THE POWER OF THE WALL
by J. E. (Jack) LaChance
The dedication of the Korea Veteranís National Wall of Remembrance which took place on July 27, 1997 at Meadowvale Cemetery, Brampton, Ontario, was one of the most meaningful and solemn days of my life. For personal reasons I had not participated in any Korean War veteran's functions over the years and believed I had buried my thoughts and feelings about my experiences there.
Preparing myself for this parade took me right back to my basic training in the fall of 1950 with the P.P.C.L.I. (Princess Patriciaís Canadian Light Infantry) in Calgary. My black Doc Martens were highly polished with a mirror finish. My blazer, proudly displaying the medals I earned in that war, hung over the body of an ailing old soldier who at this moment felt very fit and ready for battle once again. My medals sparkled in the sunlight as I headed for the assembly area at the sports complex. Placing my dark green beret on my head with its P.P.C.L.I. Badge prominently displayed, I now knew I was identifiable. Walking around a bit to get the blood flowing in my legs, I immediately felt like the eighteen year old I was forty-seven years earlier, falling in for my first parade and inspection.
We began to board the shuttle buses transporting us to the cemetery and Memorial Wall site on that Sunday morning, and I found myself once again experiencing the same kind of feelings of excitement I had experienced as a young soldier leaving Camp Petawawa. This was my first major train trip outside of my home province and I was heading for Calgary, Alberta, to join 2nd Battalion, P.P.C.L.I. in September 1950.
Only moments after being seated on the bus, I sensed the old rivalry between the different regiments surfacing. I hadnít heard the digs and name-calling since "political correctness" swept the land like a great tidal wave. We laughed at ourselves and each other without fear of being charged with discrimination. This was the kind of freedom we had fought for and for which many gave their lives.
My personal thoughts and feelings during the short ride to Meadowvale Cemetery were emotionally mixed. It wasnít an extremely warm morning, yet my hands were wet and clammy and I could feet the buildup of perspiration gathering under the ridge of my beret. A nervousness not unlike preparing for an attack or going into battle.
At this point, many of us had still not viewed the "Wall." We were filled with apprehension as to what our reactions would be when we got there. Many of us had visited the cemeteries in Pusan and Japan on our way home and that alone had been a traumatic experience. Here, in this place, all 516 fallen comrades were present together. Friends and acquaintances whom I had met, ate with, fought with, drank with, were finally, after a long lonely journey, back home with their families and loved ones.
With these penetrating thoughts in mind, my mood changed dramatically. I walked around a bit, stood by myself under a tree and said a few prayers, then fell in for the final march up to the "Wall." Perhaps my mood-swing was one of the reasons I had shied away from anything to do with the Korean War for most of my adult life. Some things just hurt too much.
It had been close to forty-five years since I was last on parade and I could sense my stomach rolling inside as our Van Doo leader began dividing us into marchable platoons. I was quick to note that nothing much had really changed over the years. We still had a senior Sergeant Major barking orders like a guy who had just received his first stripes. Some of us had forgotten which feet were left or right. No one dared trying to hop-skip back into step for fear of getting our legs crossed and possibly ending up at the emergency with something that would be beyond local repair.
It was an absolute honour to be a part of this historic event. The participating veterans were from all parts of Canada: each had their own story, their own personal losses, and their triumphs, to reminisce within themselves. The South Korean soldiers looked smart in their camouflage uniforms and R.O.K. army scarves. They looked identical to the many Korean soldiers I had seen in 1951-52. The South Korean Army veterans now members of the Toronto K.V.A. were there in their dark blue outfits. The colour guard from the Royal Canadian Legion, carried the colourful flags of all of the nations which fought in the Korean War. The contingent of American Korean War vets from Buffalo added another colour to our mosaic on this Sunday morning. All participants proudly marched to honour the fallen Canadians who died in that far off Asian land.