During the Korean War, Ethiopian soldiers fought alongside the United States in a unit called the United States Forces Korea (USFK). The soldiers fought in the Kagnew Battalions, that were drawn from the Emperor of Ethiopia’s Imperial Bodyguard.
One of those soldiers, Bulcha, was stationed near Seoul in the winter of 1951 when, as he passed through the capital’s Yeongdeungpo district, he noticed a little boy in the street, crying and nursing at his dead mother’s breast. The little boy had been orphaned by the bullet that killed his mother.
Bulcha scooped up the young orphan and took him back to his barracks to care for him. Bulcha, with his fellow unit members, made the boy clothes from articles of uniforms; they nurtured and raised him during the balance of the time they were stationed in Korea. When the war ended, Bulcha left the boy with a USFK orphanage and returned home to Ethiopia.
Now, Bulcha, who will be 84 this year, says his last wish is to once more see his orphaned protégé, Dong-hwa. “He’d probably be around seventy now,” said Bulcha. “We were affiliated with a USFK unit at the time, so the boy may have thought we were African American soldiers. But we were close for about three years until he was about seven or eight. If he sees a picture, he’ll remember. I’d like to see him again before I die.”
Bulcha cherishes the faded black and white photographs that were taken when he said goodbye to Dong-hwa at the end of the war. The photos show the handsome young Bulcha with Dong-hwa and his fellow soldiers inside the barracks, and the confident young boy standing outside the barracks with his hands on his hips.
Yoon Jong-wan was with Bulcha’s Ethiopian unit during the war. The South Korean said that there “was a boy Bulcha and some of the battalion members were looking after, whose name was Park Dong-hwa.” But Yoon, now 83, said he doesn’t know where Dong-hwa was sent.
In mid-February, a delegation from Onday, the South Korean nonprofit organization that has been helping Ethiopian Korean War veterans, was in Addis Ababa to deliver funding for the local Korean War veterans’ association and veterans’ village.
Onday sent its first support funds this year at the suggestion of adviser Lee Sang-wook, who has been providing personal support to Ethiopian veterans for more than six years. The organization plans to continue raising funds regularly to support scholarships, the establishment of a choir, and other efforts. This is in appreciation for the Ethiopian contribution in the Korean War.
Bulcha was able to talk with the delegation and ask them to try to locate Dong-hwa so he could see him again. Onday (or “warm day”) president Kim Kwang-il said they would share Bulcha‘s request with the non-profit’s members using the daily webzine. “Once we find Dong-hwa, we’re planning to invite Bulcha to South Korea and arrange a reunion,” Kim said.