It’s been called Canada’s Forgotten War, and for good reason. For many years, and perhaps still to this day, veterans of the Korean War simply weren’t commemorated the way those of the First and Second World Wars were. In fact, it was only in 2013 when the Canadian government formally recognized July 27 as Korean War Veterans Day.
“At first they didn’t consider it a war. It took a long bloody time before they called it the Korean War. They called it a police action. So we all have a bit of a chip on our shoulder because of that,” said Navy veteran Victor Mumford.
Mumford and a few of his surviving comrades gathered at Zin Sushi, a Korean-owned restaurant in Langford, last Wednesday to commemorate the 63rd anniversary of the ceasefire that put an end to the combat but has still failed to bring peace to the divided peninsula.
The Victoria-area veterans who continue to participate in monthly meetings and luncheons say they do it for the fellowship.
“It’s camaraderie. We all have something in common,” said Gary Hall, a veteran of the Air Force.
“We’re all a special bunch because we all volunteered to fight,” Army veteran Fred MacDonald added. “And the Korean people think we’re crazy because we volunteered to fight somebody else’s war.”
And they all have unique stories as to how they got to Korea in the first place.
Army veteran MacDonald followed in the footsteps of his older brother, but was reluctant to do so after his brother was killed in the Kapyong battle of 1951.
MacDonald arrived in Korea in the spring of 1952, a year after his brother’s death.
Since that time, MacDonald has travelled back to Korea regularly to visit his brother’s grave in Busan at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery.
“I go back to Korea as often as I can to visit with my brother, buy him a beer and have a chit chat,” MacDonald said.
Mumford, originally from Saskatchewan, was indirectly driven to enlist in the Navy by his father, himself a veteran of the First World War. When former vets were needed to help transport prisoners during the Second World War, Mumford’s dad jumped at the opportunity to help, leaving him and his mom to tend to their farm.
“I was so damn tired of looking at horses … as soon as he came back I joined the Navy,” he recalled.
Veterans of the Korean War may have had their efforts go largely unnoticed by Canadians, at least compared to veterans of other 20th century combats, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t felt a tremendous level of appreciation from others.
“The way the Dutch appreciate the Canadians that were there, well the Koreans treat us the same way,” Wall said, referring to the Canadians’ liberation of the Netherlands during the Second World War.
That level of respect extends to Koreans around the world, including in Langford, where Zin Sushi owner Helen Park said that she and her staff regularly treat veterans to meals and take photos with them when they are in uniform.
“I always appreciate them for their suffering … They devoted their youth and even their life so we are very respectful of them and very thankful,” Park said.