Farewell ceremony for Student Volunteers departing from Daegu Station to the front line (1950)Original Source: Lim In Sik (Chungam Archive)
Student Volunteer Forces
During the Korean War, some students put down their pens and fought with guns to protect their country. We call them the Student Volunteer Forces. The Student Volunteer Forces were made up of students who voluntarily became soldiers in the war. According to the Military Service Act that was enacted in 1949, soldiers were to be conscripted after the age of 20 during normal times and military labor roles could be mobilized from those over the age of 17 during wartime, but most students made independent organizations or enlisted individually immediately after the war began.
A young student broadcasting from Seongdong Technical Middle School in Seoul to encourage participation in the war as a student volunteerOriginal Source: Lim In Sik (Chungam Archive)
On June 29, 1950, about 200 students gathered in Suwon to organize the Emergency Student Troops with the sponsorship of the Ministry of Defense's Bureau of Troop Information and Education, and this was the start of the Student Volunteer Forces. Since then, about 50,000 students joined the war efforts as combat personnel and over 200,000 for rear support, reaching close to 300,000 in total, and many student soldiers were killed in battle without even having military ID numbers or ranks.
Battle of Pohang Girls' Middle School
'The Battle of Pohang Girls' Middle School well exemplifies the sacrifices and dedication of the Student Volunteer Forces during the Korean War. On August 11, 1950, as the ROK Third Division that was defending the Nakdong River Defense Line was on the verge of being defeated by the North Korean Army, 71 student soldiers organized an independent company to fight against the North Koreans at Pohang Girls' Middle School. Though the decision to fight against the North Korean military with just a single independent company may have been reckless, they miraculously delayed the enemy's advance for about 11 hours while the ROK Third Division moved the rear command at Pohang Girls' Middle School southward, thereby making the decisive contribution that made it possible for the Third Division and citizens of Pohang to retreat safely. At this battle, the 71 student soldiers even engaged in hand-to-hand combat, resisting to the very end, which resulted in the deaths of 47 student soldiers. The Battle of Pohang Girls' Middle School was later depicted in a movie titled 'Into the Fire.'
Student soldiers in a donated photograph
Korean National Flag Signed by Korean Student Volunteers from JapanWar Memorial of Korea
Korean-Japanese Student Volunteer Forces
When the war broke out, Korean-Japanese (Korean students residing in Japan) soldiers also volunteered to fight in the war as their homeland fell in danger, and they are called 'Korean-Japanese Student Volunteer Forces.'
Cap and Insignia of the Korean Student Volunteers from JapanWar Memorial of Korea
They were highly active during the war both on the front and rear lines such as interpreting for the UN Forces, patrolling military supply bases, and maintaining security.
Unfortunately, they were denied re-entry to Japan by the Japanese government after the ceasefire agreement was signed. The reason for the denial was leaving the country without authorization. As a result, the students who went to Japan to study at young ages had to pioneer new lives in Korea after the war.
Certificate of Korean-Japanese Student Soldiers who took part in the Korean War as volunteers
Photo of student volunteers marching (donated by Lee Tae-Young)War Memorial of Korea
The countless student volunteers who fought in the war had to set out to the battlegrounds without receiving proper training. The students had to withstand the harsh winter with very few supplies and some students were killed in battle while trying to learn how to use rifles and machine guns.
U.S. President Johnson paying respects to the monument of Student Soldiers in the Seoul National Cemetery (1966)Original Source: NARA / 국사편찬위원회 수집자료
These students were much too young to have to withstand the pains and sufferings of war, but they completed their roles dutifully. Even though they missed their families and hometowns they completed their duties successfully. We should never forget their sacrifices.
Planning: Jung Seo-hee, Shin Yoo-jin
Editing/Host: Jung Seo-hee
Reference: 'Commentary of the War Memorial of Korea' (War Memorial of Korea, 2020)