August 1950, a 4,500-man Turkish brigade under the command of General Tahsin Yazici sailed for Korea aboard US battleships and arrived in Busan after 22 days at sea. The Turkish brigade, code-named "North Star", joined the UN army commanded by General Douglas MacArthur. By the time the Turkish troops had arrived, MacArthur was planning a massive invasion of North Korea, the objective being the Yalu River forming the Chinese-Korean border. However, the Chinese offensive that was launched on the night of November 25-26, 1950, caused great surprise and confusion among the UN ranks. On the following morning, Chinese forces had broken through the front line and annihilated the II Corps of the South Korean army. The Chinese were flowing in through the gap near the town of Kunuri, and the Turkish brigade was the closest UN force to hold them. Fierce fighting between the Chinese and Turkish troops took place around Kunuri for three days and, although suffering heavy losses, the Turks managed to delay the Chinese advance and prevent the encirclement and possible destruction of the 8th US Army. Kunuri was the Turks' baptism by fire, with 218 dead, 455 wounded and 94 missing in action. After the battle, the Washington Tribune reported that "4,500 soldiers in the middle of the firing line have known how to create a miracle. The sacrifices of Turks will eternally remain in our minds."

After Kunuri, the Turkish brigade saw other major battles that affected the course of war, such as the battles of Kumjangjangni, Taegyewonni and Vegas. As an armistice was concluded on the peninsula on June 18, 1953, and hostilities ceased on June 27, three Turkish brigades with more than 15,000 troops had taken part in the war. The total casualty toll for the "North Star" operation was 741 dead, 2,068 wounded and 407 missing in action.

Their contribution seems to be remembered only in Turkey, Korea and among the Americans who fought with them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 20, 2005 12:00 AM

Dad was in the 45th Division, which apparently was in line next to the Turks at some point. He always spoke favorably about them, in a "gee I'm glad they were on *our* side" sort of way.

Posted by: Mike Morley at April 20, 2005 11:45 AM

In the bunk above me on the USN Hospital ship Haven in Pusan was the only Turk I saw in Korea. He was very young, very polite and seemed immensely grateful for having his wounds treated on such a fine ship, as I was. We had two Greeks in the ward as well and they were showboaters. The young Turk and I could only communicate with gestures. He was a gentle sort but the word was they were a formidable bunch. In that time frame the UN forces were kicking Chinese/NK ass and the first talks for a truce were being negotiated aboard a Swedish hospital ship. Word was the nurses on that ship were gorgeous.

Posted by: Genecis at April 20, 2005 1:41 PM