While the Korean War Battles of Old Baldy, Triangle Hill, and Geumseong may not be the first battles that come to mind when we think of the Korean Conflict, for Colombia, they were certainly important. Like their Brazilian neighbors in World War II, the Colombians saw the importance of stemming the advance of an aggressor as essential to the world’s collective security. Three Colombian frigates along with more than 5,000 troops saw action alongside their U.N. allies there.
While the country’s then-President, Laureano Gomez, was also looking for economic support from the West, the Colombians were also eager to remove the pro-German brush that had painted them during the Second World War. By 1951, for the first time in 127 years, Colombia was fully engaged in the fighting on the Korean Peninsula, attached to the U.S. 7th and 24th Infantry Divisions.
Over the course of the rest of the war, Colombia would send battalion after battalion over to fight, numbering more than a thousand men each. They were eager to prove Colombia’s bravery to the rest of the world, like the Turkish and Ethiopians before them. They were unlike any Colombian soldiers who came before them, but when returning home, they found a cold indifferent world.
Their service went largely unnoticed when they returned home. Colombians rejected many of the ideals the Korean War veterans held as they fought to earn their respect in the halls of the U.N.. They suffered the way many veterans the world over suffer after their wars end. While abroad and fighting, they found themselves honored and beloved by veterans from every nation they fought. When they came home, they found it was hard to win over their own nation.
They received no benefits, no pension. Many wounded veterans would come home and one day die without so much as a thank you from the nation for which they were willing to give their lives.
Eventually, the Colombian government would relent and offer a pension to Korean War veterans who could prove they were indigent. By then, many of those fighting men were well into their 60s and 70s. Some of those veterans were never recovered and remain in Korea to this day. The unit also suffered 213 dead and 567 wounded. They were the last force to arrive but the 9th largest to join in the effort to keep the South free. Still, the men who fought there don’t hold regrets about going.
“It was a really extraordinary experience,” said General Álvaro Valencia Tovar. “I never regretted going, despite the hardships suffered during war, the bitter winter we lived through there…resisting subzero temperatures, but that was all part of a chapter in my life that I’ve always regarded with great sympathy and with pleasant memories.”