A ceremony was held today at the Wightman NCO Academy on U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys to honor a unique corps of soldiers who have been serving side by side with U.S. Soldiers for 73 years.
August 15 marks the birthday of the Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army program. Eighth Army and Camp Humphreys hosted the event sponsored by the KATUSA Veterans Association, Republic of Korea Army Personnel Command and ROK Army Support Group, which honors the legacy of KATUSA soldiers both past and present.
“This engagement honors the significant service and contributions of our KATUSA soldiers throughout history,” said Brig. Gen. Sean Crockett, Eighth Army deputy commanding general – operations. “The KATUSA program is the ultimate representation of our alliance forged as a combined formation with a singular purpose to defend the Republic of Korea. KATUSAs have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our U.S. Soldiers for 73 years... bonded together in our shared goals of peace, security, and prosperity throughout the region. We honor you and your predecessors today by commemorating the KATUSA program’s foundational impact on our iron clad commitment to the ROK-US alliance.”
The highlight of ceremony was the attendance of Ryu, Young Bong, who is regarded as South Korea’s first KATUSA soldier, according to the ROK Army.
Ryu lived in Wondae-dong, Daegu, Korea, and enlisted Aug. 16, 1950. He was assigned to the U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division. He received three weeks of basic military training at the Port of Pusan (now Busan) and sent to Japan to train with the 7th ID near Mount Fuji.
Ryu enter the Korean War with 7th ID at the Incheon Landing. He fought in the Chosin Reserve Battle and spent three years of the Korean War with U.S. Soldiers as a member of 7th ID’s 17th Regiment treating wounded Soldiers on the battlefield.
Following the war, Ryu served at the U.S. Army medical clinic on Camp Walker in the city of Daegu from 1958 to 2004. He retired after serving 5,974 hours at the clinic. According to records, the 92-year-old Ryu worked without a single absence.
During the ceremony, which featured guest speakers from the ROK Army and Eighth Army, awards were given to honor KATUSA veterans of the Korean War along with current KATUSAs recognized for outstanding service. A special award presentation was made to the family of Pfc. Choi Im-rak, a KATUSA soldier killed in action while serving in 7th ID during the Korean War.
Once the ceremony concluded, the guests ate lunch at one of Camp Humphreys’ dining facilities.
THE KATUSA PROGRAM
The Korean War began June 25, 1950. Roughly three weeks later the KATUSA program was initiated July 15 by an informal agreement between the Honorable Syngman Rhee, president of the Republic of Korea, and General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, commander in chief, United Nations Command.
During the first two months of the war, the Republic of Korea Army had been destroyed as a fighting force and the U.S. Army was significantly understrength and had been “compressed” into the Pusan perimeter by North Korean forces, as described in an official Army report.
Replacements and fighting men were in desperate need. The concept of the KATUSA program was to augment the U.S. forces. In the beginning most KATUSAs were recruited directly off the streets of Pusan (now spelled Busan). After a basic training period, KATUSA Soldiers were sent to combat units serving as infantrymen. The first KATUSAs reached U.S. Army units by mid-August 1950. They were issued U.S. supplies, but were paid by and remained administered under the Republic of Korea Army. Throughout the Korean War, up to a maximum of 23,000 KATUSAs served at any one time, according to the U.S. Army.
After the United States and North Korea signed the Armistice, the ROK and US governments decided to retain the KATUSA program to fill shortages left by the reduction of U.S. troops and to act as a link between the two armies. The KATUSA program has existed continuously for 73 years.