The Death of The Unforgettable Ethiopian Hero

WASHINGTON, DC - Retired Air Force General Legesse Teferra, the most-decorated fighter pilot in his native Ethiopia, died on Wednesday October 12 2016 after losing a battle to Alzheimer’s. General Legesse rose to prominence during the 1976/77 Ethio-Somali War in which he destroyed five MiG fighter planes of Somalia in an air-to-air combat, and later destroyed a sixth plane that was on the ground along with other enemy arsenal. General Legesse was shot down and captured by Somalia in which he was held a prisoner of war for 11 years most of which time was in solitary confinement. General Legesse returned to Ethiopia during an exchange of POWs, and was promoted to the position of Brig.-General, while he was decorated with the highest order for heroism. While serving his country as an instructor at Debre Zeit Air Force base, the national hero was forced into exile when TPLF/EPRDF took over the reigns of power in 1991.

Gen. Legesse. attended the Harar Military Academy before joining and graduating from Flight Training Squadron. As an Ethiopian hero, a professional of the highest order, and a patriot, he went beyond the call of duty in the defense of Ethiopia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity during the invasion of Ethiopia by Siad Barre's forces of Somalia during late 1970s. Gen. Legesse, then a flying officer, went on a mission flying F-5 E fighter jet. He destroyed six of Somalia’s fighter jets in an air-to-air combat and on the ground. He also destroyed much of the invading army’s weaponry on the ground during that eventful and historic mission before he was shot down by enemy fire. Gen. Legesse was then captured and suffered for eleven years in solitary prison in Somalia. After eleven years , he was finally released and came to his beloved country as result of a prisoners of war exchange agreement made between the then government of Ethiopia and that of Somalia. Upon his return in 1988, Lt. Colonel Legesse was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General and awarded Ethiopia’s highest order of medal for heroism (Ye Hibretesbawit Ethiopia Ye Jegna Medalia) . For the past several years, Gen. Legesse has been a resident in the Washington Metro area with his family. The General is survived by two children, Nestanet Legesse and Lulit Legesse.

An Ethiopian Hero of The Korean War

By Alex Last

BBC World Service

25 September 2012

From the section Magazine

Sixty years ago, Ethiopia was at war. Not in Africa, but thousands of miles away in Korea. This is the story of one Ethiopian officer who won a US gallantry award. In 1951, the Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie, decided to send thousands of troops to fight as part of the American-led UN force supporting South Korea against the communist North and its ally, China. They were called the Kagnew battalions and were drawn from Haile Selassie's Imperial Bodyguard - Ethiopia's elite troops. Capt Mamo Habtewold, now 81 years old, was then a young lieutenant in the 3rd Kagnew Battalion. He clearly remembers a send-off from the Emperor himself, as he was about to leave for the other side of the world. "Always when a battalion went to Korea, he came himself and made a speech and he gave each battalion a flag - and he ordered us to bring that flag back from Korea," Mamo recalls. When Ethiopia had been invaded by Italy in 1935 Haile Selassie had condemned the League of Nations for its failure to act. Now, as a staunch ally of the US, he was eager to practise what he had preached. "As you know our King, Haile Selassie, was a great man for collective security. And when the UN asked him for troops for Korea, he accepted without any question," Mamo says. Mamo was himself keen to go, especially after the first Ethiopian battalion sent to Korea returned in 1953.

"Everyone was boasting when they came back from Korea, so everybody wanted to fight," he says. We were the best fighters... no Ethiopian soldier was taken prisoner in the Korean War Mamo Habtewold The Ethiopians fought as part of the US 7th Division. At the time, the American army had only just started to become racially de-segregated. But for Mamo discrimination was not an issue. "You know Ethiopia has a 3,000-year history as an independent country. We Ethiopians were proud and boasting that we were Ethiopians. We don't care about any colour. The Americans didn't call us 'Negro' as we would be angry," he says. And Mamo is proud of their record in Korea. "We were the best fighters. The three Ethiopian battalions fought 253 battles, and no Ethiopian soldier was taken prisoner in the Korean War," he says. "That was our Ethiopian motto: 'Never be captured on the war field.'" That motto was put to severe test.

In 1953, while peace talks dragged on, the two sides hoped to strengthen their negotiating position by battling for control of the barren, rocky hills and ridges which lay in front of the main UN front line. Some of the hills had nicknames: Old Baldy, T-bone and, most famously, Pork Chop Hill. Defence of this area was assigned to the US 7th Division, which included the Ethiopian Kagnew battalion. One night in May 1953, Mamo led a small patrol down from his hilltop outpost to scout out the land below. What he didn't know was that his patrol was about to be enveloped in a major Chinese army assault. "We were 14 Ethiopians and one American in our patrol. It was written later that we were fighting 300 Chinese soldiers - one man against 20," he remembers. Four members of the patrol were killed, including the American corporal. Everyone else was wounded.

Selassie's Korean army Ethiopia sends three 1,200-strong battalions Soldiers drawn from emperor's imperial bodyguard First Kagnew battalion arrives in May 1951 Assigned to US 7th Infantry Division Ethiopians fight in a number of engagements including Battle of Pork Chop Hill Ethiopian casualties: 121 killed, 536 wounded Discover more about the Korean War Find out if your ancestors fought in Korea "They tried to take my radio operator prisoner, but I killed the Chinese soldier and saved that man. And one time they came to finish us when we were all wounded, and I was left with one hand grenade and I killed them. It was very hard." The fighting continued on and off through the night. Cut off, his men wounded, Mamo feared they could not hold out much longer.

"I was wounded several times, I was tired, exhausted and I fell unconscious twice. The most important thing was to find a radio to contact the American artillery. But my three radios were destroyed. It's like a man who is living with his family, and all the family is dead and he returns to an empty house Mamo Habtewold "I gave one soldier my pistol to cover me while I went looking for a radio. I fainted again, and I was afraid I might be captured, I wanted to kill myself. But when I ordered the soldier to give me my pistol back, he refused, and the other soldiers said 'Don't give it to him!'" So Mamo decided to fight on, after all. "I just looked for a weapon from one of the dead men, and when the Chinese attacked I would shoot, and when it was quiet, I would look for a radio," he says. In the end he did find a radio. He called in American artillery which halted the Chinese attacks. Reinforcements got through and under the cover of smoke he and his wounded soldiers were withdrawn. Back at base, Mamo was the only one of his patrol left standing. "They all went to hospital. I was the only one who went back to the bunker. It's like a man who is living with his family, and all the family is dead and he returns to an empty house - that is how I felt. I was so sorry. I was very depressed."

Cold War conflict UN poster North Korean forces invade the south - 25 June 1950 UN resolution condemns invasion - 26 June 1950 Ethiopia is among 16 countries to send troops Armistice ends fighting - 27 July 1953 For his actions, he was awarded Ethiopia's highest military honour. The Americans also gave him a Silver Star for gallantry in action. More than 3,000 Ethiopians fought in the Korean War, more than 120 were killed, more than 500 were wounded. The survivors returned to Addis Ababa as heroes. "It was really a big day, especially when we came back from Korea, we brought back our dead soldiers. In Addis Ababa it was so crowded. Half of the crowd were weeping, half were celebrating," Mamo says. After the war, Mamo was promoted to captain. He was forced to leave the army in 1960 in the aftermath of an attempted to coup by members of the Imperial Bodyguard. He went on to have a career as a businessman and administrator. This year the South Korean government announced it would give pensions to the surviving Ethiopian veterans of the Korean War. Mamo still hopes to return to South Korea one last time and see the place where he became an Ethiopian war hero.

Alex Last's interview with Capt Mamo was broadcast on the BBC World Service's Witness programme. You can download a podcast of the programme or browse the archive.

Ethiopian general who fought fascism: Jagama Kelo

Martin Plaut / 05/11/2012

Jagama Kelo was just fifteen years old when he went to fight the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, which began on the 3rd of October 1935. In an interview with the BBC’s Elizabeth Blunt (now in the Imperial War Museum in London) he described his war experiences. The Italian forces, under Generals Rodolfo Graziani and Pietro Badoglio, had steadily pushed back the ill-armed and poorly trained Ethiopian army, taking Addis Ababa, on 5th of May 1936.

Fighting the invasion

Jagama Kelo, was at that time no more than a young man. He was the son of a wealthy landlord,who owned 900 acres of farms with his uncle, in the Gimchi area of Shewa, not far from Addis Ababa. Jagama had heard tales of his brave ancestors as a boy and hoped to emulate them. When the Italian invasion took place Jagama saw his chance. With his elder brother and uncle, he took to the bush, determined to resist. At first he had no gun – only his elder brother had one. But they ambushed Italian troops and gradually armed themselves. Peasants joined the struggle and by the end of the war they had over 3,000 fighters under their command. The largest battle he recalled was at Seyoum Mariam, some 55 km from Addis. Jagama says they were told by a woman fighter where to find the Italians and in a surprise attack broke through their lines. They killed 72 Italians in the engagement, capturing some 3,000 rifles.

The Emperor returns

On 5th May 1941, after years in exile in Britain, the Emperor Haile Selassie returned to his capital. Jagama, who had received no British help during the 5 years of the war, refused to go to Addis Ababa for the ceremony. In the end the Emperor came to Gimchi. Jagama says he put his 3,500 troops on parade, to greet Haile Selassie. He was then driven in the Emperor’s own car to his palace, where he was awarded a gabardine coat and a gold watch. But the war was not yet over. Jimma was still under Italian control. The Emperor asked Jagama for help and he says he led his forces into battle. Reports suggest the area was ‘swarming with Patriots’ – many of whom may have been loyal to Jagama. He told the BBC that his forces captured some 500 Italian soldiers, whom he handed over to the British. There was one more twist to this story. Jagama became dangerously ill with malaria and was taken to hospital in Addis Ababa. But the British doctor refused to treat him until he had a haircut. But Jagama was very proud of his ‘afro’, since it had scared his enemies and he refused and went home. It was only when the Emperor came to his house and personally ordered that his hair be cut to save his life that he gave in and accepted his fate.

After the war

The war was over, but Jagama remained in the military, rising to the rank of Lieutenant General. His story, and the story of the Africans who fought in the Second World War is recounted in a BBC documentary. He remained loyal to Emperor Haile Selassie when others deserted him, and was one of a number of Oromo officers who refused to participate in the ill-fated coup of 1960. Jagama was also instrumental in crushing a rebellion in Bale in the 1960’s and was rewarded by being appointed provincial military commander.

The Weird History of the Molotov Cocktail


From Nazi Resistance to Ferguson's Unrest:

The Weird History of the Molotov Cocktail


August 18, 2014

In their tear-gassed standoffs with police in Ferguson, Missouri, some protesters have retaliated with the weapon of urban revolutionaries and improvisational militaries alike: the Molotov cocktail. Easy and cheap to make, the Molotov cocktail is thought to have been invented during the Spanish Civil War, where it was used by the Republicans against Nationalist tanks. The original design was a mixture of tar, ethanol, and gasoline in a beer bottle, creating a substance that's both sticky and flammable either an oil-soaked rag or a long, wind-proof match is inserted into the bottle’s mouth to act as a wick. When the "bottle bomb" hits its target, the sticky mixture of fuel and flame ignite, causing a large fireball and coating whatever it hits with fire. But why is the weapon named after Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet foreign minister who signed the secret 1939 Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact that heralded World War Two? The answer comes from Finland.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact divvied Europe up into “spheres of influence,” carving Poland into Nazi and Soviet territory, while ceding Finland to the Soviets, who had previously controlled it under the Russian Empire. In the winter of 1939, after seizing eastern Poland and leaving the country’s west to the Third Reich, the Soviets invaded Finland. Molotov (“Hammer” in Russian) then said in a speech, “Tomorrow we will dine in Helsinki!” After Soviet bombs began to fall on Finnish troops, Molotov insisted that the Soviets were dropping food and drink instead. Exhibiting a keen wit, the Finns thus dubbed Soviet cluster bombs “Molotov bread baskets” (the food) and named the improvised weapons that they were using against Soviet armor “Molotov cocktails" (the drink). The Finnish Alko corporation, a liquor conglomerate, mass-produced 450,000 Molotov cocktails during the war. The weapon proved instrumental in halting the Soviet advance toward the Finnish capital. The use of Molotov cocktails spread during the war, among Allied and Axis forces alike. In 1940, as Nazis threatened to invade the United Kingdom, the British armed home guard units with the weapon as a form of civil defense. So Molotov, the war-mongering Bolshevik, ended up lending his name to a bomb known for its popularity in anti-Communist protests behind the Iron Curtain. Fast forward to today in the United States. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms considers Molotov cocktails a “destructive device” under the National Firearms Act. This does not mean that the weapon is banned—only that you must register your Molotov cocktail with the ATF. Of course, you will be prosecuted for hurling one at a police car.

Correction: A previous version of this article described the Molotov cocktail as a "centuries-old weapon." In fact, it is believed to have been invented during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s.

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