The Incredible Story of Korean Soldier During the World War II

3 mins read
Japanese soldiers are fighting in Mongolia
Japanese soldiers during the World war II, somewhere in Mongolia

In the history of World War II, there are many stories about the heroic deeds of soldiers and military leaders from around the world. And among all these stories there’s one about private Yang Kyoungjong. His story is not about the loyalty, courage or distinguished service in the midst of military trials and political change. It’s about a person who rather survived, regardless of the situation in which he found himself. Yang Kyoungjong is famous for being a soldier of three different armies. His story deserves to be filmed about it, printed in history books, reminding us of the incredible fate of people, of a crippled generation, of the difficult situations that war brings with it.

Early Life

Yang Kyoungjong was born on March 3, 1920 (some sources mention 1916) in Northwest Korea. At that moment it was a Japanese colony. Yang was born into a family that couldn’t even afford a basic education. He spent most of his childhood in poverty, like many other Korean children of that time. In the 1930s, Japan began to actively prepare for war. She needed many soldiers, and a lot of Koreans were called up to serve in the Imperial Japanese army. One of them turned out to be our hero. In 1938, Yang was drafted from Manchuria to the Japanese Army.

World War ll

The Imperial Japanese Army

During one of the fierce battles between the USSR-Mongolian troops and the Armed Forces of Japan on the Khalkhin Gol River in Mongolia, it’s circa 600 miles north of Ulaanbaatar, Korean private was captured by units of the Soviet Army. Yang was one of those whose been sent to a labor camp, somewhere in the eastern part of the USSR.

The Red Army

In 1942, Private Yang was sent to the “eastern front” where he joined the Red Army. In 1943, during the Third Battle for Kharkov, Kyoungjong was captured the second time. At that time by Wehrmacht units. Some time passed, and he was later forwarded to Western Europe. Since Japan and Germany were allies during WWII, allegedly our hero could convince that he actually fought for Japan, and his mission in the Soviet Army was a sabotage. Anyway, later private Kyoungjong was sent in north of France to fight on German’s side.

The Wehrmacht

Next year, in June 1944, during the battles in Normandy, our hero was captured the third time, this time by American paratroopers. According to Lieutenant Robert Brewer, who served in the US 101st Airborne Division, after landing on Utah Beach, US soldiers captured a couple of Asian-looking soldiers in Nazi uniforms. But nobody knew the language, so Americans couldn’t interrogate them. It was a period when a photography you see here was taken. As a result he’s been sent to a camp of prisoners of war in the United Kingdom.

WWII ended on May 8, 1945, and that month later Yang was released.

Two years later, he immigrated to the U.S., he lived not far from Chicago. He’s become a father of two children. Yang died on April 7, 1992.

Personality in the Photo

This “Jap in Nazi uniform captured” photography was taken by U.S. soldiers in 1944 in Normandy. The description of the photography is “the Japanese give his name and surname to the American officer.” But at the same time it doesn’t indicate what name he said.

50 years later, in 1994, the American historian Stephen E. Ambrose wrote about four Korean soldiers in Normandy. In his book “D-Day. June 6, 1944” he suggested that these Koreans were captured by Red Army. Some time later they were captured by the Germans during battles in Ukraine and that’s the explanation of how they appeared in north of France. In 2005, some Korean journalists made an investigation to identify the soldier in the photography. They visited Germany, France and the USA, studied archives of the German Bundesarchiv and the American NARA.

Unfortunately at that time journalists were unable to identify who’s on the photo, but they found out some other historic facts. For example, they found that soldiers with Korean surnames really served in Normandy and defended the Atlantic Wall.

Later, in 2012, British historian Anthony Beevor managed to identify who’s pictured at the historic photo and confirmed info in online media that it was Korean private Yang Kyoungjong.

Moral Dilemmas

The story of Yang Kyoungjong during WWII raises questions about the complex moral dilemmas that many people faced during military conflicts. Yang, being a Korean, found himself at the crossroads of ideas, loyalty and service. Recall that at that time, the part of Korea, where our hero was born and raised, was occupied by Japan. For some people hero of this story is a traitor, since he fought for Japanese army during the occupation of Korea. Others saw in him a person who continued to fulfill his duties in accordance with the conditions in which life brought him and managed to survive, to live on, build a family and raise children.

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