Retired admiral recalls Japan’s role in Korean War

FEATURE: Retired admiral recalls Japan’s role in Korean War

TOKYO, June 19 Kyodo

The historic summit held last week between North and South Korea had the world watching with anticipation as the last remaining Cold War confrontation appeared on the path to dissipation.

On Monday, six days before the 50th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, a retired Japanese admiral recalled the day the war broke out and his part in the conflict.

“June 25 was a Sunday in 1950, just as it is this year,” retired Adm. Ryohei Oga, chief of staff of the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) from 1977 until his retirement in 1980, told the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan in Tokyo.

Oga, at that time a member of the nonmilitary Maritime Safety Agency (MSA), now called the Japan Coast Guard, said he happened to be in Kanagawa Prefecture that day and was just about to go over to his superior’s house to play cards.

“Just then, I heard on the NHK news that the war had broken out and I wondered for a moment whether I should do something. But as I was no longer a military officer, I decided to go to my superior’s house as planned,” Oga said.

Little did the former officer with the now-defunct Imperial Japanese Navy know that he and his countrymen would soon be involved with the war, albeit indirectly.

After returning to Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, in the western tip of Japan’s largest main island of Honshu, where he was commanding a minesweeping unit of the MSA, Oga was out at sea on a muggy day in mid-July when he was ordered to return immediately to the head office.

He was then told to sail to Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, on the southern main island of Kyushu to report to the U.S. Navy’s minesweeping unit there, and given the task of checking the port in the mornings to make sure no mines had been laid overnight.

In October 1950, four Japanese vessels were also sent to waters surrounding the Korean Peninsula to sweep the sea for mines, leading to the sinking of one of the ships and the death of one crew member, the retired admiral said.

Japan was involved in the 1950-1953 Korean War in other ways, he recalled, including transporting U.S. military cargo that arrived in Japan and receiving war casualties, brought from Pusan, South Korea, to Fukuoka.

Sasebo was the home port for the U.S. naval force, and air facilities in Fukuoka Prefecture and in western Japan along the Sea of Japan also served as bases for U.S. fighters, Oga said.

The situation was similar to that described in the current Japan-U.S. defense guidelines updated in September 1997 to allow Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to provide rear-area logistic support to the U.S. military during emergencies in unspecified “areas surrounding Japan” that concern the country’s peace and security.

“When the original Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines were drawn up in 1978, it covered only issues dealing with the defense of Japan,” Oga said.

He explained that the Japanese Foreign Ministry at the time decided against the U.S. military’s calls to include issues dealing with emergencies in areas outside of Japan based on Japan’s experience in the Korean War.

The current guidelines, aimed at facilitating defense cooperation between Japan and the United States during emergencies in the areas surrounding Japan, address almost every issue proposed in the original guidelines, Oga said.

Japan’s parliament passed a set of bills in May last year to implement the guidelines, three years after U.S. President Bill Clinton and then Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto redefined the bilateral security alliance in April 1996, launching a review of the original guidelines.

But following the conclusion of the inter-Korean summit last week when the two Koreas, whose war ended in an armistice, set out to improve relations, those guidelines may never have to be applied.

Oga said that after the summit between Kim Dae Jung and Kim Jong Il, he started feeling that “perhaps we can start hoping the war, which began 50 years ago, will finally wind down.”

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