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Sunday, November 5, 2017

Yang Kyoungjong - The Most Captured Man of WW2

     It is rare that a man can say that he fought for three different sides in a war. However Yang Kyoungjong could. And what makes his story particularly amazing is that never once did he volunteer, instead he was conscripted every single time. Here is his story

    His adventure began in 1938. Now most basic history books show World War Two started in 1939, and while this is certainly the case for Europe, the war in Asia goes all the way back to 1931 with the initial Japanese invasion of Chinese Manchuria. In 1938, eighteen year old Yang, a Korean national was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army. At the time Korea was a Japanese colony and Koreans were often drafted into service, especially for support roles. A year later Yang found himself stationed with the Japanese Kwantung Army along the Mongolian border with  Manchukuo (Japanese name for occupied Manchuria). At the time Mongolia was a communist state allied closely with the Soviet Union.That is a nice way of saying that Mongolia was basically a puppet state for the Soviets. Border disputes between the Soviet allies and Japan went back several years and this area was among those fiercely contended. The difference in claims was about 12 miles on a map, but both sides seemed ready to fight for the strategic control of the Khalkha River. In the spring of 1939, Mongolian cavalry wandered into the disputed zone and came under attack by Japanese forces, setting off a series of battles that lasted into September. The end result was a stinging defeat for the Japanese at the hands of the Mongolian-Soviet forces. Among the nearly 3,000 Japanese soldiers captured was Yang Kyoungjong.
     For the next three years, Yang found himself in Soviet work camps. However in the late summer of 1941, the Soviets were invaded by Nazi Germany during Operation Barbarossa. By the time the Nazi advances were halted, the Soviet Union had suffered staggering casualties. Soviet officials were so desperate for men that many prisoner camps were emptied in 1942 and the former inmates found themselves heading west to fight the Germans. Among these newly drafted Soviet soldiers was Yang . He found himself thrown into battle in 1943 against the Germans for the hotly contested Ukrainian city of Kharkov. The city had traded sides twice since 1941 and the Germans were trying to take it back in the early months of 1943. They eventually succeeded after after two months of bloody street fighting and among their prisoners was Yang.
    Much like the Soviets, the Germans found themselves short on manpower and they also employed foreign soldiers and captured prisoners of war in their own military. Organized into units called "Eastern Battalions", these troops were often stationed away from the front line. Many of these battalions were deployed along coastal defenses or used for partisan suppression. Yang's battalion was sent to France along the peaceful shores of Normandy.
     On the morning of June 6, 1944 the Germans awoke to the sight of an Allied armada off their coast. While the Germans under Erwin Rommel had reinforced the area substantially in the event of an Allied strike, they were more convinced the invasion would come at Calais instead. This was lucky for the Americans who avoided fighting crack troops, but unlucky for Yang who was stationed near Utah beach. He was captured by paratroopers and attempts to interrogate him were unsuccessful at first due to the lack of translators. The assumption was made that Yang was Japanese and therefore he was sent back to Great Britain for interrogation where his unique story came to light.
     Being captured in a German uniform, he was treated as a German and sent to a POW camp in the United States. In a twist of fate, he was allowed to settle in the USA following the war, where he lived the rest of his life, dying near Chicago in the early 1990's.

A photo of Yang Kyoungjong being processed as a prisoner after being captured in Normandy. He was one of a handful of Asians reported captured during the Allied invasion of France.

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