Ray Croker fought for Canadian freedom halfway across the world. He was a war hero whose quick thinking saved many lives in the Korean War.
But this Remembrance Day, COVID-19 is making him a prisoner in his own home.
At 89 years old, Ray is in full-time care with failing health in Chilliwack’s Waverly Seniors Village, a facility that is locked down on orders from Fraser Health to protect residents from the pandemic. Ray’s wife, Ann, is also in the Waverly, but she’s in the assisted living wing.
She is 300 metres away, separated by a steel door that won’t be opened. They can’t see each other. Four of Croker’s daughters live in Chilliwack, and they can’t visit their dad. They feel helpless.
On Nov. 11, Ray should be surrounded by friends and family thanking him for the sacrifices he made on their behalf. But beyond the kindness and comfort provided by the Waverly staff, he’ll be alone with his memories.
“This is a Fraser Health order,” said Ray’s son Vince, “Waverly has to follow it, but the staff at the Waverly are absolutely incredible,” “They have been amazing and they deserve a lot of kudos.”
Vince lives in Winnipeg where he spends many days in agony thinking about his dad.
The last time he saw him was in the summer. At the beginning of the pandemic, he came to B.C. where he had to fill out paperwork for 15 minutes to schedule a 30-minute visit with Ray.
He understood that, to a point. But he doesn’t understand why Ray can’t see Ann.
“I agree with Fraser Health trying to limit the traffic back and forth, but what our family doesn’t understand is, my mother is in lockdown and there’s been no COVID cases at Waverly and they’re all under one roof,” Vince said. “We don’t understand why she can’t gown up, wear a facemask and go to his room and comfort her husband.”
He’s been told by his sister that Ray cries and tells the Waverly staff he’s lonely.
“It kills me. It absolutely kills me,” Vince said, his voice breaking. “I can’t help thinking my dad was never a prisoner of war in Korea, but with what’s going on with COVID it seems like he is a POW in his own country.”
He wants people to know Ray’s amazing story, his role in one of the most important military events in our country’s history.
In 1951, Ray was just 20 years old, a lance corporal with Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Regiment stationed at Kapyong. He was a radio operator who was listening to communications from Canada’s allies in the American, British and Australian armed forces.
As they discussed the movements and locations of their Chinese foes, Ray started plotting the information on a map. He was stunned to see the markings forming a circle, with his location in the middle. He quickly presented the information to Col. Jim Stone, who came up with a plan to defend the hill.
Longtime CBC journalist Dan Bjarnason chronicled the events in his book, ‘Triumph at Kapyong, Canada’s Pivotal Battle in the Korean War.’
He dubbed Ray ‘The man who saw it coming.’
According to his account, a few hours before Chinese forces launched their ultimately unsuccessful assault, Ray took a sniper’s bullet in the foot and was evacuated by helicopter. He never saw the battle unfold and didn’t talk about any of it for decades.
But without Ray’s contribution, the forces defending that hill would have been over-run and the Korean War would have taken a much different turn. After the successful defence at Kapyong, United Nations forces were able to capture Seoul, which is today the capital of South Korea and home to 9.7 million people.
Ray’s actions earned him a citation medal from United States president Harry Truman, an extremely rare thing for a Canadian soldier. He continued serving in the military for another 25 years before becoming an ordained minister, but he rarely spoke of Korea.
Even his own children, 10 of them in total, didn’t know the important role he played until he finally opened up in 2006, 55 years after the fact.
“When the can finally opened, it was like he was a different man,” Vince said. “For the first time, he started telling his kids he loved them. He had this tucked away so deep in his heart, it was hard for him to show who he really was.
“He managed to get through so much in his life, and now at the end it’s heart-wrenching to see him fighting another war that he’s not going to win.”
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