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From the archives: Soldier saw his double face-down on Korean battlefield

West Shore Korean veterans recall the horrors of war
Soldiers celebrate the cease-fire during the Korean War. (Archive photo courtesy Gordie Hie)

Ken Himes knows as well as anyone that he could have been killed on the battlefield.

He had the unpleasant duty of removing the body of his virtual double from a mountain valley in Korea over 45 years ago.

It happened in the aftermath of the Attack on Hill 187, the Canadian contingent’s biggest battle of the Korean War. On the night of May 2 and 3, 1953. Twenty-six members of the Royal Canadian Regiment were killed in battle, including Lance-Cpl. Doug Newell, a native of Newfoundland.

“We did our basic training together and we got promoted at the same time to lance corporal; he made it a couple of weeks ahead of me,” said Himes, a native of Port William, Ont.

The men not only shared a friendship, they shared physical attributes, including almost identical height and build.

“People couldn’t figure out who was who,” said Himes.

Two days after the battle, Himes was put in charge of removing the bodies of his fallen comrades. He recognized Newell immediately, even though his lifeless body was face down.

While the pain of the memory was clear on his face as he recalled the events, at the time he and the other soldiers on that dangerous mission couldn’t afford the luxury of any emotional lapses. Their own lives depended on them doing their job quickly.

“You just do it. You’ve got to understand, everything is right now,” said Himes, who retired to Metchosin with his family four years ago.

“If you hesitate, It’s your turn lying down,” said Fred MacDonald another Korean War veteran, who lost his brother Bruce in the war. “It’s like the guy who jumped off the 100-storey building: as he was going past the 50th floor, he said, ‘So far, so good,” Himes said.

Nothing could be said about the Chinese army’s attack on Hill 187, according to the booklet, Remembering the Forgotten War. “The capture of the vital ground such as Hill 355 or the ‘Hook’ makes tactical sense. But the raid on the 3rd RCR positions makes no sense at all. They could not have been held, the prisoners were not needed, and such isolated operation could have had no effect on the peace talks at Panmunjom,” the booklet stated.

Less than three months before the cease-fire which would end the war, “Korea had become a jousting place, where armies battled, not to win, but to maintain efficiency.” They strove to keep sharp while peace negotiations continued. It was in this environment that Himes led a patrol to pick up casualties. However, “on the way out, we found that we did not need the stretchers – we had a fight.”

Along the way, the patrol ran into a soldier, who had a similar sounding name, Hines, and who said he was the last man left on the regiment’s ill-fated Charlie company. “I said, ‘Are you sure?’ and he said, ‘Well, I couldn’t find anyone else.”’

On a map of the battle, Himes pointed to a valley and said, “We go down into here and knew was something real was going on … And this here part, was just cherry red from the explosions.”

Less than three months later the skies above the Korean battlefields were again bright with explosives – this time from flares fired into the air by both sides in the conflict to mark a cease-fire.

“It looked like Christmas lights everywhere,” said veteran Gordie Hie.

“When you’re on the front lines, you try not to show any light at all. All of a sudden there were flares shot everywhere.”

This story originally appeared in the Nov. 11, 1998 edition of the Goldstream Gazette.

About the Author: Goldstream News Gazette Staff

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