Most Canadians know that Ypres and Dunkirk are places where the most important battles took place.
Kapyong? Not really.
The 70th anniversary of the Korean War – sometimes called the “Forgotten War” is this week.
The war started on June 25, 1950, when the 75,000 North Korean troops marched across the 38th parallel in South Korea.
The country was divided at the end of World War II, the Soviets occupied the north, and the Americans took control of the south.
Within a few years, the north and the south, each had its own government and, like the developed Cold War, it is obvious that a unified Korea would be difficult to reach.
By the time that North Korean troops invaded South Korea in 1950, Soviet aggression and the spread of communism were seen as serious threats. The United Nations recommended military intervention and 21 member nations of the UN, including Canada, stepped up.
What followed was a counterattack by UN forces, under General Douglas MacArthur, who fought the North Koreans back across the 38th parallel in the fall.
The allies were so successful – capturing Pyongyang and pushing north of the Yalu River – that Communist China entered the war.
Chinese troops pushed far south. UN forces repelled. Seoul has changed hands four times, as the back-and-forth continues, and in July 1951 peace talks began. The war degenerated into a kind of dead end until the armistice was signed in 1953.
When it was all over, the country was divided. And it remains so.
Canadian troops stand out, particularly at the Battle of Kapyong, when 700 of them took place outside 5,000 Chinese soldiers for two days. Some 27,000 Canadians served, with 516 dead and 1,200 injured.
“If you were 21 or 22 in 1950, you grew up seeing veterans come back from WWII, greeted as heroes,” said Anthony Wilson-Smith, president of the Historica Canada Institute. “No one spoke afterwards of the horrors of battle, or on PTSD. And these young men have been looking to make the same contribution.
“But there has never been the same appreciation for their sacrifice. They had the same will to put their lives on the line for their country, but they never had the same respect. ”
Wilson-Smith is involved with The Memory Project, a speaker bureau volunteer who organizes for veterans to share their stories in schools and community events across Canada.
The Archive Memory Project is a treasure trove of veterans, stories, artifacts and interviews with veterinarians from the World Wars, the Korean War and Canada, peacekeeping missions.
“Only people who have taken part in a war can truly understand its horror,” Wilson-Smith said. “It is very important to know their stories. For all the big campaigns and strategies and battles, it’s the individual stories on the ground – what it was like for a soldier, what it was like to be there, the bullets flying, and the real luck to lose friends who are important. ”
According to Canadian military historian Dr. Eric McGeer, the Korean War has become an unpleasant reminder of WWII. People were tired of the war.
“After about 1951 it disappeared from the public consciousness,” he says.
And it is important that the Korean War was not transmitted to Russia and China and to become the third world war.
Said McGeer: “There was a lot of tension in the air. When MacArthur went beyond the 38th parallel and tried to unite the country, which brought the Chinese into it… Once nuclear weapons were on the scene, the fear that things would escalate sublimated conflict.
“Nevertheless, the death toll was 5 million, and many civilians. Seventy years later, we still have a dead end between the north and the south, a vestige of WWII and the Cold War that has not been resolved. “
McGeer takes a contemporary vision.
“We have a large Korean population in Canada, and we find that we have a common history between Canadians and those of Korea, ancestry,” he said. “The Canadians fought there with soldiers from Korea, the UK, India and Australia. A sense of friendship extends from this. We should talk about these stories.
“We need to recognize the bonds forged in these wars.”