On September 19, 1950, barely three months after North Korea’s invasion of South Korea, the Philippines’ 10th Battalion Combat Team (Motorized) landed at the port of Pusan in southeastern Korea.
The 10th BCT was the first of five Philippine "Battalion Combat Teams" that would serve under the United Nations Command (UNC) in Korea. With its 1,400 officers and men, the 10th BCT was the third UNC ground combat unit to enter the Korean War after the Americans and the British.
Brothers in arms
The Philippines was one of 16 UN member states whose troops saw combat in the Korean War. These countries, led by the United States, added their strengths to those of the armed forces of the Republic of Korea (ROK) to preserve South Korea’s freedom against the communist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the People’s Republic of China (PROC). Four more UN member states (Denmark, India, Norway and Sweden) provided medical and humanitarian aid during the war. Italy, although not a UN member then, provided a hospital.
The UNC combatants included Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. Excluding the United States and the ROK, casualties among the 15 other UNC combatants totaled over 3,000 killed in action and close to 14,000 wounded and missing in action.
General of the Army Douglas MacArthur was commander-in-chief of the UNC. MacArthur was the man who commanded the Filipino and American armed forces defending the Philippines against the Japanese in 1942. He later led the Allies in defeating Imperial Japan.
Five Philippine Army BCTs totaling more than 7,000 officers and men served in Korea from 1950 to 1955 as the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea or PEFTOK. Taken together, these battalions constituted the Regimental Combat Team promised by the Philippine government in August 1950 to the United Nations war effort.
PEFTOK consisted of these units:
10th Battalion Combat Team (Motorized)
20th Battalion Combat Team (Leaders)
19th Battalion Combat Team (Bloodhound)
14th Battalion Combat Team (Avengers)
2nd Battalion Combat Team (Bulldogs)
These battalions acquitted themselves well in battle. Not one PEFTOK battalion was overrun or made incapable of combat as a result of enemy action despite many hard fought battles. PEFTOK fought successfully against its main enemy— the brave and skilful soldiers of the “Chinese People’s Volunteer Army” (CPV)—in hundreds of actions for hills, cities and towns along the 38th Parallel dividing North and South Korea.
The Philippines was unique among UN combatants since it was the only one whose soldiers had immediate combat experience against the Communists. A number of our men who served in Korea had also fought against the Japanese. The combat savvy of all five BCTs kept their casualties low, and allowed them to accomplish their combat missions despite Chinese tactical skill and numerical superiority.
The 10th, 20th, 19th and 14th BCTs fought in the Korean War with the 14th BCT seeing the last shots fired in the war. The 2nd BCT saw combat of a different kind, but was involved mainly in police duties following the signing of the truce ending the Korean War on 27 July 1953. The truce was signed at Panmunjom, a village in western Korea along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea.
The price the Philippines paid to defend democracy included over 90 Filipinos killed in action; close to 300 wounded in action and some 60 taken prisoner.
All PEFTOK battalions were attached to larger Allied units, mainly American, during their tours of duty in Korea. Relations with these “mother units” were neighborly, especially with the Americans, who ruled the Philippines for 48 years until 1946. PEFTOK and the Philippine Army were trained in American tactical doctrine. Its equipment was almost all of American origin (rifles, machine guns, helmets, artillery, tanks, grenades). A number of Filipino officers trained in American military schools such as West Point, and in specialist schools such as those for armor. That PEFTOK officers generally spoke, read and wrote English well averted miscommunication problems that proved fatal in the front line to some UNC contingents for whom English was not a second language.
Beginning a tradition of service
PEFTOK began the Philippines’ tradition of providing military or humanitarian aid to nations in need.
Since the Korean War, the Philippines has sent its soldiers, policemen and medical personnel to aid United Nations missions around the world. Filipinos were in the Vietnam War as the Philippine Civic Action Group (PHILCAG) that served in Tay Ninh province in South Vietnam; in Cambodia and in East Timor, among others.
Today, in East Timor, more than 800 Filipino soldiers keep the peace along with 7,000 other soldiers in UNTAET (the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor). They serve side by side with Americans, Australians, British, Canadians, Frenchmen, New Zealanders, South Koreans, Thais, Turks, Danes, Norwegians and Swedes, their comrades-in-arms during the Korean War. They also serve with a contingent of civilian policemen from the People’s Republic of China, whose soldiers fought against us in the Korean War. How the world has changed in half a century! Forty-two UN member nations are contributing military and civilian police personnel to UNTAET.