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Colombia’s Historical Contribution in the Korean War


Colombia Korean War
Colombia was the only country in Latin America that responded to the UN call to participate in the Korean War. Credit Korean Veterans Association

During the often-overlooked Korean War, Colombia stood as the only Latin American nation to dispatch troops, showcasing its role as a key ally of the United Nations between 1950 and 1953.

Termed “The Forgotten War,” the Korean conflict unfolded against the backdrop of the Cold War (1947 – 1991), with Colombia aligning itself with the UN in this armed confrontation.

The war erupted after World War II and Japan’s surrender in 1948, leaving the Korean Peninsula, once under Japanese control, divided along the 38th parallel. The North embraced communism, endorsed by the Soviet Union, while the South emerged as anti-communist and pro-American.

In 1950, two years after the division, tensions peaked when, on June 25, North Korea deployed around 135,000 soldiers to invade South Korea. The United States, under President Harry S. Truman, deemed it “a threat to regional stability,” prompting an immediate armed response sanctioned by the UN.

Colombia’s role in the conflict

This led to the United States and its allies, including 16 nations such as Colombia, entering the war in support of South Korea, while China aligned with North Korea.

Colombia’s decision to back the conflict materialized in 1951 when President Laureano Gomez announced support with an infantry battalion of approximately 4,700 men (4,000 from the Army and 700 from the Navy) along with three frigates.

Colombia Korean War
Commemorative stamp of the 20 years of the Colombia Battalion in Korea 1951 -1971. Credit Korean Veterans Association

Only Colombia among the countries of Latin America answered the UN’s call to participate in the Korean War, a conflict unfolding some 15,000 kilometers away, on the other side of the world.

The three frigates were: ARC Almirante Padilla, ARC Capitan Tono and ARC Almirante Brion.

On the 70th anniversary of the Korean War, retired Corporal Pedro Hernando Vergara, a Korean War veteran, shared his experiences: “The day I was injured, under those conditions, I managed to rescue three wounded individuals; one Mexican lieutenant and two Colombians.”

At the end of the war, Colombian soldiers, following joint orders from Colombia, the United States, and the UN, witnessed the signing of the armistice on July 27, 1953, ending hostilities between the two Koreas. However, this victory came at a cost—196 Colombian servicemen lost their lives, and over 400 were wounded.

Colombia Korean War
Frigate Almirante Padilla of the Colombia Battalion. Credit: Credit Korean Veterans Association

While the nation mourned this toll, a sense of triumph enveloped Colombians and the 17 countries collectively defending South Korea. These nations included Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, South Korea, the United States, Ethiopia, the Philippines, France, Greece, Norway, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Thailand, and Turkey.

Isaac Vargas Cordoba, retired Corporal Second Class and another Korean War veteran, reflected on the sacrifice: “For Colombia, for the homeland, for the flag, one must give everything; leave nothing for oneself. Life is given, which is the utmost sacrifice.”

Estimates from the Encyclopaedia Britannica suggest that 1.6 million civilians and 1.3 million soldiers lost their lives during the “Forgotten War”: the Korean War.

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