World War 2 History: Yang Kyoungjong Fought On Both Sides In 3 Different Armies

WW2: Captured Japanese soldiers, Khalkhyn Gol. Date August 1939.
WW2: Captured Japanese soldiers, Khalkhyn Gol. Date August 1939. | Source

Yang Conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Army

Yang Kyoungjong (March 3, 1920 – April 7, 1992) was born in Shin Euijoo, in northwestern Korea. In 1938, at the age of 18, he was conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Army. Over the next six years, Yang fought in the Japanese Army, the Soviet Red Army and the German Army until he was finally captured by the Americans in Normandy in June 1944.

The Japanese Army in Manchuria had occupied that region in 1931 and, by 1938, were eying Soviet-controlled adjacent lands. To beef up their army, they took young men from Japanese-controlled areas, including Korea, where Yang Kyoungjong soon found himself transported from his native land to Manchuria, wearing the uniform of a Japanese soldier.

WWII: Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go captured by Soviet troops after Battle of Khalkhin Gol. 1939
WWII: Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go captured by Soviet troops after Battle of Khalkhin Gol. 1939 | Source

The Soviet-Japanese Non-War

World War Two would not start for months when the Japanese provoked border incidents in 1939 with the Soviet Union and the Soviet puppet state of Manchuria. The Japanese Army in Manchuria (also known as the North Strike Group) had considerable autonomy, needing no approval from the Japanese government to “settle” border disputes with the Red Army. This resulted in the “incidents” called the Battles of Khalkhin Gol. The Soviets, busy trying to set up their Non-Aggression Pact with Nazi Germany, did not wish to fight a two-front war. As a result, they built up a massive response and smashed the Japanese Army so badly the Japanese government signed a cease-fire agreement with the Soviet Union which the two honored until the Soviets declared war on Japan on August 8, 1945. Incidentally, the utter failure of the North Strike Group, shifted emphasis to the South Strike Group, which was to invade Southeast Asia, the Dutch East Indies and attack the American base at Pearl Harbor.

Yang Captured By the Soviet Red Army

One of the many Japanese prisoners taken by the Red Army was Yang Kyoungjong. He languished for three years in a Soviet labor camp. In 1942, the Soviets desperately needed manpower, so Yang and other prisoners were given a choice: sure death in the camp or don a Red Army uniform and fight the Germans on the Eastern Front. Yang chose to fight.

World War Two: German Panzer IV near Kharkov, Ukraine SSR.
World War Two: German Panzer IV near Kharkov, Ukraine SSR. | Source

Yang Captured By the German Army (Wehrmacht)

While fighting Germans during the Fourth Battle of Kharkov in the summer of 1943 in Ukraine, Yang was once again captured. This time, the Germans pressed him into fighting for Germany in the Ost Battalion, a formation of Soviet POWs based in northern France. So Yang donned a Wehrmacht uniform and found himself near what would become Utah Beach.

WWII: Yang Kyoungjong, an ethnic Korean soldier in the German Wehrmacht, captured by US Army soldiers in France after D-Day in June 1944. Date June 1944
WWII: Yang Kyoungjong, an ethnic Korean soldier in the German Wehrmacht, captured by US Army soldiers in France after D-Day in June 1944. Date June 1944 | Source

Yang Captured By American Paratroopers

When the Allies launched Operation Overlord in June 1944, Yang was captured for the final time by American paratroopers who thought he was a Japanese fighting for the Germans. He was sent to a POW camp in the United Kingdom where it took some time to figure out he was Korean. He was freed in May, 1945 after Germany surrendered.

After the war, Yang immigrated to the United States in 1947. He lived out the rest of his life near Northwestern University in Illinois, an “ordinary” US citizen, never even telling his amazing story to his children. He died on April 7, 1992.

In 2011, a movie called “My Way” (original title “Mai wei”), inspired by Yang's story, was released.


My Way Trailer

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Comments 13 comments

gmarquardt profile image

gmarquardt 4 years ago from Hill Country, Texas

Awesome! Can't wait to see the movie as well.


NateB11 profile image

NateB11 4 years ago from California, United States of America

Fascinating story. Amazing how Yang was kind of tossed around and forced to fight in three different armies and alternatively on two opposing sides.


NotPC profile image

NotPC 4 years ago

Wonderful article! I think you may need to change your title from Korean to either "Koreans" or "Korea." Just a suggestion but otherwise I love your writing!


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

@gmarquardt, @NateB11 and @NotPC thanks for your comments. Yang's "adventures" have been used to illustrate the way war completely takes over lives. The individual becomes nothing in total war. A little different from the Iraq War when the government told us to go shopping.


NateB11 profile image

NateB11 4 years ago from California, United States of America

Yes, that was my impression while reading this, like he was just a tool, an object, used by others for their schemes. The de-humanizing factor is what stuck out to me.


Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

Pavlo Badovskyy 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

Ineresting story with unpredictable ending. I thought he will be shot either by this or that side. Lucky man, he managed to live throuhg the war !!


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Hi Pavlo. Thanks for commenting. He certainly took a roundabout way of leaving his Korean village to end up in Evanston, Illinois.


Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

Gypsy Rose Lee 4 years ago from Riga, Latvia

Voted up and interesting. A fascinating story. That's one way to get through wartime and stay alive. Sounds like a great movie. He's lucky he got to live out his life in the USA. Passing this on.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Thanks for commenting and sharing, Gypsy. Yes, I'd say Yang was very lucky-- although, ending up in Evanston, his luck must have run out.

JUST KIDDING, Illinoisans. At least he didn't end up in Minnesota. Hey, I'm an Iowan. We get to say things like that.


old albion profile image

old albion 2 years ago from Lancashire. England.

Hi David. Another first class hub. He was quite a soldier of that there is no doubt. Great research as usual. voted up and all.

Graham.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 2 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Hi Graham. Your comment is welcome as always. Great to hear from you.


Gary Malmberg profile image

Gary Malmberg 15 months ago from Concon, Chile

I almost got captured in Des Moines once, but I was fortunate enough to get back to St Paul in one piece. Anyway, another great story and enjoyable read. Two thumbs yup.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 15 months ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Gary, you were indeed fortunate. In Des Moines you would have been unmercifully subjected to Minn-e-soda jokes. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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