Canada’s forgotten war

November 3, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Brian Lockhart

It has been called ‘the forgotten war’ for a lot of reasons.

The Korean War was fairly brief by war standards, lasting just three years with most of the combat taking placing over a two-year period ending in July of 1953.

In that short time, Allied Forces had war deaths of almost 180,000, with almost 33,000 missing in action, and over half a million wounded.

The North Koreans took a severe beating with estimates of between 400,000 to over 750,000 dead, and 145,000 missing. They suffered numbers wounded of over 700,000.

Civilian deaths numbered around 2.5 million.

As a member of the United Nations, Canada sent a Special Force of around 26,000 to the conflict and contributed eight naval destroyers that saw action during naval bombardments.

The RCAF contributed aircraft for transport, supply and logistics.

The Canadian Forces lost 516 soldiers in several major battles in the conflict, with many more wounded.

Canadians remained in Korea for three years after the war ended, as observers.

And yet, despite the fact this was a huge undertaking and a fierce war, most people seem to know very little about what really happened over there.

The Hollywood movie M*A*S*H and the subsequent television show provides more information than you’ll ever see in a school’s history lesson if the war is mentioned at all.

The war and the veterans who fought there were largely forgotten when it was all over for several reasons.

The war came just five years after the Second World War, which ended in ultimate victory for the Allies both in Europe and in the Pacific. The soldiers returned home as heroes who stepped up and defended their country and succeeded.

By the time the Korean War got under way, the WWII veterans had returned to civilian life and were now working regular jobs and raising families.

The Department of National Defence at the time did not want to use the standing army in Korea, as it was thought they should remain on Canadian soil for defensive purposes.

They decided it would be best to raise a volunteer expeditionary force and start from scratch.

Volunteer they did – but it wasn’t quite the same as the enlistment procedure from the previous war.

Volunteers were signed up for only 18 months. This was done to avoid the expense of keeping them on in service when not needed. The enlistment standards were lowered to allow more to volunteer.

One soldier interviewed years later said he was told to never expect a medal. As war had not been declared they weren’t at war – they were just being lent out to the U.N.

Some WWII veterans re-enlisted, but not enough to make a difference.

A lot of men who were unemployed or otherwise didn’t have a trade or useable work skill signed up.

One commander referred to the volunteers as the ‘riffraff of society,’ which pretty much sums up the view from the top and why the soldiers didn’t get the respect they deserved right from the start.

While the two World Wars provided the reason of ‘King and Country’, the Korean war didn’t stir up the same patriotic zeal. It was on foreign soil fighting for a foreign country that most people knew little about.

The Canadians fought well and bravely. Notably, during the Battle of Kapyong, where the 700-strong Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry held off an attacking force of 6,000 Chinese, taking 23 casualties including 10 dead, while the Chinese took losses of around 2,000.

When the war ended, without a final resolution, just a ceasefire, the men returned home.

They were greeted with apathy and at times resentment. They weren’t treated as heroes and didn’t have a parade. They were released from service and went about their lives.

Sixty-four years later, there’s not many Korean War vets left but what they accomplished is still going strong – just ask the South Koreans who still appreciate their effort.

South Korea is a vibrant nation with a good economy and freedom. The communist North – who were stopped from taking over the South – live in a police state where individual rights don’t exist, lies are taught in schools that recreate history, the economy is a disaster, and people are taught at the point of a gun to love the ‘dear leader.’

Over time, Korean War vets have received recognition for their efforts but maybe not enough.

Remembrance Day is a time to honour all those that served in our wars and died – not just the popular wars.

It maybe called Canada’s ‘forgotten war’ but the vets who were there will never forget it.

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