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

(Contributed Photo/Louisa Van Vliet)
Community Camera: November 26, 2020

Submit your photos to news@ahobserver.com

Volunteers sort food donations during the Agassiz Fire Department’s food drive on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. (Agassiz Fire Department/Facebook)
VIDEO: Agassiz Fire Department to host COVID-safe food drive

This year’s drive looks a little different

With news that Santa won’t be coming to Cottonwood Centre this year, April Blais wanted to set up a photo op with the jolly old elf in her front yard. (Submitted photo)
Chilliwack family blown away by response to Christmas light display

The Blais family has decked out their yard with holiday decor, collecting food bank donations

Abbotsford residents gather in the Clearbrook area on Monday to demonstrate against what they say is unfairt treatment by the Indian government to farmers in the Punjab region of that country. (Maan Sidhu photo)
Abbotsford residents gather to protest unfair treatment of India farmers

Locals believe new bills will devastate small farms, demand farmers be allowed to protest peacefully

The paraglider pilot, while attempting to free himself, dropped 30 feet and sustained serious injuries as Kent-Harrison Search and Rescue members worked quickly to extract him from the trees. They were able to get him to a waiting ambulance at the end of a nearby forest service road. (Contributed Photo/Dave Harder)
UPDATE: Rescued paraglider being treated for non-life threatening injuries

Pilot tried to self-rescue but sustained serious injuries in a 30-foot fall

A tongue-in-cheek message about wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on a sign outside a church near Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection count climbs back up to 656

20 more people in hospital, active cases still rising

Mirandy Tracy, left, and Tara Kurtz are two Langley mothers who are organizing a "sick out" for Tuesday, Dec. 1 to protest COVID conditions in schools. They're calling for masks and smaller class sizes, among other things. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Politician, labour leader throw support behind student Sick Out day

Langley parents started the movement to keep kids home on Dec. 1 as a protest

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

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A family emerged with a purchase at the Tannenbaum Tree Farm at 5398 252 St in Aldergrove on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 (Dan Ferguson/Langley Advance Times)
Christmas tree season is off to an early start

People are ‘bored’ with staying home due to COVID-19 and want to decorate early, farm owner believes

A heavy police presence was on scene on Dec. 28, 2017 following the shooting death on Bates Road in Abbotsford of Alexander Blanarou, 24, of Surrey. (Abbotsford News file photo)
Three men charged with Abbotsford shooting death of Surrey man

Alexander Blanarou, 24, was killed in a rural area on Dec. 28, 2017

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. researchers launch study to test kids, young adults for COVID-19 antibodies

Kids and youth can often be asymptomatic carriers of the novel coronavirus

Most Read