A few questions with Halifax artist Élana Camille Saimovici
Why can’t it be you? The driving force behind success
SUCCESS = career + money ... or does it?
Should I stay or should I go? A look at graduate retention
A conversation with Canadian Armed Forces veteran and health ...
Generational value gaps shifting as individualist thinking warps view ...
Success: Two women. Two lives. One take.
Five questions, 10 answers: let's make prejudice, inequality history
Money. Happiness. Family. How do we define success?
In Yang Kyoungjong's long journey, he fought with the Japanese, the Russians, and finally with Germany against the Allies on the shores of Normandy
In 1938, an 18-year-old Korean man named Yang Kyoungjong was conscripted into the Japanese army. Korea was under Japanese rule and Japan needed soldiers, so Yang was sent to the Kwantung army in Manchuria, northeast China.
A year later, he was fighting the Russians at the Battle of Khalkhin Gol and was captured as a prisoner of war. After a few years stuck in a Soviet labour camp, in 1942, Russia became desperate for soldiers and began forcibly conscripting its prisoners. Yang was, for a second time, recruited into a fight that was never his.
In 1943, he was sent west, more than 7,000 kilometres away from his home, to fight for the Russians against Germany at the battle of Kharkov in Ukraine, where he was captured as a prisoner of war once again.
In 1944, he was — you guessed it — forcibly conscripted into the German army and transported even farther west to France. There, he joined the 709 Infanterie Division and was posted to defend the port of Cherbourg, in Normandy, on D-Day.
As the Allies successfully took over the beaches, Yang was captured once again, this time by British forces. He spent some time in an English prisoner of war camp before being sent to a camp in the United States, where he’d spend the rest of the war.
The war over and no longer a prisoner, Yang had almost been shipped around the entire globe. He decided to stay in the United States, becoming a citizen and living out the rest of his life there until he died in Illinois in 1992.
Yang’s story is a harrowing one and it captured the interest of many. A South Korean filmmaker adapted his tale into the 2011 action blockbuster film My Way . In his 2012 book The Second World War , historian Antony Beevor begins and ends his book with Yang’s story.
“Yang remains perhaps the most striking illustration of the helplessness of most ordinary mortals in the face of what appeared to be overwhelming historical forces,” Beevor wrote.
A story of a young man sent to fight for foreign nations around the world is a powerful individual tale at a time where everyone was looking at the actions of giants.
But Yang Kyoungjong’s journey might not have happened at all.
When his story is mentioned in history books, it skirts around any documented proof or citation — usually sprinkling in terms like “some say” and “supposedly” to get away with it.
For years, the famous photo that supposedly depicted a captured Yang in a Wehrmacht uniform was labelled in the archives as “Japanese man.” Some historians and a South Korean documentary team tasked with investigating his story concluded that they couldn’t identify the prisoner in the photo.
While historians have found that Korean nationals were conscripted in the German army, some believe Yang’s story was created from thin air as a way to solidify the mythos of the “Japanese man” in the photo. All sources seem to refer to an article in “Weekly Korea” from december 2002, a newspaper that either doesn’t exist or isn’t accessible in English.
True or not, Yang Kyoungjong’s unwitting journey from Korea, to Northern China, to Ukraine and finally to France is a perfect representation of just how sprawling the Second World War was, and how so many people’s lives were changed and displaced forever.
We might never learn what really happened to him, or if he existed at all, but the story of the unwitting soldier who fought for three armies rings true to many, even now.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019