Yang Kyoungjong Biography
Yang Kyoungjong was a Korean soldier, well-known as the only soldier to fight for three sides during the Second World War - the Imperial Japanese Army, the Soviet Red Army, and the German Wehrmacht. At age 18 Yang was conscripted into an Imperial Japanese Army group, the Kwantung Army, during Japanese rule of Korea. The Battles of Khalkhyn Gol saw Yang being captured by the Soviet Red Army. Thousands of prisoners including Yang were pressed to fight for the Red Army due to Soviet manpower shortages in their combat against Nazi Germany. During the Third Battle of Kharkov, he was captured by Wehrmacht soldiers in eastern Ukraine. The Germans then included him in the Eastern Battalions during the war and sent him to Occupied France. He was captured there by the United States Army paratroopers following the D-Day landings and was sent to a British prison camp and later to an US camp. The US Army released him post war, however Yang did not return to Korea and choose to live in Illinois, US where he spent rest of his life.
- He was born on March 3, 1920, in Korea Japanese Protectorate, Empire of Japan (present day North Korea). There is hardly any information available on the life of this Korean soldier before his service to three sides during the Second World War including his childhood, family background and education. It is only known that he was living in Japanese controlled Manchuria at the very onset of the war.
- While in Manchuria, in 1938, at a time when Japan ruled Korea, the 18 years old Yang was drafted into the largest and most renowned command in the Imperial Japanese Army, the Kwantung Army, to fight against the Soviet Union.
- The Soviet–Japanese border conflicts, more famous as the Battle of Khalkhin Gol, that was fought among the Soviet Union, Mongolia, Japan and Manchukuo from May 11, 1939 to September 15, 1939 and resulted in a Soviet and Mongolian victory saw Yang being captured by the Soviet Red Army. He was sent to a forced-labor camp in the Soviet Union.
- Lack of adequate manpower to fight against Nazi Germany led the Soviets to press thousands of prisoners including Yang to fight in the Red Army in 1942. Sent to the Eastern Front of the Second World War, Yang served the Soviets for around a year becoming part of different engagements.
- The Third Battle of Kharkov, a series of battles fought between the Red Army and the German Army Group South on the Eastern Front from February 19, 1943 to March 15, 1943 that resulted in a German victory saw Yang being captured by the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany, Wehrmacht, in eastern Ukraine.
- The Wehrmacht had a practice of using non-German forces in the war. Those prisoners who were not executed by the Nazis were permitted to volunteer to serve the Wehrmacht. Such practice of the Nazis led Yang, the Korean soldier who had already served two different nations in the Second World War to serve the Germans as well. With this he earned the repute of becoming the only soldier to serve three different nations in the Second World War.
- He was enlisted in the Ost-Bataillone (Eastern Battalions), a military unit in the Heer (army) of Nazi Germany that included personnel from nations comprising the Soviet Union. He was designated to serve in a unit of former Soviet prisoners of war on the Cotentin peninsula in Normandy, near the Utah Beach and was thus sent to Occupied France.
- The largest seaborne invasion in history, the landing operations of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord, the Normandy landings, also referred as the D-Day landings occurred on June 6, 1944. Following such invasion Yang fell in the hands of the United States Army paratroopers.
- The United States Army officer Robert Brewer from the E Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division initially reported that following the Utah Beach landings four Asians in German uniform were captured by his regiment.
- The Americans were unable to communicate with the four men captured including Yang who were taken to be Japanese soldiers in German uniform. It was later discovered that Yang was a Korean while the other three men were from Turkestan. Yang was transferred to a British prison camp and thereafter moved to a camp in the US.
- The United States Army released him from captivity after the Second World War ended in September 1945.
- Following his release from captivity, Yang chose to stay in the United States instead of returning back to Korea. He moved to the state of Illinois in the Midwestern region of the United States and settled there for good.
- Not much is known about the pursuits of this war veteran after the Second World War who is known to have led a quiet life in Illinois and breathed his last in Evanston, Illinois, on April 7, 1992 when he was 72 years old.
- A controversy spurted when a documentary was broadcast by the Seoul Broadcasting System in December 2005. The subject of the documentary dealt with the presence of Nazi Germany served Asian soldiers who were captured by the Allied forces. While concluding, the documentary conveyed that even though Asian soldiers served Nazi Germany during the Second World War, presence of Yang Kyoungjong is not manifested by any clear proof.
- The December 21, 2011, released South Korean wartime action drama film ‘My Way’ that had South Korean actor Jang Dong-gun, Chinese actress Fan Bingbing and Japanese actor Joe Odagiri in starring roles was based on Yang’s war experience.
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