Veterans group now seeking information to find a S. Korean, now an elderly man, who was taken in during the Korean War
“We were affiliated with a USFK unit at the time, so the boy may have thought we were African American soldiers. But we were close for about three years until he was about seven or eight. If he sees a picture, he’ll remember. I’d like to see him again before I die.”The elderly soldier, who identified himself by the name Bulcha, made an unexpected request to the visiting Onday delegation. It was mid-February, and the non-profit’s members were in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa to deliver support for the local Korean War veterans’ association and veterans’ village.
Bulcha was looking for a South Korean orphan he had last seen over six decades earlier. During the war, Bulcha first fought as a member of Ethiopia‘s 1st Kagnew Battalion in 1951. He was stationed near Gapyeong in Gyeonggi Province.
That winter, he was passing through Seoul’s Yeongdeungpo neighborhood when he saw a crying young boy nursing at the breast of his mother, who had been shot dead in the street.
Bulcha brought the boy back to the unit, where he and the other members raised him in the barracks, giving him military clothes that were altered to fit his tiny frame. When Bulcha returned home after the armistice, the boy was left at an orphanage within the unit.
“My last wish is to see Dong-hwa again – he’d probably be around seventy now,” said Bulcha, who turns 84 this year. He took out a handful of photographs, which he had cherished over the decades.
Faded black-and-white images taken from their last goodbye showed a handsome younger Bulcha and his fellow soldiers with the boy in the barracks, as well as the boy standing outside the barracks with his hands on his waist. Yoon Jong-wan, the only South Korean worker with the US 7th Infantry Division’s Ethiopian unit at the time, said there “was a boy Bulcha and some of the battalion members were looking after, whose name was Park Dong-hwa.
”But Yoon, now 83, also said he didn‘t know where Dong-hwa was sent afterwards. Soldiers from Ethiopia – considered a wealthier country as recently as the 1950s – also pooled their earnings to care for South Korean orphans. Some veterans recalled operating Bowha Orphanages in the Gyeonggi Province city of Dongducheon and Seoul’s Hannam neighborhood in the 1950s and 1960s, but it could not be confirmed whether young Dong-hwa was sent to one, Yoon explained. Onday (or “warm day”) president Kim Kwang-il announced plans to share Bulcha‘s request through a webzine issued each day to the non-profit’s members in the hopes of learning some new information.
“Once we find Dong-hwa, we’re planning to invite Bulcha to South Korea and arrange a reunion,” Kim said. After the Korean War broke out in 1950, Ethiopia was one of the first countries to propose sending allied forces through the US and United Nations.
The country sent a total of 3,518 troops in three battalions – including the Imperial Guards, the first elite unit in Korea among the 16 participating nations. Casualties included 121 killed and 536 wounded, but veterans reportedly did not receive support from the government after a socialist regime took over in the country.
Onday sent its first support funds this year at the suggestion of adviser Lee Sang-wook, who has been providing personal support to Ethiopian veterans for over six years. The organization plans to continue raising funds regularly to support scholarships, the establishment of a chorus, and other efforts.