8th Army, veterans commemorate 65th anniversary of the KATUSA program
CAMP JACKSON, South Korea -- During a brief ceremony, with Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army (KATUSA) veterans who served during the Korean War in attendance, Eighth Army and the KATUSA Veterans Association commemorated the 65th anniversary of one of the most unique organizations in military history Aug. 14 at Camp Jackson, South Korea.
The sui generis nature of the KATUSA program stands out for many reasons; chief amongst those is that no other country in the world allows its citizens to serve under the direct leadership of a foreign military.
That the Republic of Korea has done so now for 65 years and counting is a true testament to the strength of the Alliance between the U.S. and South Korea, two countries separated by over 7,000 miles who couldn't be more dissimilar in terms of language, culture and customs.
During the ceremony, Second Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. Ted Martin spoke to attendees on the impact KATUSAs had on the outcome of the war and the inimitable qualities that characterize the program.
"Today we recognize a unique military organization, an organization forged in the fire of the (Cold War)," said Martin. "Originally conceived as a method to bolster U.S. Army units fighting strength, the KATUSA program quickly became the difference between victory and defeat."
Founded by mutual agreement between then South Korean President Syngman Rhee and U.S. Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur the program was established as a way to augment U.S. forces to enhance interoperability and cohesiveness on the battlefield.
Despite being untrained when they first arrived, it didn't take long for KATUSA Soldiers to provide invaluable contributions to the defense of South Korea including scouting, intelligence gathering, and assisting refugees through interpretation.
"The first KATUSA class was made up of 313 young men conscripted from the streets of Pusan and Daegu," explained Martin. "They were poorly trained and equipped, but these men were committed to the fight immediately. Many said that the KATUSA program would not work, however as the program grew…the naysayers were quickly silenced."
The contributions of KATUSAs during the height of the war cannot be overstated and without their help taking back South Korean would have been an almost impossible task. Success, however, did not come without a price as many KATUSAs sacrificed their lives to secure freedom and liberty for their fellow countrymen.
During the war, 43,660 KATUSAs fought and bled alongside their American brothers, said Martin. Their sacrifice is staggering with approximately 6,415 killed in action, 3,823 wounded, and 1,667 still missing in action today.
"There are not words that can express my gratitude and heartfelt appreciation for (their) dedication to (South Korea) and the United States Army," said Command Sgt. Maj. Mario Terrenas, the Eighth Army "Wightman" NCO and KATUSA Training Academy Commandant at Camp Jackson. "Having served now four tours of duty (here), the one constant I have always looked forward to, were my KATUSA friends. For you truly represent the bridge that unites not just (our) two armies, but (our) two nations together in a partnership based on trust and friendship."
"Above all I would like to thank our Korean War veterans for whom countless Soldiers owe their lives," he continued. "I pledge to you that I will not forget, nor will I allow others to forget your service."
It has been six and a half decades since the KATUSA Corps was established and during that time it has served as a force multiplier increasing the combat readiness for both Eighth Army and the ROK-U.S. Alliance. Today, the program stands as a symbol of the mutual respect and sacrifice shared between our two nations, and with any luck will continue to serve as a bridge to our Korean partners for another 65 years.