Steady on … honoring a Filipino hero of the Korean War
DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Han Dong-Man (The Philippine Star) - September 13, 2018 - 12:00am

"Steady on."

According to Filipino war correspondent Juan Villasanta, these were the dying words uttered by one of the heroes of the Korean War, words that echoed his team’s motto. His name was Captain Conrado Yap, of the 10th Battalion Combat Team’s Tank (later, Heavy Weapons) Company.

 After surviving the Bataan Death March and serving as operations chief in the Filipino guerilla army, the young Conrado Yap married Aurora de la Llana in 1944. When the Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950, the Philippines was the first Asian country to join a United Nations coalition to support South Korea’s efforts to repel the northern invaders, and Capt. Yap was one of the first officers deployed to Korea. As a soldier dedicated to duty, he did not hesitate to fight another nation’s war for freedom and democracy, even it meant leaving Aurora and their three young daughters.

On April 23, 1951, at the famous Battle of Yuldong, Capt. Yap was shot by enemy fire while attempting to recover and rescue his fallen comrades, after he and his men had secured a strategic location that restored the Filipino front line and saved the lives of hundreds of UN Command soldiers. For his heroism, Capt. Yap has been honored by at least two countries, and recently, by another most grateful nation.

Shortly after his death, Capt. Yap was accorded the highest military honors by the Philippines (the Armed Forces of the Philippines Medal for Valor) and by the United States (the Distinguished Service Cross).

On July 27, 2018, the 65th anniversary of the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement, the Republic of Korea fittingly honored Capt. Yap by awarding him the First Class Taegeuk Cordon of the Order of Military Merit. This is the highest recognition given by the Korean government for military bravery and valor.

The award was presented to his daughter Isabelita Yap-Aganon by no less than Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon in Seoul as part of the annual Visit Korea Program, where Korea shows its gratitude to the veterans of the Korean War.

On August 22, I received a heartfelt letter of appreciation from Isabelita, who said she was grateful for the warm welcome in Korea, and more importantly, for having been able to go to Korea as part of Revisit Korea 2018 and receive the rare honor for her father.  She also expressed gratitude for the lunch I hosted for her family last month.

I am humbled by her kindness, which only shows how well she was raised by her parents, even if her father had to leave his family when she was still a small girl.

Last Friday, I joined the veterans of PEFTOK (Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea) and their descendants for the celebration of the 19th Korean War Veterans of the Philippines Memorial Day. Capt. Yap was one of those fallen heroes whom we honored that day.

Moreover, since Koreans, just like Filipinos, place enormous value on education, our government also regularly awards educational scholarships to descendants of PEFTOK veterans. It is one of the means by which the Korean people recognize the noble sacrifice of the veterans. Without a doubt, Korea would not be the nation that it is today – progressive, motivated, with a strong economy and stable democracy – without the blood sacrifice of valiant soldiers like the PEFTOK veterans, heroes like Capt. Conrado Yap.

We hope that we bring honor to Capt. Yap and his comrades by continuing to remember their bravery and selflessness during one of the darkest hours in Korean history.

* * *

(Han Dong-man is the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Philippines).

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