UN-Korean War Veterans from Ethiopia

18 Jul

Ethiopia sent 1,271 – 3,518 troops as part of the United Nation Forces to aid South Korea. The troops were known as the Kagnew Battalion under the command of General Mulugueta Bulli. It was attached to the American 7th Infantry Division, and fought in a number of engagements including the Battle of Pork Chop Hill. 121 were killed and 536 wounded during the Korean War.
The Kagnew (ቃኘው) Battalions were three successive battalions drawn from the 1st Division Imperial Bodyguard sent by Emperor Haile SelassieI between June 1951 and April 1954 as part of the United Nations forces in the Korean War. The name Kagnew referred to the reconnaissance element in the military parlance of the Ethiopian Armed Forces. It was also the war horse of Emperor Haile Selassie‘s father, Leul Ras Makonnen. Military units from Imperial times are often adopt a name of a favored military commander. Ethiopian Warriors of old were often interchangeably referred to by the names of their war chargers. Emperor Menelik was often referred to as Aba Dagnew, Emperor Haile Selassie as Aba Tekil, Emperor Tewodros was referred to as Aba Tateq. These Nom’s de Guerre or “Saddle names”, Yekoricha Sim were also used by the nobility and name warriors such as Imperial Fitawrari Habtegiorgis “Aba Mechal”, Dejazmatch Balcha “Aba Nefso”, Imam Mohammed (later King Michael) “Aba Shanko” of Wello. Modern day Ethiopian commanders and leaders abandoned the Koricha Sim tradition though individual instances of such Saddle names did survive. The best known example, was HIM Emperor Haileselassie “Aba Tekil”. His return to Ethiopia leading the Allied forces of Mission 101 and Gideon Force and the vast Ethiopian Patriotic forces after the war against Italy was heralded as Tekil Be’Dil.
The regular element of the Ethiopian Armed Forces of the Imperial Era consisted of four Divisions roughly of 10,000 men with support armor and artillery elements and complementary Air and Naval forces. This numbered roughly 50,000 men and women. The 1st Division Imperial Bodyguard had primary responsibility for security in the North including Eritrea. The Imperial Bodyguard had an Airborne element. The 2nd Walia Division, based in Beghemeder had responsibility for the Western Frontier with Sudan and security in the provinces from Wellega to its home base. The 3rd Lion Division, had responsibility for the Western frontier including the border with Somalia and Djibouti. The 4th Division had security responsibility within the Capital, Addis Ababa. Kagnew Battalion was drawn completely from the officers and men of the 1st Division Imperial Body Guard or the Kebur Zabagna, sometimes also referred to as Ethiopia’s “Royal” Guards.
Kagnew served with great distinction, principally alongside the 7th Infantry Division (United States), and by all accounts (including the enemies) acquitted themselves well in battle, suffering 121 killed and 536 wounded during the course of the conflict. At the conclusion of the war the Ethiopians were the only contingent that had no prisoners to collect from the North Koreans since no Kagnew Soldier ever surrendered. They had the additional distinctions of having won each of the 238 times they engaged the enemy be it as aggressors or defenders. They were never bested in battle. The other distinction, and one that made them seemingly super human, to their enemies was there never seemed to be dead bodies of Kagnew soldiers, for the simple reason they never left their dead behind. This earned them the respect of their American colleagues, while fostering the belief among their enemies, who had never seen black fighters, let alone an Ethiopian prisoner or casualty, that they were indeed super human.
When the US established a military base in Northern Ethiopia in later years they named it Kagnew Station in honor of the officers and men of the elite Imperial Bodyguards that had earned their admiration. Kagnew’s exploits have been covered in detail in Pork Chop Hill by S.L.A. Marshall. Commenting on the fighting dogma of the Ethiopians Marshall states, “Like Horatius at the bridge or the screaming eagles at Bastogne, it was a classic fight, ending in clean triumph over seemingly impossible odds”. Pointing out that War correspondents who were drawn to the headline values of such operations as Little Switch the 163 war correspondents overlooked the equally interesting and unrivaled Ethiopian feats.
One of the feats Marshall thought worth noting was an Ethiopian patrol which “…under full observation from enemy country, eight Ethiopians walked 800 yards across no-man’s land and up the slope of T-Bone Hill right into the enemy trenches. When next we looked, the eight had become ten. The patrol was dragging back two Chinese prisoners, having snatched them from the embrace of the Communist battalion…” Pork Chop Hill by S.L.A. Marshall
In 2008 the son of one of the Guardsmen that served in Korea wrote the book “Kagnew beKoera”, Kagnew in Korea which paid tribute to the men and officers of the three battalions, the Emperor who had the foresight to send them and S.L.A. Marshall and Komon Skordiles for their efforts in ensuring that the feat of those that had served was not forgotten. This new publication included many pictures and stories of unsung heroism. The former members of the Imperial Bodyguard Mahber(society) has existed quietly since the unit was dissolved by the Derg Military Junta and continues to celebrate the accomplishments of the men and officers not only of the Kagnew Battalion but of the Guard at large. It is currently under the leadership of Brigadier General(ret.) Desta Gemeda.
(“Kagnew” had been the name of the warhorse of Ras Makonnen, Menelik II‘s General and the father of Haile Selassie during the First Italo-Ethiopian War) The infantry force in the Korean War included volunteers from Haile Selassie’s Imperial Bodyguard. Altogether, 3,158 Ethiopians served in Kagnew Battalions.
Glad to be one of the Grand sons of UN-Korean War Veterans, Bekele Chichibelu. He always survives by his children & Descendants.


4 Responses to “UN-Korean War Veterans from Ethiopia”

  1. Paul Buchanan July 21, 2012 at 4:41 am #

    My name is Paul Buchanan and can you please tell me if you know about a badge I have, it is one that is made from brass and has a LION of JUDAH and 2 swords and a chain and at the bottom a DAVID STAR with the CROSS of CHRIST in the middle of the STAR, and do u know if it had a crown b4, because it has not got one like the newer ones and is quite old looking even the LION is in the old style, do u please know any background details, when me buy it in Ethiopia, and wear it around Addis alot and the older Ethiopians, when dem see it shout out,” Imperial Guard” but me do not know if it because of the badge or the outfit me was wearing, complet with pith helmet, that was in 1987 still under Mengestu, and being a farengi me love to rub it ina dem face, and apear like H.I.M. soldier.LOL!!! I can attach a photo, but I need a way to do that?

  2. James December 14, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

    I just learned of their exploits having just read Pork Chop Hill. They were outstanding soldiers. Military History is a hobby of mine and I never heard of the Kagnew Battalion before.My father serverd and was wounded in the Korean war 24th infantry Reg. 25th Inf. Division

  3. Kevin Yi May 11, 2016 at 2:51 pm #

    I would like to get more information from any of the veterans about the city of Chunchon, South Korea. They say alot of heavy fighting and action occurred there. And that is where the Ethiopian memorial commemorating the KAGNEW soldiers was built. Chunchun is my paternal family’s hometown. My grandfather was a landowner and city clerk of that town and county. I would like more information and stories about Kagnew and chunchon.


  1. Rastafari Uprising - December 7, 2011

    […] UN-Korean War Veterans from Ethiopia (jontambek.wordpress.com) […]

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