DID YOU KNOW WILLY
(My sincere thanks to J.P. St-Aubin, John Longpré and Louis Fournier who provided vital details for this true story)
A few months ago, in mid-afternoon, I received a phone call from a friend who works in Montréal. I was somewhat surprised as he had never called me from his office before. He came straight to the point: "Did you know Willy Fong?" I replied that I had never met him but that I knew of him; he had been killed in Korea in June of 1952 while serving with 1 R22e R. When asked why he was inquiring, my friend stated that there was a young lady who worked in his area whose husband was the nephew of Willy Fong; the nephew was born after Willy’s death and so had never known his uncle. At the time of Willy’s death, the next-of-kin had been notified by Army Headquarters of his death but the family had never been advised of the circumstances. In an effort to get some details, the nephew had obtained Willy’s Record of Service and Conduct Sheet from the National Archives. These provided stark details of dates of enrolment during World War II (twice wounded) and the Korean War, date of death and little else. "Leave it with me," I advised my friend. "I’ll try to ferret out some details and get back to you."
Although a half century has elapsed, the name of Willy Fong is still imprinted in my memory. When the 3rd Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment arrived in Korea in April 1953 to relieve 1 R 22e R, over 100 members of the latter who had arrived as reinforcements to replace casualties were transferred to the 3ième to complete their year’s tour in Korea; one of these was assigned to my section. As a nineteen year old section commander with only 14 months service, I reckoned it would be to my advantage to keep him close to me; he was 21 years old and had nine months experience in Korea - much older and much wiser - virtually an old veteran! I felt I could benefit from his experience and I was not mistaken. He was hard-working, even tempered and pleasant to work with. I assigned him to share the two-man slit trench I occupied. Most of the time, during the hours of darkness, unless detailed to a patrol or outpost, we toiled away maintaining the defensive position for there was always a communicating trench needing repair, barbed wire to be reinforced or ammunition and defensive stores to be brought up from the bottom of the hill. At last light and first light, however, as was the custom, everyone ‘stood to’ in their slit trench for, as is well known, that was the favourite time for the enemy to launch attacks. It was during these periods of ‘stand-to’ that I learned of Willy Fong; Willy had been killed the previous June while on a fighting patrol and the darkness could not hide the sorrow in my comrade’s voice. He spoke of Willy in a wistful and melancholy way, in low tones so as not to be overheard by any ‘bad guys’ who might be lurking about. Willy was obviously a colourful character, well-liked by his comrades and with a flair for doing things in a unique way. I have forgotten most of these anecdotes except for one which I remember quite vividly: