Death of Ethiopian veteran felt in Chilgok county

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Death of Ethiopian veteran felt in Chilgok county

Melese Tessema holds a letter of thanks he wrote in Korean for face masks donated by Chilgok county to Ethiopian Korean War veterans last year. [MELESE TESSEMA]

Melese Tessema holds a letter of thanks he wrote in Korean for face masks donated by Chilgok county to Ethiopian Korean War veterans last year. [MELESE TESSEMA]

 
The death of a 91-year-old Ethiopian Korean War veteran has set off a wave of remembrance in Chilgok, North Gyeongsang, home to some of the fiercest fighting during the war.
 
According to the Chilgok county government on Monday, local residents have set up banners commemorating the service of Melese Tessema, who passed away earlier this month due to complications of Covid-19.
 
“We pray for the repose of the Ethiopian Korean War Veterans’ Association’s late president, Melese Tessema,” read one banner in the county.
 
Chilgok witnessed the Battle of Tabu-dong from Sept. 1 to Sept. 18, 1950, one of several engagements through which the United Nations Command held the Pusan Perimeter against invading North Korean forces.
 
Last year, the county government organized a 6037 Campaign –– named for the 6,037 soldiers in the Kagnew Battalions dispatched by Emperor Haile Selassie to fight in Korea –– to deliver 100,000 face masks to surviving Ethiopian Korean War veterans and their families.
 
The Chilgok county chief sent a message of condolence to Melese’s funeral, which was read in Amharic by a local resident who had studied in Korea.
 
Messages of condolence were also posted by Korean celebrities.
 
“I honor the memory of Melese, who defended the Republic of Korea 70 years ago,” read a message posted to social media by the singer Sohyang, who asked her fans to support the 6037 Campaign.
 
Ethiopia is the only African country that dispatched ground troops to fight as part of the United Nations Command during the Korean War. Out of its 6,037 soldiers, 122 were killed and another 536 wounded. Some 130 Ethiopian veterans of the war are still alive today.
 
Melese was posted to Korea in 1951, shortly after graduating from an Ethiopian military academy. As a 22-year-old second lieutenant, he led a platoon in Korea for fifteen months. 
 
He suffered a leg injury in 1951 while fighting Chinese on Hill 358. Melese also helped fend off advancing Chinese troops during the Battle of Triangle Hill in 1952.
 
For his service during the war, Melese was decorated by South Korea, Ethiopia, and the United States, including a U.S. Bronze Star.
 
Melese and his family maintained close ties to Korea after the war. His granddaughter Bethel received a scholarship from the Korean government to study in Seoul. 
 
In an interview with TBS in 2020, Bethel said of her grandfather, “He and other veterans, they were putting their lives on the line not for their own country but for a faraway land they had never been to before.
 
“I am very proud of my grandfather and other veterans [who] carried out their duties in spite of these hardships.”
 
BY MICHAEL LEE   [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]
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