70 years on, Canadian veterans keep memories of ‘forgotten’ Korean War alive

Korean War veterans Andy Barber, left, and Ron Kirk, raise the Canadian flag at the Halton Naval Veterans Association Burlington, Ont. on Friday November 6, 2020. Barber and Kirk served as in the navy as part of a peacekeeping force immediately following the armistice in July 1953. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark BlinchKorean War veterans Andy Barber, left, and Ron Kirk, raise the Canadian flag at the Halton Naval Veterans Association Burlington, Ont. on Friday November 6, 2020. Barber and Kirk served as in the navy as part of a peacekeeping force immediately following the armistice in July 1953. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch
Korean War veterans Andy Barber, right, and Ron Kirk, pose for a picture at the Halton Naval Veterans Association Burlington, Ont. on Friday November 6, 2020. Barber and Kirk served in the navy as part of a peacekeeping force immediately following the armistice in July 1953. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark BlinchKorean War veterans Andy Barber, right, and Ron Kirk, pose for a picture at the Halton Naval Veterans Association Burlington, Ont. on Friday November 6, 2020. Barber and Kirk served in the navy as part of a peacekeeping force immediately following the armistice in July 1953. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

Seventy years after Canada committed troops to a conflict the public still knows little about, the country’s dwindling ranks of Korean War veterans continue to speak out about their experiences in the “forgotten war.”

More than 26,000 Canadians fought as part of a 16-member United Nations force that interceded after the Communist north invaded the south in June 1950. Over the three years the war raged across the rugged hills of the Korean Peninsula, 516 Canadian servicemen would lose their lives.

Another 7,000, including Andy Barber of Mississauga, Ont., would serve as part of a peacekeeping force that monitored the stalemate for two years following the armistice signed in July, 1953.

“There was a lot of anxiety because you never knew when the other shoe would drop,” said Barber, who turned 20 while serving as a flag signaller aboard HMCS Haida as it patrolled a string of coastal islands in late 1953.

Now 87, Barber takes every opportunity he can to speak to schoolchildren and community groups as part of the Memory Project, a volunteer speakers bureau run by Historica Canada that allows veterans to share their experiences in the military.

“It was called for many years the forgotten war,” Barber said in a recent interview. “If you look at any of these schoolbooks they have maybe a paragraph or two about the Korean War and probably a couple of pages of World War Two.”

Barber said the lack of information and recognition for their service led veterans to form the Korean Veterans Association in 1974 so that they could “get together and make sure the history of the war was carried on.”

In fact, it took until May 1982 before the National War Memorial was rededicated to include the dates of the Korean War, and it wasn’t until June 2013 that the Korean War Veterans Day Act became law, declaring July 27 a national day of remembrance.

Ted Barris, author of “Deadlock in Korea,” which details Canada’s role in the war, said that although the conflict was the first test of the United Nations Peace Charter, it was often derisively referred to as a “police action” by politicians at the time.

Barris noted the war broke out just five years after the end of the Second World War and was largely greeted with indifference by a war-weary public more interested in participating in the economic boom of the 1950s.

And although Canadian soldiers, sailors and airmen fought with distinction in Korea, Barris said their service ended up being neglected because of how the war was generally perceived. He said the prevailing attitude was that no one wanted a Third World War, and those in charge simply wanted Korea “cleaned up and kept quiet.”

“We don’t come away with huge monuments and great memories of great victories,” he said. “I think it was a subtler one (victory), and subtlety is a very odd phenomenon in war.”

Though slow in coming, veterans have received medals for their service in Korea and have seen a Korean War memorial wall erected in Brampton, Ont.

READ MORE: Honouring veterans in a pandemic: COVID-19 put Legions at risk of closure

Barber said there has also been satisfaction in the relationship veterans have developed with the South Korean people in the years since the war, likening it to the ties between Canadian soldiers and the people of Belgium and the Netherlands since the end of the Second World War.

He recounted a return visit in 2010 when he ended up staying at a five-star hotel at Korean government expense and was showered with small gifts of appreciation from average people who “couldn’t do enough for us.”

“We had about 1,400 little Canadian lapel pins we were giving out, and we had people following us down the streets so they could get them,” Barber said.

Donald and Grace Sudden of Breslau, Ont., said that “strong and ongoing” relationship has been something veterans can rely on.

Donald Sudden, now 87, served on the front lines as an artilleryman and fought in one of Canada’s most famous and bloodiest battles of the war — Hill 187 — where the 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment was eventually overrun by a Chinese attack.

He noted that in July he received a package of more than 25 high-quality masks from the Korean government, which sent out 35,000 in all to help veterans through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If we run out of these, we’ll get the consul general in Toronto, and he’ll send us more,” he said.

Grace Sudden said the couple were also part of two return visits to Korea in 1987 and 2017.

She said she’s often heard veterans remark that it felt good to return to a country that had developed so significantly economically and as a democracy in the years since the war.

“It gave some a very positive sense of their accomplishments during the war,” she said. “It gives a tremendous morale boost to the soldiers.”

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Remembrance DayVeterans

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Summerland has received conditional approval for $6 million in federal funding to build a one-megawatt solar array to provide power to the community. (Stock photo)
Summerland council reaffirms solar project in 4-3 vote

Coun. Richard Barkwill had earlier written letters in opposition to initiative

Interior Health reported 43 new COVID-19 cases in the region Feb. 23, 2021 and no additional deaths. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
43 new cases of COVID reported in Interior Health

No new deaths, Williams Lake outbreak over

Thomas Kruger Allen
Thomas Kruger-Allen ‘poses a serious safety concern in his community’: Crown

Crown asking for 5-6 years jail for beach attack that left one of three victims with a brain injury

This year’s Pink Shirt Day event will be held virtually with the Breakfast in a Box. (Okanagan Boys and Girls Clubs photo)
Pink Shirt Day 2021 kicks off with virtual event

“When you’re functioning from a place of kindness, there’s no way that bullying can exist.”

COVID-19 testing at the Vernon Health Services Unit. (Jennifer Smith - Vernon Morning Star)
Two Vernon high schools exposed to COVID-19

Vernon Secondary and Seaton were sent home notices yesterday of exposure event

Vancouver Canucks left wing Antoine Roussel (26) tries to get a shot past Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith (41) during second period NHL action in Vancouver, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canucks cough up 3-0 lead, fall 4-3 to visiting Edmonton Oilers

Vancouver falls to 8-13-2 on the NHL season

Jessica McCallum-Miller receives her signed oath of office from city chief administrative officer Heather Avison on Nov. 5, 2018 after being elected to Terrace City Council. McCallum-Miller resigned on Feb. 22, 2021, saying she felt unsupported and unheard by council. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Terrace’s 1st Indigenous councillor resigns citing ‘systemic and internalized racism,’ sexism

McCallum-Miller said in a Facebook post she felt unheard and unsupported by council

Temporary changes to allow for wholesale pricing for the hospitality industry were implemented June 2020 and set to expire March 31.	(Pixabay photo)
Pubs, restaurants to pay wholesale prices on liquor permanently in COVID-recovery

Pre-pandemic, restaurateurs and tourism operators paid full retail price on most liquor purchases

Lake Country residents are warned about another rock slide on Pelmewash Parkway, Feb. 23, 2021. (Melanie Marie photo)
Rockslide on old Okanagan highway

Pelmewash Parkway once again littered with debris

Wade Dyck with Luna, a dog who went missing near the Chasm for 17 days following a rollover on Feb. 5. (Photo submitted).
Dog missing for 17 days through cold snap reunited with owner in northern B.C.

Family ecstatic to have the Pyrenees-Shepherd cross back home.

Quesnel RCMP confirmed they are investigating a residential break-in at a home on the Barkerville Highway. (File image)
Thieves make off with $300K in Cariboo miner’s retirement gold

Tim Klemen is offering a reward for the return of his gold

Most Read