Hidden History: Yang Kyoungjong, the soldier of three armies

Technews Writer
Sat Apr 07, 2018

Being a captive soldier, forcibly conscripted into an army and into a cause you do not believe in, is already a tough experience. Now imagine having to do so three separate times for three different armies over the course of a single war. This was the fate of Korean soldier Yang Kyoungjong. Over the course of World War II (WWII), Yang was forced to fight for the Imperial Japanese Army, the Soviet Red Army, and the German Wehrmacht. To date, he is the only soldier to have fought on three different sides of a single war.


Yang was born in 1920 in modern-day Korea, which was then part of the Japanese Empire. In 1938, at the age of 18, he (alongside many other Koreans) was forcibly conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Army to fight against the Soviet Union. A year later, Yang was captured by the Soviet Red Army at the Battle of Khalkhin Gol, and was imprisoned in a Soviet gulag.


However, as the Soviet Army faced massive shortages in manpower in its fight against Nazi Germany, the use of forcibly conscripted soldiers once again saw Yang outfitted to fight for an army he held no allegiance to as he was sent across the Soviet landscape to the Eastern Front of Europe, where he would be forced to defend against Nazi Germany’s advances. Yang was captured once again in 1943, this time by the German Wehrmacht in modern-day Ukraine at the Third Battle of Kharkov.


Unable to catch a break, Yang would be equipped in a foreign uniform for the third time this war as he was integrated into the Eastern Battalions, fighting on behalf of Nazi Germany. Stationed to occupied France, Yang served in a battalion of other former Soviet prisoners on the Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy. Surely this was enough capture and forced conscription for one man, right?


Unsurprisingly, at this point, Yang would be captured for the final time after the D-Day landings by the United States Army in 1944. Initially believed to be a Japanese soldier in German uniform, Yang was unable to communicate with any of his American captors and was sent to a prison camp in Britain before being transferred to a camp in the United States. Luckily, this transfer marks the end of Yang’s war journey, as he remained a prisoner of the United States until the war’s end in 1945.


Unfortunately, details of Yang’s actual experiences in and after the war are mostly unavailable. All that is known of Yang’s post-war life is that he peacefully settled right here in Cook County, Illinois, had a family, and peacefully passed away in 1992. Yang never publicly discussed his very bizarre experiences in WWII, reportedly never even discussing it with his three children. Undoubtedly, seeing humanity’s worst conflict from the perspective of three different participating countries exposed Yang to a wide array of unspeakable horrors, but still the very unusual circumstances of his tour of the world remain a remarkable story of a global soldier.