While the Korean War (1950-53) is often referred to as the “Forgotten War” – occurring at a time in history sandwiched between WWII and the Vietnam War – it is still freshly etched in the memories of the Canadian soldiers who fought to defend freedom in South Korea. This was evident when the Korean Embassy hosted a talk by three Korean War Veterans from Canada on March 27 as part of their Embassy Speaker’s Series. The talk marked the first in a series of lectures to be hosted monthly by the Embassy in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Korea-Canada relations and 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Armistice in 2013.
Korean War Veterans General Ramsey Withers, former Chief of the Defence Staff, Mr. Jon Jennekens, former President and CEO of the Atomic Energy Control Board, and Mr. Dan Kendrick, member of the Canadian Forces who served 5 years in the Navy and 25 years in the Air Force, spoke in turns about their experiences as part of the Canadian contingent of the United Nations military forces in the Korean War. They lived through the dramatic ebbs and flows of the war, in which North Korea initially pushed South Korean forces all the way back to Pusan on the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula. However, a UN counter-offensive then drove the communist North to retreat as far back as its northern border with China, which prompted Chinese military intervention. Eventually, the two sides restored the border near the 38th parallel, which remains to this day, 60 years later.
This general account can also be found in popular narratives about the Korean War. But what we don’t often hear about is the experiences and significant contributions of the relatively smaller countries, like Canada, which our three speakers were more than happy to share:
-What was going through the minds of Canadian soldiers as they left the comforts of home and their loved ones behind and prepared to sacrifice their lives in a faraway country? If General Withers, Mr. Jennekens and Mr. Kendrick are any indication, it was simply a noble sense of duty: They never liked schoolyard bullies and they were going over to fight back against those schoolyard bullies from the North.
-Canada sent the third largest military contingent to Korea (after the US and Great Britain) among the 15 UN member countries that initially offered assistance with more than 26,000 soldiers. What may surprise many, however, are the names of some of the other member countries that did answer the call: Colombia, Ethiopia, Luxembourg (who had a platoon in the French Brigade), Thailand and South Africa, to name a few.
-The 2nd Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry played an instrumental role in the war, successfully holding their position at the key strategic site of Kapyong Hill (now famously known as the Battle of Kapyong) against the massive onslaught of Chinese forces, who were three times the size of the Canadian contingent. This represented the turning point of the war as peace talks began in earnest after the incident.
-In the end, 516 Canadian soldiers were killed, 486 of whom were buried at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Pusan, Korea. Tragically, there were also many civilian casualties, especially after the end of the war when mines that were planted in the rice paddies exploded as the villagers returned to their homes.
I’m sure that General Withers, Mr. Kendrick and Mr. Jennekens could have shared countless other poignant stories had they had the time that evening. So do yourself a favour – talk to a local Korean War Veteran today and be treated to compelling real-life stories from true Canadian heroes.