The Wartime Odessey of Yang Kyoungjong

When the photograph below appeared in the American press not long after D-Day the soldier in question gave rise to the belief that Japanese soldiers where fighting alongside their German allies on the beaches of Normandy. While this possibility had long been pondered (as far back as 1941 some U.S. Naval personnel swore they saw Nazi planes over Pearl Harbor) the actual story behind this photo and the unlikely soldier in question – Korean-born Yang Kyoungjong – is in reality much more remarkable if not downright improbable.

Yang-Kyoungjong

Above: A U.S. military press photograph taken at Normandy not long after the June 6, 1944 landings depicting a rather disheveled and forlorn looking POW in German uniform. Although unidentified in the original photograph, some believe that the man may be Yang Kyoungjong. Others postulate that this soldier may have been a POW from Soviet Asia who had been pressed into German service. The photo’s original caption incorrectly identifies the subject as Japanese. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration.

Born on March 3, 1920, in what is today’s North Korea, Yang Kyoungjong was sent as a laborer to Manchuria by the Japanese occupiers of Korea in 1938. Once there he was conscripted into the Japanese Kwangtung Army which had set up a puppet regime of Manchukuo in the Chinese province. At the although officially at peace the Soviet Union and Japan were in fact in a low-grade shooting war. The confrontations escalated to the point of several pitched battles, during one of which – Khalkhyn Gol – Yang Kyoungjong found himself captured by Soviet Forces. The year was 1939.

Yang Kyoungjong was sent to a Siberian gulag – a virtual death sentence – along with other Japanese POWs. Yang would receive a reprieve of sorts after Hitler ordered the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Initial Soviet defeats left Stalin so hardpressed for troops that he offered pardons the prisoners provided they volunteer to military service against Germany. Yang Kyoungjong volunteered for service in the Soviet army probably more to escape death in a gulag than anything else but his previous experiences in fighting along the Manchurian border would have ill-prepared him for the unimaginable carnage of Europe’s eastern front.

Yang Kyoungjong would have found himself packed like cattle along with thousands of other unwilling Soviet conscripts headed west along the Trans Siberian Railroad. The 2011 Korean film My Way depicts Yang Kyoungjong taking part in the Battle of Stalingrad but I have found no information confirming this. He apparently took part in the Third Battle of Kharkov in the eastern Ukraine (1943) where he was captured by the Germans.

By this time Nazi Germany found itself in the same predicament that the Soviet Union had just a couple years earlier – suffering from a dire shortage of troops and she resorted to the same dubious solution to the problem. Soviet, as well as other Eastern European prisoners, were conscripted for service in the Wehrmacht. Many of these troops – volunteers and otherwise – were organized into Ost-Bataillonen (Eastern Battalions) with the intent that they perform labor duties in occupied territories freeing up regular German units for more important frontline service. Once again Yang Kyoungjong found himself in a new uniform of another army.

Above: Of related interest in the 2011 Korean film My Way which is loosely based on Yang Kyoungjong’s wartime experiences during World War Two.  Here is a link to a trailer for the film which makes for some pretty spectacular viewing even if it is filled to overflowing with some big-time anachronisms such as the Iowa class battleship USS Missouri bombarding the Normandy beachhead.

Yang Kyoungjong along with the rest of his fellow Ost-Bataillone members were apparently deployed to the area around the Cotentin peninsula, close by Utah Beach in Normandy, France sometime prior to the Allied landings on D-Day.  Uninspired and completely unprepared for battle the Ost-Bataillonen not surprisingly contributed virtually nothing to the German defense of Normandy. Yang appears to have surrendered to American forces not long after June 6.

Interestingly a wartime account made by Lieutenant Robert Brewer, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (of Band of Brothers fame) mentions his regiment capturing four Asian soldiers in German uniform not long after D-Day. Could one of these four men have been Yang Kyoungjong? In any event, Yang was reportedly sent to an American POW holding camp in England prior to being shipped to a permanent camp on the United States where he remained until 1947. One might guess that Yang was surprised not to have been shoehorned into an American uniform and deployed to fight the Japanese in the Pacific. Had that happened this remarkable journey would have indeed gone full circle.

After release, Yang declined repatriation to Korea and settled in Illinois. He is said to have passed away there on April 7, 1992.

So that is the remarkable story of Yang Kyoungjong. Remarkable? Yes, but is the story true? I was rather disappointed when after considerable research I was, and have been unable to find any verifiable/primary sources confirming the tale. For example, I can find no newspaper mention of Yang Kyoungjong with the exception of a 2012 review of the book The Second World War by Anthony Beevor. One might assume that given Yang’s notoriety an obituary might have been published in a local or national paper. None have been found. Versions of Yang’s life appear online in dozens of places, and while remarkably similar in detail, none provided any links to reliable and verifiable primary source material. Even a 2005 investigative documentary by the Seoul Broadcasting System found no evidence that Yang Kyoungjong ever existed.

It appears to this reporter at least that Yang’s story is one of the better peices of World War Two apocrypha. While it does not seem to be true, it is one tale that I wish could be verified.

image

Above: A group of Asian POWs in German Army uniforms under guard on board a U.S. Navy vessel sometime after D-Day. Being transported to a POW camp in England, many if not all of these men were probably Ost-Bataillonen conscripts from the eastern reaches of the Soviet Union, some may have indeed bee Korean and whose forgotten tale parallels that of Yang Kyoungjong. Photo: Photo: National Archives and Records Administration.

 

 

 

Serving His Adopted Homeland

This photographic study of a member of “B” Troop, 7th United States Cavalry would have remained unidentified had it not been for the lucky inclusion of this soldier’s calling card with the lot when purchased.

Emil_ViewegAbove: Private Emil Paul Vieweg of the 7th U.S. Cavalry poses in his M1911 winter service tunic ans M1905 service cap at Fort Riley, Kansas c. 1908. Mounted Photograph (trimmed) 6 3/4 Inches by 4 7/8 Inches (17.5 cm x 12.5 cm), Unknown Photographer
Fort Riley, Kansas, United States. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia/soldiersofthequeen.com

Born at Greiz in eastern Thuringia, Germany, on September 16, 1885, Emil Paul Vieweg arrived in the United States in 1906 and like so many other recent immigrants enlisted in the army soon thereafter on 14 December 1907. Attached as a private to “B” Troop of the famed 7th U.S. Cavalry, Vieweg served out his term of enlistment at Fort Riley, Kansas. He took his discharge on 13 December 1910. At that time his character was listed as “Excellent”. By 1910 he had already declared his intent to become a U.S. citizen and by 1920 his application had been granted.

Emil_Vieweg_Calling_Card-600x336

Above: Private Emil Vieweg’s calling card used while he was a member of “B” Troop, 7th Regiment, United States Cavalry. His photographic portrait is attached to the card in the manner and size of a postage stamp. The photograph is exactly the same image seen in the
larger photo shown above. The card and larger portrait were in all likelihood produced as a package. Such packages were probably offered at a discount and sold in various combinations to the soldiers
stationed at Fort Riley. 2 Inches by 3 1/2 Inches
(5.2 cm x 9.1 cm) c. 1908. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia/soldiersofthequeen.com

Army life must have agreed with him but perhaps having grown tired of the rather flat and boring landscape of Kansas, Vieweg re-enlisted as a private on 23 May 1911 at Fort Wadsworth, New York this time with 53 Company, United States Coast Artillery Corps. If Vieweg had intended to make a career in the army it was a short-lived hope since he was admitted to Walter Reed Army Hospital for an unknown reason on 11 November 1912. He returned to duty at Fort Wadsworth, New York on 23 December 1912 after more than a year in the hospital. Vieweg was discharged for disability on 16 May 1913. At this time his character was stated as being “good”. He applied for an army disability pension on 5 June 1918. Interestingly this application did not prevent his registering for the draft on 12 September 1918. I have found no evidence of Vieweg serving another hitch during World War One.

According to the above-mentioned draft registration, Vieweg was married with his wife’s name being Theresa. He was employed as a timekeeper with the J. L. Sommers Manufacturing Company, a firm that produced “wire novelties”. The couple made their home in Newark, New Jersey. The couple was still residing in Newark in 1930 during which time Vieweg was now employed as a department store manager.

Emil_Vieweg_B_Troop_Postcard

Above: A Real Photo Postcard titled “B Troop Sports Taking Life Easy”. The photograph was taken somewhere in the vicinity of Fort Riley, Kansas c 1908 shows nine members of B Troop, 7th United States Cavalry as well as three young men who may have been the
sons
of some of these soldiers. Private Emil Vieweg stands at far right leaning against the tree. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia/soldiersofthequeen.com

In the 1930 United States Census, all adult males had their status as veterans listed. Even though Vieweg clearly served in the U.S. Army he was listed as a non-veteran. I have seen several other similar cases and apparently the enumerators for the 1930 census only listed those former soldiers who had served in a war as veterans. For those men who the “veteran” box was marked “yes” it was always followed by a notation of “WW” for World War One, “SP” for the Spanish-American War and in a few cases by this late date “CW” for Civil War. It should also be noted that there was no veteran credit given to those soldiers who had taken part in the many Indian Wars – at least I have never seen one listed as such.

Vieweg and his wife who was 17 years his senior seem to have remained childless. By 1940 he was widowed and living at he Soldier’s Home Hospital in Washington DC. He passed away on 4 December 1947 and was buried at the Soldier’s Home National Cemetery, Washington DC.

Fragments of the Old West – The Gamblers

One last excursion into the Old West (for now) before moving on to other areas of hopfully historical interest.

The_Gamblers

Above: An 1870s vintage 1/6th plate tintype of four Old West types who would not look out of place in any saloon setting. The older gent sitting at left in the silk top hat is a character right out of a Hollywood casting department call. He looks more than a little like actor John Carradine. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia/soldiersofthequeen.com

This 1/6th plate tintype features a cast of characters who would not look out of place around a poker table in Luke Short’s Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City or in a poker game the Oriental in Tombstone, Arizona. The local could just as easily have been Deadwood or El Paso.

This image dates from around the late 1870s. Each man in completely distinct from others in the group and whether or not they were gamblers as implied is open for question. Who they were and what relationship brought them together for the photograph will probably never be known but it is fascinating to speculate are to what their association may have been.

Carradine

Above: Actor John Carradine as James Barrow McBride in The Mind Reader, a 1959 episode of ABC Television series The Rifleman. Image: ABC Television/riflemanconnors.com.

faro

Above: while poker was played in the Old West, contrary to depictions in Hollywood westerns it was not as popular as commonly believed. Faro – pictured above – was by far the card game most encountered in gambling halls and saloons. Today the easily played game is virtually extinct possibly due to the low house odds when played fairly. 

Fragments of the Old West – Wee-a-Wah

Taken at Fort Washakie, Wyoming sometime in the 1880’s by artist/photographer Merritt Dana Houghton, this cabinet photo depicts a member of the Eastern Shoshone (Kuccuntikka) people by the name of Wee-a-Wah. According to the photograph’s period inscription, his name translates as White Horse. Even after quite extensive research, I have unfortunately been unable to find any personal information regarding this man.

Wee-A-Wah

Above: Dressed in his best, Wee-a-Wah posed for photographer Merritt Dana Houghton sometime in the 1880s at Fort Washakie, Wyoming. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia/soldiersofthequeen.com

The Eastern Shoshone had been living at the Wind River Reservation and around Fort Washakie since the signing of the Fort Bridger Treaty in 1868 and this man’s wardrobe in clear evidence of this fact. Although of an overall distinctive appearance, virtually every item worn by Wee-a-Wah had been either purchased from white suttlers at Fort Washakie or from reservation trading posts. There is nothing of indigenous manufacture in the way of dress to be seen. On his head is a somewhat battered silk top hat. He has also acquired an 1883 pattern U.S. Army tunic and is wrapped in a fringed plaid blanket. In his right hand is a store bought folding fan. While trade goods were highly prized by indigenous peoples, the complete lack of traditional elements in his attire speaks in volumes to the forced loss of ancient culture in the face of the overwhelming and relentless advance of European/American “civilization”.

Wee-A-Wah Reverse

Above: The photograph’s reverse side with its subject identified in a period inscription and bearing the stamp of photographer Merritt Dana Houghton. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia/soldiersofthequeen.com.

The photographer – Merritt Dana Houghton – was born in Illinois to Canadian parents on May 31, 1846. He first shows up in Rawlins, Wyoming in the 1880 census when is he is listed as a “Photographist”. He was noted as an artist perhaps more than a photographer and produced a large number of “bird’s eye” maps and renderings of western towns and localities. He was married at this time and he and his wife Frances had one child – Charles born about 1877. He was later active in Spokane, Washington and died there in 1918, a victim of the Spanish Flu pandemic.

Fort Fetterman

Above: A bird’s eye view of Fort Fetterman from C. G. Coutant’s History of Wyoming by Merritt Dana Houghton. c. 1899. Source: Wyoming State Museum, Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources.

Fragments of the Old West – Saddle Tramps

In keeping with an ongoing series of posts relating to the Old and Wild West is this 1/6th plate tintype of two men who look even more battered and ill-kept than the photo that recorded their image for posterity. These two men seem to fit the bill of those denizens of the Old West who were often described as saddle tramps. With no fixed abode, men such as these traveled for round up to round up, from odd job to odd job as the need directed or drove them. Often times these vagrant drovers flitted life away on both sides of the law – working for a rancher one day and rustling his cattle or thieving his horses the next. Their entire net worth was carried on the back of their horses (unfortunately not pictured here) which were often as ill-kept and shabby looking as their owners.

Saddle_Tramps

Above: 1/6th Plate Tintype (Ferrotype), Unknown Photographer, Western United States, c.1870s. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia/soldiersofthequeen.com

The taller, clean-shaven man at left wears grubby, fringed buckskin trousers, a collared vest, checked collarless shirt and a dark very wide-brimmed hat with one side brim turned slightly up making it resemble very much a darker version of that worn by the character Curly Bill Brocius in the classic western film Tombstone. To be true, these two character’s mode of dress is nowhere near as picturesque and flamboyant as that worn by the outlaw cow-boys in Tombstone.

The bearded man standing at right has a rather piratical look about him. The brim of his almost shapeless hat is turned almost completely up probably because it was the only way to keep the brim from falling down over his eyes. His jacket has only the uppermost button fastened in a manner popular at the time. He wears a boldly checkered shirt and has a bandanna tightly knotted around his neck. Given his overall look with a change of setting he could easily be mistaken for a member of a Boer commando from the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa c. 1900.

Perhaps the most telling details in this photograph are the men’s boots, the toes of which are completely worn through due to age and hard use. Given their shabby and well-worn look, it is hard to imagine how these men were able to scrape together the twenty-five cents that this photograph would have cost them.

Dodge City Kansas 1875

Above: Dodge City, Kansas c. 1875. Frontier/cowtowns such as Dodge City would have seen more than its fare share of saddle tramps passing though. Not long after this photograph was taken, Wyatt Earp was appointed town marshal of Dodge.

Fragments of the Old West – Cowhands* of Color

Although the precise number will never be known it is estimated that about one in four American cowboys were in fact of African descent.Black Ranch Hands

Cabinet Photograph sized Mounted Photograph. B. F. Craig – Photographer, Ballinger, Texas, United States. c 1900s. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia/www.soldiersofthequeen.com

The cattle industry that is so firmly associated with the Old West had its origins in Texas and it can be assumed that prior to the Civil War the overwhelming majority of black cowboys were in fact slaves. With the end of the war and emancipation it would have been natural for these men to continue on in the trade they knew best – but now by choice and for a daily wage.

The era of the great cattle drives from Texas north to Abilene and Dodge City in Kansas did not last long but indelibly shaped the character and reputations of the men who took part in them regardless of race, creed or even national origin.

Taken in the center of Texas cattle country, this photograph depicts two young black men who appear to be late 19th or early 20th Century cowhands.

While their actual trade will probably never be known for certain, the two young men certainly fit the proverbial bill for being cowboys or ranch hands from the early 1900s. Located almost literally “deep in the heart of Texas“, Ballinger (founded in 1886) was home to numerous cattle ranches any of which these men may have been employed. It is also possible that they were working on their own account, the owners of their own spread. Unfortunately, they are unidentified so researching their story will be problematic.

Ballinger Statue

Above: Prominently located in Courthouse Square in the town of Ballinger, the Charles H. Noyes statue honors a young local cowboy who died while roping cattle around 1919. The statue reflects the importance of the local cattle industry and is dedicated to “Spirit of the Texas Cowboy.”  Source: ballinger-tx.com

One interesting detail of the men’s costumes are the decorative buttons arraigned in a trefoil pattern on the seated man’s collar points. They are purely decorative in function and are typical of the small and individualistic sartorial flourishes so beloved by denizens of the Old West.

*During much of the historical period generally considered the “Old West” the term cowboy was looked upon with derision by many. It was often associated with cattle rustlers and outlaw types. A case in point was the so-called cow-boy faction of ner-do-wells who opposed Wyatt Earp, his brothers and “Doc” Holliday in early 1880s Tombstone, Arizona Territory. Those who plied an honest trade in cattle preferred such terms as cowhand, cowpuncher, cattleman, buckaroo (a derivative of the Spanish vaquero) or cowpoke. “Cowboy” would not begin to lose its outlaw stigma until around the time this photograph was taken.

The Case of the Red Planet

Ok, so I have a slight obsession with the planet Mars of yesteryear. The Mars of today while still red, bears little if any resemblance to the celestial body that held the hopes of some great adventure like that which awaited Civil War veteran John Carter in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars. Nor does it still possess the sense of impending doom as foreseen by H. G. Wells in War of the Worlds. It should, but modern science – that killer of dreams – put an untimely end to that which we all knew, or at least hoped to be true. This tiny 1/16th glass plate image of Mars harks back to those halcyon but now long lost days.

Cased Mars Front

Above: Resplendent with its padded purple velvet liner, this tiny cased image pose several questions. The thermoplastic case is of the type commonly used just prior to and during the American Civil War. The glass image itself does not appear to be an ambrotype plate one would normally see in such case but may actually be a period magic lantern slide which was cut down to fit the case. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia.

When closed this c. 1860 thermoplastic cased image measures a gem-like 1 7/8 inches by 2 inches (4.8cm x 5cm). The image itself is not a true photograph of Mars since at the time there was no way of tracking a planet with a telescope over the very long exposure times required to produce an image. The common practice at the time consisted of an artist or astronomer observing the planet over a given length of time and creating a drawing or painting of what he saw. Then the finished artwork was photographed in a studio setting to produce the final glass plate image. Under very close examination this image appears to have been photographed from a watercolor painting.

Cased Mars Back

Above: The detailed outside of the thermoplastic case with a fruiting plant design. The tiny rose-headed pins which retain the cases brass hinges and clasp can be clearly seen. Often mistakenly referred to as gutta percha, photographic cases such as this example was made from thermoplastic, a putty made up of coal or sawdust mixed with shelac. The plastic material was then pressed into carved steel molds and baked. The resulting hardened material took on this dark brown or sometimes black coloration and could hold extremely fine detail. Thermoplastic could be somewhat brittle and subject to chipping and cracking. This example is almost unblemished. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia.

Unfortunately, there is nothing to indicate who may have produced or owned this little image but it must have been a prized and very unique possession then just as it is now.