In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

Korean Veterans

Posted 7/11/2008 by Grant Mitchell

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What a privilege it is to be traveling in Korea with Canadian veterans of the Korean War. I am with a group of veterans who are on a Veteran Affairs organized visit to  Korea for a number of ceremonies commemorating the 55th anniversary of the armistice.

 This is a delightful group of elderly veterans, their spouses and care-givers who demonstrate a kindness and grace that belies what they experienced during the war. Many of us are unaware of how significant a war this was. It lasted two years, involved Canadians and others fighting the North Korean and Communist Chinese forces and 516 Canadians died there.

 The veterans each have a story to tell and it is immensely moving to listen to them.  You sense from them the viciousness of the fighting, but they are each reluctant to talk about that explicitly. A former medic talks of getting out of the forces when he returned because he was haunted by the horror of what he saw. Another soldier talks of being lucky to be a member of the engineer corps because he was safe behind the front line when Canadian soldiers were massacred during an engagement. Another talks of the enemy approaching Canadian lines in the dark of one night, lying in wait throughout the following day, cutting the wire while Canadians were eating supper and killing 26 in the surprise attack. You feel that each of them, as they talk, are thinking of friends they lost.

 At some level, their time in Korea was formative for each of them. They are bigger, more humble and more grateful for what they have because of it. Somehow their sacrifice personified the understanding that there are things that are so much more important than our own selfish interests. It is inspiring to meet these people who know that implicitly and live their lives with meaning because of it.

 This is a moving time for me too because my father was in Korea with the Canadian forces as a member of the Canadian Black Watch, highland regiment, having fought also in Europe in World War II. Somehow I never felt he wanted to talk too much about this part of his life, in part, I think, because the memories hurt deeply and perhaps because, like these veterans here, he felt very humbled by these experiences. I know he left me with the clear impression, though, that if Canada was important enough for my father to risk his life for it, it must be a very special place. I have never felt that more than I do now surrounded by these veterans.

 In our briefing last night, we were told to expect peaceful demonstrations being held in the square outside our Seoul hotel by farmers concerned with US beef. Interesting, I thought, that the soldiers in the briefing with me had risked their lives 55 years ago so that these people would have the right to demonstrate in the square.

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