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

Wineries in the Central Okanagan this year saw a high quality harvest, but a low yield. Pictured is a winery in West Kelowna, in October. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
B.C. Master of Wine reflects on industry’s teetering economic state

Pandemic, for some wine makers, has been a blessing in disguise. For others, not so much.

Business district is pictured during a traffic jam in Jakarta, Indonesia, June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
Morning Start: By 2050, 95 percent of North Jakarta could be submerged

Your morning start for Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020

Highway 5 southbound lanes are closed near Exit 286. Pictured are southbound lanes at 7:06 p.m. (DriveBC)
Coquihalla Highway southbound lanes closed due to vehicle incident

Southbound lanes closed between Exit 286: Merritt and the start of Hwy 5

Masks are now officially mandatory in all City of Campbell River facilities. (Black Press File Photo)
Interior Health reports 49 new COVID-19 cases overnight

302 cases remain active; two in hospital

There are numerous ways the municipality can use the money, granted by the province. Black Press file photo.
Town of Princeton gets $1 million in COVID relief

Funds to offset affects of pandemic on municipal revenues and operations

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. daily COVID-19 cases hits record 941 on Tuesday

Further restrictions on indoor exercise take effect

A fentanyl test strip is used at Vancouver Coastal Health in Vancouver, Tuesday, January, 21, 2020. The test strips will be made available to drug users to ensure that their drugs are safe and free of Fentanyl. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Drug overdoses lead to 5 deaths each day in October; drug toxicity continues to increase

COVID-19 crisis continues to exacerbate the overdose crisis

The Vernon Public Art Gallery is looking to the community to support its programming, which VantageOne Credit Union is matching for Giving Tuesday. (VPAG image)
Vernon art gallery gets a boost for Giving Tuesday

VantageOne Credit Union matching donations

The Vernon swimming pool is closed Friday. (morning star file photo)
Swim, skate and play fees rise 5% in North Okanagan

Weekend hours also reduced as rec centre struggles with fewer people and fewer funds

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The City of Salmon Arm erected a fence around the Ross Street Plaza on Nov. 24/2020, citing reasons centering on safety and security due to camping by people who don’t have homes. The closure is temporary but it’s not known when it will be reopened. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
City of Salmon Arm erects fence around public plaza to prevent camping

Lieutenant says lack of public space affects people without homes but he understands city’s decision

An employee of the Adventure Hotel was taken to hospital on Nov. 20 after she confronted a customer of Empire Coffee about not wearing a mask. File photo.
Nelson hotel employee suffers heart attack after being assaulted in anti-mask incident

An accountant at the Adventure Hotel is in hospital in Kelowna

Interior Health and School District 83 are responding to a confirmed COVID-19 exposure at the Salmon Arm Secondary Sullivan campus. (File photo)
COVID-19 exposure confirmed at Salmon Arm Secondary Sullivan campus

School District 83 says member of school community self-isolating at home

Gord Portman has been reunited with his dog Zippy after reaching out to the community for help covering the cost of Zippy’s surgery. Zippy had successful mouth surgery Nov. 19, 2020 and has made a full recovery since. (Jesse Day - Western News)
Penticton rallies to save dog’s life

Gord Portman reached out to the community to help with the cost of his dog’s surgery

Most Read