Sunday, January 05, 2014

ROK: The Republic of South Korea and the Vietnam War


In our research of the ROK (Republic of South Korea) engagements in the Vietnam War, we discovered three very important things that cropped up in all the sources we studied: 1) Korean military was very tough, 2) Korean military was there for economic reasons, and 3) there is is still much anxiety among Koreans and Vietnamese vis a vis the presence of those from the Republic of South Korea during the war.

On the one hand, we read that President Syngman Rhee, the much-revered president of South Korea offered to send troops.  Then we find that the US requested South Korean troops and attached a great deal of financial incentive to the South Korean leader. In fact, ROK troops were offered bonuses upon completing their service. Many would report it was more money than they had ever seen. Some described these soldiers and marines as mercenaries. The debate continues to this day. Some young South Korean soldiers volunteered to fight in Vietnam to get away from their abusive superiors who were often known to exceed their charge by brutally beating recruits.

"These soldiers (left) are from the 'Paengma' (White Horse) Infantry Division. During the Vietnam War, South Korea was the recipient of great financial benefit, through U.S. military contracts and U.S. government aid to the Korean Army: Between 1965 and 1970, the USA gave the ROK $927 Million for its efforts in Vietnam. The great expansion of the Korean economy in the 70's and 80's also had its roots in the business it made during this war: The economic gain from the war in Vietnam alone was $380 Million by the end of 1968: This represented 16% of total receipts of foreign funds and 3% of the Korean Gross National Product. The Korean Army in Vietnam, however, was notorious. The U.S. commanding general, General Creighton Abrams considered the Korean Army in Vietnam 'a barbarous, over-paid-for mercenary force'. He estimated that it cost the U.S. taxpayers $400,000 in aid for every enemy combatant the Korean Army killed." a

What is interesting, as a footnote, is that North Korea's communist government was active in support of North Vietnam with funds and soldiers. So, in the context of the war in Vietnam- the two Korea's were still, essentially, warring with one another- this time on foreign soil and against other Asians.

There is photographic, written, eyewitness, and film evidence of various aspects of the South Koreans who fought alongside the US. That evidence includes both vicious assaults on civilians and saving their lives. This was a feature of the war that can never be overlooked. All combatants were involved with- if not more than just witness to- atrocities. The photo below was posted on our Facebook page. Although we made no attribution, it was assumed by many- including us- that these were American soldiers. The truth is, these are South Korean soldiers.

South Korean soldier (Ang Sang-Byung) of the 30th Regiment of the Baekma
Division rescues children during the Battle of Diem Can on November 27, 1967
The war in Vietnam involved numerous other nations including Thailand, The Philippines, Iran, Spain, Great Britain (on a humanitarian level via Oxfam), Australia and New Zealand. Although many of these nations, with the exception of Australia and New Zealand, rarely get mention- they were involved. In our continuing effort to explore the depths of this war, we will plow forward with information that we uncover. Meanwhile, we look forward to comments, contributions, corrections, photos, etc. Our comments are monitored although we do allow for Anonymous contributions that we deem publishable. Think twice, post once.

Thanks to Lt. Colonel Edward S. Marek, USAF (Ret.) for permission to link to his outstanding website. His "Talking Proud" blog is a thoroughly researched history of US military facts and figures with plenty of photograps and links. We offer you his page on the ROK troops as an adjunct to our coverage. It is excellent.

Koreans Rock-Solid in Vietnam (link)

In Memory of Those Who Died

Attributions: a photo and quote from


  1. I was in the Engineers in Vietnam. We were building a fire support base behind us were about 30 ROK soldiers. I remember if they got in trouble the Sgt. made them fill their ruck sacks with rocks. Then they would have to low crawl up a hill about a mile away then crawl back. When they got back they had blood all over. I had a lot of respect for them.

  2. Joe Guyton - SFC RET. - 20 yrsJanuary 6, 2014 at 4:31 PM

    My first tour in RVN was at Quinon where the Korean division came into country, and my first overseas tour was in ROK in 1960. Yes the discipline was harsh but the troops by the time of RVN were tough and a cohesive force. Working with the Division Engineer officer (EDUCATED IN THE US) was a pleasure since he kept the US Brass off our backs so we could do our job building roads etc. for the division. Second tour with SF was a whole lot different - LLDB and mercenaries were a few steps behind the Koreans.

  3. As Vietnamese American, I recalled growing in up in the war torn Vietnam hearing South Koreans being described as worse than American soldiers. With over 400,000 soldiers served, South Koreans were the 2nd largest force yet known to have committed as much atrocities as the Americans. It's widely known that the Koreans were well compensated by Americans for their involvement.
    Perhaps, Japan should duplicate what the South Korea did to atone for their crimes against the Vietnamese: build a $100,000 peace park in Korea and all the matters of WWII conflict will be forgotten?