The Korean War’s lasting local legacy

On July 27, 1953, 60 years ago, the cease-fire was signed to bring an end to the fighting in the Korean War. Remarkably, although the truce was signed six decades ago, the War technically is still ongoing as no peace treaty or formal end to the hostilities has yet taken place.

This is one of the many ironies of the Korean War, often also called the Korean Conflict. Korea is the Canada’s third bloodiest war. Only the First World War and the Second World War had greater losses of Canadian lives. Yet, when many people think of the Korean War, they think of reruns of MASH or maybe some old Hollywood movies. Few remember the significant service, sacrifices and bravery of Canadian forces in that conflict. Some have consequently referred to Korea as The Forgotten War.

The origins of the Korea conflict go back to the end of the Second World War. The peninsula had been occupied by the Japanese since 1910. In the aftermath of the Japanese surrender in 1945, a division line was drawn along the 38 Parallel between the Soviet armies to the north and the American forces to the south.

The intent was that the country would soon be unified. However, the North was only willing to consider unification with the South if there was a country-wide communist regime. When that failed to happen, the North Korea Army invaded the South on June 25, 1950.

The United Nations quickly condemned the invasion and demanded that the North Koreans withdraw back to the 38 Parallel. When this failed to happen, the U.N. authorized the creation of a special force made up of member nations to help repel the attacks. Normally, the Soviet Union would have vetoed these moves, but it was boycotting the Security Council at the time because of diplomatic disputes over China.

In the summer of 1950, the Second Battalion was formed within the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (P.P.C.L.I.) as part of the Canadian Army Special Force (C.A.S.F). This unit went into action as part of the 27 Commonwealth Brigade. Later, the 2 Battalion PPCLI was transferred to the 25 Canadian Infantry Brigade as part of the First Commonwealth Division.

Canadian units that saw action, other than the PPCLI, were the Royal 22 Regiment, Royal Canadian Regiment, Lord Strathcona Horse, Royal Canadian Artillery and Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, as well as the Royal Canadian Navy and RCAF.

Canadians were central to a number of bloody battles. One particularly notable fight took place at Kapyong. Some have even referred to this as the ‘Battle of Vimy Ridge in Korea’. The Canadian’s bravery and valour under extreme combat conditions won them the U.S. Presidential Unit Citation.

Overall, more than 26,000 Canadians served in the Korean War and approximately 7,000 continued to serve after the truce was declared in July 1953. In total, 516 lost their lives and 1,558 were wounded.

Three Central Albertans lost their lives in the War – James Calkins, Charles Alford and Virgil Girard. Another, Smiley Douglas, was seriously wounded during the Battle of Kapyong when he threw a detonating hand grenade in order to save the lives of a number of fellow soldiers. He was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery.

Despite these losses and acts of great bravery, it was not until 1988 that a plaque was added to the Red Deer Cenotaph in honour of those who had served and died in Korea. Fortunately, the Korean War has been included on the interpretive panels that were installed as part of the new Veterans Park surrounding the Cenotaph on Ross St.

Thus, there is finally an enduring reminder of Red Deer’s experiences in the Korean War.