On The War Memorial Trail….. Part 1 – Charlie Choi’s Childhood Memories of the Korean War

Charlie and Susan Choi

Retired engineer Charlie (Chi-Yong) Choi with his wife Susan.  (Photo credit: Brien Robertson)

September 30, 2021. Over the past years, Pieter has been researching the stories of Canadian soldiers.  It’s an honour to learn of their service and the hardships and sacrifices they endured. But, as we know from current news events, war also impacts civilians. 

Until we met our good friend Charlie (Chi-Yong) Choi, a retired engineer, most of what I knew about the Korean War came from watching M*A*S*H (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M*A*S*H_(TV_series)), and even then I must admit I wasn’t sure when or why the war took place.  But when Charlie, who was born in Korea, talked about how he and his family were impacted by the war, it was an eye-opener.

I was surprised to learn that more than 26,000 Canadians served on land, at sea, and in the air during this conflict as part of the United Nations Allied Forces. 516 died during the war. (See https://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/wars-and-conflicts/korean-war)

After reading about the recent Korean War Veterans Luncheon on Korean Thanksgiving, Charlie agreed to share his childhood memories of that traumatic period.  His wife Susan wrote that “A few tears were shed by both of us as he put his memories on paper….”  Once you read what he and his family endured, you’ll understand why.  (See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2021/09/24/pei-korean-war-veterans-luncheon-hosted-by-the-embassy-of-the-republic-of-korea/)

Charlie set the scene with some background information.  “…The war erupted on 6/25/1950 and ended with a cease fire under the ‘Korean Armistice Agreement’ on 7/27/1953.  This agreement created the ‘DMZ’ – a border dividing South and North Korea….”  DMZ refers to Demilitarized Zone.

Before the war began in 1950, 4 year old Charlie “…lived in a two story western style house with my parents, my 2 years and 6 month old brother, my 6 1/2 month old sister and a house maid.  We lived in the northern part of Seoul City just east of the capitol and the Presidential Palace known as the Blue House.  I remember being very happy and enjoyed daily tricycle rides with my younger brother in our neighborhood with my mother strolling behind us.  It was a very peaceful and comfortable life….

… Life as we knew it changed on June 25, 1950….

Then everything changed.  “…We woke up early on the morning of 6/25/1950 to earthquake-like vibrations and loud ground thumping noises.  We realized that the North Korean Army was coming down.  They were just north of the mountains behind our house.  There were explosions from tank artillery and bombardment that became louder and louder as they got closer….” 

That was scary enough, but then the situation worsened.  “…A few hours later, we heard a banging at the front gate of our house, yelling for us to open the gate.  About 10 uniformed North Korean soldiers with machine guns rushed into the house, looking for my father, who worked for the government.  Fortunately, my father had fled the house, to an unknown location, hours earlier.  The soldiers searched the house and the yard for several hours before retreating…

The family caught a lucky break, but then it was decision time.  Flee or stay?  Charlie’s mother was responsible for 3 pre-schoolers and a maid.  “…My mother decided to stay in our house in Seoul, hoping that the North Koreans would be pushed back soon.  About a month went by, but the situation got worse.  The North Korean Army was infiltrating more and more into the south.  Roads and bridges were being destroyed by bombs.  Grocery stores and vendors were disappearing, etc.  It was getting harder and harder to buy groceries…

….The agonizing decision was made to flee south…

Charlie’s mother decided it was time to flee.  “…Our destination was my paternal grandfather’s farm, where he had moved after retiring.  My grandparents had lived in Seoul until around 1939 when they moved to the farm.  The farm was south of Onyang, a hot springs resort region which was about 50 miles south of our house in Seoul….

Map Seoul to Onyang

The long and dangerous journey from Seoul to Onyang.  (Map source: http://www.mapquest.com)

Now refugees, the Chois began the journey to his grandfather’s farm in late July 1950.  “…We did not know how we would get to my grandfather’s, but just followed my mother’s lead.  Mother packed a few small bags for us to carry and the five of us (mother, brother, baby sister, maid and me) started our journey on foot….

They soon encountered their first obstacle.  “…When we arrived at the Han River bridge at the southern tip of Seoul City, the bridge had been destroyed by a bomb in order to stop the North Korean Army’s advance into the south.  Crossing the river was a must to get to the farm.  This was the first of many difficult hurdles we would have to overcome…” 

to be continued

In Part 2, Charlie’s story continues as his mother searches for a way to cross the Han River….. 

Thank you to Charlie Choi for his courage in relating his childhood experience in wartime Korea.  Do you have information to share about Canadian soldiers, please email us at dariadv@yahoo.ca, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1.  

…..Want to follow our research?….

If you are reading this posting, but aren’t following the blog, you are welcome to do so.  See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com or email me at dariadv@yahoo.ca and ask for an invitation to the blog. 

Screenshot_2021-02-27 On The War Memorial Trail With Pieter Valkenburg

You are also invited to subscribe to our YouTube Channel: On The War Memorial Trail With Pieter Valkenburg: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJ591TyjSheOR-Cb_Gs_5Kw

© Daria Valkenburg

PEI Korean War Veterans Luncheon Hosted By The Embassy Of The Republic of Korea

IMG_20210920_113547 Sep 20 2021 Korean Vets welcome sign at Borden Carleton Legion

Welcome Korean Vets sign greeted visitors for the luncheon.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

September 24, 2021. As summer ends and the lead-up to Remembrance Week begins, various events that honour our military veterans occur, and we were delighted to be able to participate in one special luncheon a few days ago….

On Tuesday, September 21, 2021, the Embassy of the Republic of Korea hosted a luncheon for Korean War Veterans.  The event was organized by PEI Command of the Royal Canadian Legion, and held at the Borden-Carleton Legion.

Branch volunteers prepared a delicious roast beef dinner for the honoured guests.

CIMG5301 Sep 21 2021 Korean vets luncheon volunteers who prepared lunch and hall

Branch volunteers for the luncheon, left to right:  Sharon Noonan, Arthur Ranahan, Keith Sigsworth, Alma Sigsworth.  Not in photo: Kathy Henry.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

CIMG5298 Sep 21 2021 Korean vets luncheon table is set

The table setting.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

….The Korean Delegation…

Representing the Embassy of the Republic of Korea were Col. Keun-sik MOON, the Defence Attaché, his wife Sun-ok BAN, and So-sun SUH, Assistant to the Defence Attaché.

CIMG5313 Sep 21 2021 Korean Embassy reps Korean vets luncheon

From left to right: So-sun Suh, Sun-ok Ban, and Col. Keun-sik Moon.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

 ….The Korean War Veterans…

Korean War Veterans present were:

CIMG5305 Sep 21 2021 Arthur Hiscock Korean vets luncheon

Arthur Hiscock. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

  • Arthur ‘Art’ HISCOCK of Summerside.
CIMG5304 Sep 21 2021 Victor MacFadyen & daughter Paula MacFadyen Korean vets luncheon

Vic MacFadyen with his daughter Paula MacFadyen. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

  • Victor ‘Vic’ MACFADYEN, formerly of Canoe Cove and now living in Cornwall.
CIMG5308 Sep 21 2021 Elsie and Elwin Sherren Korean vets luncheon

Elwin Sherren, with his wife Elsie. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

  • Elwin SHERREN, formerly of Crapaud and now living in Cornwall.
CIMG5311 Sep 21 2021 Joyce and Blaine Taylor Korean vets luncheon

Blaine Taylor, with his wife Joyce. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

  • Blaine TAYLOR of Burlington.
CIMG5306 Sep 21 2021 David and June Vessey Korean vets luncheon

David Vessey with his wife June. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

  • David VESSEY of Summerside.

….The Royal Canadian Legion Members…

Representing the Royal Canadian Legion from PEI Command were Provincial President Duane MacEwen, with his wife Ann, and Chairperson/Public Relations officer John Yeo, with his wife Norma. The Borden-Carleton Branch was represented by Mario Henry, Sgt at Arms, and Pieter Valkenburg, Public Relations Officer.

CIMG5310 Sep 21 2021 Duane and Ann MacEwen Korean vets luncheon

Duane MacEwen with his wife Ann.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

CIMG5315 Sep 21 2021 John and Norma Yeo Korean vets luncheon

John Yeo with his wife Norma.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

The Korean War was a conflict fought between North and South Korea from June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953.  Unfortunately, it has yet to be resolved.  During the welcome and greetings, John Yeo noted that “…it took a long time for the Canadian government to recognize Korean vets….” He explained that “…a dedicated monument was unveiled in Ottawa on September 28, 2003…

…Remarks by Col. Keun-sik Moon…

The Korean hosts told us that September 21, 2021 was Korean Thanksgiving, called ‘Chuseok’, a harvest festival. This three-day holiday is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar on the full moon.  Therefore, the date of the luncheon was particularly appropriate.

Col. Moon explained that he was “…here to express our gratitude to the veterans and their families, on behalf of the government and people of the Republic of Korea...

Addressing the veterans, he continued. “…70 years ago, under the banner of the United Nations, more than 26,000 Canadians bravely fought communism in distant Korea.  What made you take on this journey was your mission to protect the noble cause of freedom and peace and great humanitarianism…. Thanks to your sacrifice, Korea now enjoys freedom and economic prosperity…

Giving a brief summary of 1950s era Korea, Col. Moon told us that “…in 1950 Korea was a very poor, agrarian nation, where the fields were ploughed by oxen, the rice planted and reaped by hand, and where millions lived in small huts…

He assured the veterans that “…your blood shed in an unknown land and the tears of your families who endured the pains and grief from missing family were never in vain….”  Because of the peace that followed the conflict,…the Republic of Korea has achieved economic development and democratization….I sincerely hope the day will come when the veterans will see a peacefully reunified Republic of Korea…

Following the lunch and speeches, the Korean hosts surprised and charmed us by singing two songs: ‘Amazing Grace’ in English, and ‘Arirang’, a Korean folk song that speaks about leaving, reunion, sorrow, joy, and happiness.

…A Wreath Is Laid …

The official events over, and after gifts were presented to the veterans, everyone moved outside for the wreath laying ceremony by the Cenotaph.

CIMG5324 Sep 21 2021 Mario Henry & Col Moon with wreath outside Cenotaph Korean vets luncheon

Mario Henry with Col. Keun-sik Moon prepare to lay at wreath at the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

CIMG5327 Sep 21 2021 Duane Col Moon Mario John by Cenotaph Korean vets luncheon

Left to right: Duane MacEwen, Col. Keun-sik Moon, Mario Henry, John Yeo.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

CIMG5330 Sep 21 2021 Flowers and wreath by Cenotaph Korean vets luncheon

Flowers and wreath laid by the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

The luncheon and remembrance of their service was appreciated by the veterans and their family members.  Kudos go to the Borden-Carleton Legion, PEI Command of the Royal Canadian Legion, and the Embassy of the Republic of Korea for organizing this event.

Pieter encourages blog readers to contact him if they have a story to share about Canadians who served. You can email him at dariadv@yahoo.ca, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1.

© Daria Valkenburg

On The War Memorial Trail….. In Conversation With Historian Dr. Tim Cook

CIMG5296 Sep 15 2021 Tim Cook & Pieter at Cdn War Museum

Dr Tim Cook (left) with Pieter Valkenburg (right) at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.  (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

September 20, 2021.  Over the past years, Pieter has researched the stories behind the names on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion.  As well, he’s researched the stories of other Island soldiers and veterans, and soldiers from across Canada buried in The Netherlands and Belgium. 

…It’s important to tell each individual story” Pieter always says.  “…The sacrifices made and the service in the cause of freedom should not be dismissed or forgotten, particularly if a soldier was not able to return home, but lies buried overseas….

On a recent trip to Ottawa, he met with historian Dr Tim Cook, Director of Research at the Canadian War Museum, and found that Dr Cook shares a similar point of view on the importance of remembrance.  “…In Canada, we have not done a good job in telling the stories of our veterans…” he said.

Dr Cook went on to explain that “….every community in Canada has a memorial for WW1 soldiers, but generally, memorials for those who served in WW2 were not done.  We didn’t create films and books at the time. We weren’t good at telling the stories….”

…. Canadian veterans at the 50th anniversary events in The Netherlands were treated like heroes…

I thought back to the films, novels, and memoirs that came out of WW2 and Dr Cook is correct.  Much of what many of us know about WW2 comes from American and British films and books.  Dr Cook agreed. “…It wasn’t until 1995, on the 50th anniversary of WW2, that people woke up after they saw the huge reception our Canadian veterans got in The Netherlands….

Pieter can’t understand why people in Canada didn’t realize how special the veterans were.  “…In The Netherlands, where I was born, they were our liberators, our heroes. Definitely they have never been forgotten….” 

….Many WW2 veterans were reluctant to tell their stories when they returned….

Dr Cook thought that reluctance on the part of veterans to tell their stories, particularly in the aftermath of war, contributed to the silence.  Returning veterans simply got on with their lives and rarely spoke about what they experienced.  Pieter has found this to be the case for several of the soldiers he has researched. “…Many times, very little about the actual service of a soldier is known by the family….

20210919_100113 Sep 19 2021 Daria with Cook book

Looking forward to reading ‘The Fight For History’ by Tim Cook. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

…There has been a change in sentiment over the past 75 years, helped by the research and participation of ‘champions of history’ like you and ever-increasing interest by the general public…” Dr Cook noted.   His most recent book The Fight For History: 75 Years of Forgetting, Remembering, and Remaking Canada’s Second World Warreflects on the way that WW2 has been remembered, forgotten, and remade by Canada over the past 75 years.

Dr Cook told us that his “… newest project is in overseeing an oral history program to interview, record, and archive the stories of veterans, starting with the remaining Second World War veterans and reaching to the present with veterans of the Afghanistan War….

A dedicated and tireless researcher, he is also working on an edited book related to Canada’s involvement in the Korean War.  This war between North and South Korea was fought from June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953, and has yet to be resolved.

We’re especially looking forward to Dr Cook’s upcoming book on war and medicine in the First World War, which will be published in September 2022. 

We very much enjoyed meeting Dr Tim Cook and thank him for taking the time to share his insights on not forgetting our Canadian military history. 

There are many more stories still to be told! Pieter encourages blog readers to contact him if they have a story to share about Canadians who served. You can email him at dariadv@yahoo.ca, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1

…More about Dr Tim Cook….

To watch a short video from TV Ontario about WW1 and reflections 100 years later, see Tim Cook: Canada’s Great War | TVO.org: https://www.tvo.org/video/tim-cook-canadas-great-war

For a brief summary of the many books and articles published by Tim Cook, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Cook_(historian)

….Want to follow our research?….

If you are reading this posting, but aren’t following the blog, you are welcome to do so.  See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com or email me at dariadv@yahoo.ca and ask for an invitation to the blog. 

You are also invited to subscribe to our YouTube Channel: On The War Memorial Trail With Pieter Valkenburg: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJ591TyjSheOR-Cb_Gs_5Kw

© Daria Valkenburg

 

On The War Memorial Trail….. Remembering WW2 Soldier Alfred Louis Pitawanakwat (Pitwanakwat)

September 6, 2021. After an interview about the photo quest for soldiers buried in the Canadian War Cemeteries in The Netherlands ran on APTN, Pieter was contacted by Joshua Manitowabi, who explained that Alfred Pitawanakwat’s “…brothers were Thomas Pitawanakwat and Valentine Pitawanakwat and all three fought in WW2. Two returned home, but Alfred is buried overseas in Holland. Alfred was my grandfather’s brother. He was my Great-Uncle on my mom’s side. ..

2232439_1 Alfred Pitwanakwat from Cdn Virtual War Memorial

Alfred Louis Pitawanakwat (Pitwanakwat) (Photo source: Canadian Virtual War Memorial)

Alfred Louis PITAWANAKWAT (PITWANAKWAT) was born September 12, 1924 in Little Current, Ontario, son of Samuel and Agatha Pitwanakwat, of Wikwemikong, Ontario. Like Clarence Wilfred WAKEGIJIG, he was from the Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island, Ontario. (For more information on the Wiikwemkoong First Nation, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiikwemkoong_First_Nation.  A link to an earlier posting on Clarence Wilfred Wakegijig is near the end of this account. )

Alfred enlisted on August 23, 1943 in Toronto, Ontario.  At the time, he had been working for 2 months as a farmer’s helper for George McCluny of Caledonia, Ontario.  His two older brothers were already serving overseas with the Canadian Army.  Thomas was with the #14 Company of the Canadian Forestry Corps, and William ‘Valentine’ was with the #24 Anti-Tank Battery.

In an interview with the Personnel Selection Board, it was noted that he was “…able to express himself clearly….He gives the impression of being shy, but proved a very interesting character, when encouraged to talk about himself...”  The interviewer also remarked that Alfred was good with his hands as he was “…in the habit of carving miniature boats...

Someone in the recruitment office was paying attention as a note on his attestation form was stamped with the warning that he wouldn’t be 19 years old until September 12.  This was a caution as enlistees were not to be sent overseas before the age of 19.

Alfred’s service file also noted that as he was both underage and underweight at the time of enlistment he was sent to the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps and took basic and advanced infantry training.

On June 6, 1944 he was sent to the No 1 Transit Camp in Windsor, Ontario for ‘rations and quarters’, in preparation for going overseas with #24 Canadian General Hospital.  By June 26, 1944 he was on board a ship bound for the United Kingdom, arriving in early July 1944.

He was a runner with the hospital, but in September 1944 Alfred requested a transfer to an anti-tank battery or the infantry, explaining that as he was now fit he wanted more active employment.

The transfer request was granted and Alfred joined the Royal Winnipeg Rifles as a rifleman.  He was wounded on October 23, 1944 by a gunshot wound during the Battle of the Breskens Pocket in Belgium, but returned to his Regiment after being discharged from hospital on November 15, 1944. (See https://www.canadiansoldiers.com/history/battlehonours/northwesteurope/breskenspocket.htm)

On November 2, 1944, the Regiment was sent to Ghent, Belgium for a rest period before the Rhineland Campaign began.  From Ghent they moved into The Netherlands, stopping near the Dutch-German border.

The Regimental history, ‘Little Black Devils: a history of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles’, by Bruce Tascona and Eric Wells, describes the movement of the Regiment as it moved from The Netherlands across the border into Germany, beginning on February 8, 1945.  “… After heavy artillery and bombardment, the tanks moved in, followed by infantry. Their assignment was to push south-east from the salient at Nijmegen, clearing a corridor between the Rhine and Maas Rivers…

A salient is a piece of land or section of fortification that juts out to form an angle. Nijmegen is in The Netherlands, not far from the German border.  This area had been cleared by December 1944.  Canadian troops were kept busy here, clearing the ice on the Waal River to protect bridges further downstream, and as you can see in the short video clip (there is no audio), they had time to show a sense of humour in various signs.

The Regimental history account continued as the Regiment moved into Germany, “… approaching the village of Louisendorf in ‘Kangaroos’, armoured personnel carriers converted from Ram tanks. Getting within 50 yards of the enemy, the Rifles charged the remaining distance, and in close combat took 240 prisoners and occupied the village. The next day the Regiment joined the Regina Rifles and the Canadian Scottish in the attack on Moyland Wood….

They advanced into an area “…beset with booby traps, mines, snipers, and machine guns….

Moyland Woods map from Little Black Devils

Map source: ‘Little Black Devils: a history of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles’ by Bruce Tascona and Eric Wells.

An account by Terry Copp in the article ‘Clearing Moyland Wood: Army Part 43’ in the November 2002 issue of Legion Magazine explained that: “…The Royal Winnipeg Rifles left their slit trenches near Louisendorf and moved into position south of Moyland Wood. Brig. E.R. Suttie, who had replaced Brig. Stanley Todd in command of the divisional artillery, prepared an elaborate fire plan involving medium and field artillery plus mortars, anti-tank guns, machine-guns and the tanks of the Fort Garry Horse….

Lt Col Alan Gregory, temporary commander of the Regina Rifles, “….and Lt.-Col. Lockie Fulton, the aggressive young commander of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles or Little Black Devils, devised a plan to clear the eastern end of the wood combining Wasps with tank support and air attacks. …

The plan was successful, but came at a cost. “…The Royal Winnipeg Rifles displayed outstanding skill as well as courage in the day-long battle that cost the battalion more than 100 casualties, 26 of them fatal….”  (See https://legionmagazine.com/en/2002/11/clearing-moyland-wood/0 ) Alfred was one of the fatalities, losing his life on February 21, 1945.

Map

Alfred was initially buried in Bedburg, Germany before being reburied in the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek, The Netherlands.

Grave of Alfred Pitwanakwat

Grave of Alfred Louis Pitwanakat.  (Photo credit: Ad Scheepers)

Thank you to Joshua Manitowabi for contacting us about his great-uncle, and to Ad Scheepers for taking the photo of Alfred’s grave at the cemetery.  If you have information to share about Alfred Louis PITAWANAKWAT (PITWANAKWAT) or other Canadian soldiers, please contact Pieter at dariadv@yahoo.ca, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1.

 ….Indigenous soldiers featured on this blog….

To read about Indigenous soldiers featured on this blog:

To read the APTN article, see https://www.aptnnews.ca/national-news/dutch-born-p-e-i-man-on-a-mission-to-find-photos-of-first-nations-soldiers-killed-overseas-in-wwii/

….Want to follow our research?….

If you are reading this posting, but aren’t following the blog, you are welcome to do so.  See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com or email me at dariadv@yahoo.ca and ask for an invitation to the blog.

Screenshot_2021-02-27 On The War Memorial Trail With Pieter Valkenburg

You are also invited to subscribe to our YouTube Channel: On The War Memorial Trail With Pieter Valkenburg: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJ591TyjSheOR-Cb_Gs_5Kw.

© Daria Valkenburg