Looking back 55 years in The Year of the Veteran

 by
John R. Bishop
President, Pacific Region , Korea Veterans Association of Canada

It is an appropriate time to look back to June 25th, 1950 when North Korea attacked south across the 38th Parallel into the Republic of Korea. Exactly 55 years ago in the month of August, Canada raised an infantry brigade group of almost all boys not yet 21 years of age with little or no military experience. These young men were led by a small number of outstanding and experienced World War II officers and senior non-commissioned officers.

It is hard to believe that barely three months after answering the call, the first contingent would depart from Fort Lewis in November on a troop ship, the Private Joe P. Martinez, sailing from Seattle, Washington. It would be an error not to record that in July 1950 the Royal Canadian Navy committed three destroyers and an Royal Canadian Air Force transport squadron. Canada had allowed the army to reduce its numbers after World War II to between 5,000 and 7,000 front line fighting soldiers. Therefore, Canada could not afford to risk our regular army. They would be required to train and augment the more than twenty thousand who would serve in the Korean War in the land battle before the cease-fire on 25 July1953. In addition, another 7,000 soldiers would serve on peacekeeping duties after the Armistice Agreement until 1955.

At the risk of alienating or not giving well deserved praise to all those who served in the land battle during the war, I  find it hard to believe today that the initial infantry battalion that I served with was in Korea six months prior to the arrival of the balance of 25 Canadian Infantry Brigade Group. 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, four months after our arrival in country, fought a significant battle at Kapyong (Gapyong) in April 1951 that resulted in the awarding of a United States Presidential Citation, the only time in history a Canadian unit has won such an award.

All Canadian units served honourably in Korea, Canada’s Third Bloodiest Conflict. 516 servicemen made the supreme sacrifice.  1558 were wounded, not to mention the thousands who would be recognized today in a special category not recognized in the early fifties, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or, as it was called in World War I and II, shell shock.

The army suffered more than 500 of the fatal casualties and a comparable number in the wounded category. As an old infantryman, I must record that approximately 85% of the casualties in Korea were in the infantry. This fact should be recorded in the Year of the Veteran so that we realize that our front line troops of any type should be remembered in a realistic context.

Many citizens of Victoria noticed Korea Veteran Association members, recently just over a dozen strong, parading in the annual Victoria Day Parade. Again, over fifty years since the cessation of fighting in Korea, their numbers are declining all too frequently due to death and physical impairment. They march proudly in the parade but are thankful that the route is not ten kilometers long.

It is also an appropriate opportunity to recognize at this time a joint project by a 60,000 strong Korean-Canadian Community and the City of Burnaby to erect a substantial Memorial in Burnaby. The Korean-Canadian community remembers the contribution of Canadian soldiers, not unlike the citizens of Holland in World War II. Thirty-six young men from British Columbia who made the supreme sacrifice during the Korean conflict will have their names chiseled on this memorial in Burnaby. The ground-breaking ceremony for this project was held at 1100 hours on September 17th at Central Park in Burnaby.

The Burnaby ground-breaking ceremony was well attended by over 200 people including 20 Canadian Korea War veterans. We were all honoured by the attendance of Mr.Choi the Korean Consul General, Mr.Corrigan the Mayor of the City of Burnaby and Ms.Roosa City of Burnaby Chair of Commission. More than a dozen important dignitaries were present including Members of Parliament, Association Presidents, Committee Chair Persons and many noteworthy spectators including members of the Korean-Canadian community. Mr.Yang J. Shin, Chair of the Korean War Memorial Project Committee announced that the  unveiling ceremony will be in October 2006.

Another project of interest to British Columbia residents was a small ceremony held in Fort Lewis, Washington on September 10th this year, almost exactly 55 years since our soldiers commenced their 18 month enlistment in the Canadian Army Special Force to serve in Korea. A group of Korean War veterans from British Columbia, primarily from Victoria, gathered at the Fort Lewis Museum to place three impressive bronze plaques recognizing the more than 5,000 who served in Washington State before going to Korea. The display included copies of five different books written by Canadian soldiers who served in Korea including two of them who retired near Victoria. Mr. Jeffrey Parker, Consul General of Canada who resides in Seattle, Washington was the senior Canadian dignitary attending the ceremony. Mr. Alan Archambault, Museum Curator made all the necessary arrangements for the ceremony, ensured U.S. Korean war veterans were in attendance and, personally conducted an outstanding tour of his facility.

The three plaques including one which is a replica of the memorial in Pusan (Busan), Korea where 378 of the 516 who died in Korea are buried. The remaining 138 are buried at a number of locations including Yokohama, Japan where they died from wounds suffered in Korea. Tragically, one train carrying members of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery to Fort Lewis was in a head-on collision with another train at Canoe River, B.C. on November 21st 1950. That crash resulted in the death of 17 soldiers and four airmen and, injured another 49.

The two largest plaques to be unveiled in Fort Lewis are identical, one in English and one in French. The Memorial’s main plaques read:

IN MEMORY OF THE MEMBERS OF 25 CANADIAN INFANTRY BRIGADE GROUP, CANADIAN ARMY SPECIAL FORCE, 5,772 OF WHOM TRAINED AT FORT LEWIS FROM OCTOBER 1950 PRIOR TO THEIR SERVICE IN THE KOREAN WAR, AND IN TRIBUTE TO OUR AMERICAN FRIENDS AND ALLIES.

A TOTAL OF 26,791 CANADIANS IN THE ROYAL CANADIAN NAVY, CANADIAN ARMY AND ROYAL CANADIAN AIR FORCE SERVED THEIR COUNTRY AND THE UNITED NATIONS IN THAT CONFLICT. 

516 OF THEM MADE THE SUPREME SACRIFICE

Members of the Korea Veterans Association (KVA) are planning on erecting a large memorial beside Highway I-5 with access to land donated by Fort Lewis. The three bronze plaques will be placed on the memorial along with other smaller plaques recognizing significant events including the Canoe River collision and the Patricia’s epic stand at Kapyong. Hopefully, when we look back in 2010, 60 years after the commencement of the Korean War, tourists will be attracted to the site of an impressive memorial beside the highway with ‘CANADA’ chiseled at the top in bold black letters. A few may choose to turn off Highway I-5 and read the plaques donated by Friends of KVA.

In conclusion, as this is the Year of the Veteran in Canada, it is also important to remember all Canadian veterans from all wars, peacekeeping type missions and other types of duty where our servicemen and servicewomen serve around the world.

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