When the leader of North Korea crossed the military demarcation line with a single step on April 27 for the very first time since the signing of the Korean War Armistice, I couldn’t believe my eyes.
As a Korean-Canadian, watching the historic meeting on television between Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in was incredibly surreal for me because I never thought this day would come. Their meeting culminated with the signing of the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification on the Korean Peninsula, including a commitment to bring a formal end to the Korean War — a conflict that has been suspended by a 65-year ceasefire without an official peace treaty.
After 65 years of division and the more recent threat of nuclear war, it seems as if the road to peace between the two sides is now at a crucial turning point.
It started with the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics when South Korean and North Korean athletes walked in the opening ceremony as a joint team with a map of a unified Korea depicted on a white flag. The world witnessed these athletes from their adversarial countries come into the stadium in an extraordinary display of unity.
After the historic meeting between the leaders of North Korea and South Korea, the world watched another historic meeting between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump as the two leaders discussed plans for denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.
These unprecedented events that are unfolding make July 27 — the 65th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice — all the more significant.
These developments are important to Canada. Canadians fought and those who died during the 3-year war (1950-1953) are buried in Korea — and they should never be forgotten. Our military and peacekeeping contributions in Korea helped the country prosper after the ceasefire.
I’m tired of hearing the Korean War being referred to as the “Forgotten War.” The millions of families of Korean descent and our veterans certainly remember the sacrifices of the more than 26,000 Canadians who served in Korea as volunteers.
We must never forget the valiant efforts of Canadian forces on land, in the air, and at sea, whose actions changed the course of the war in the pursuit of peace and freedom.
Our military contribution ranked third after those of the United States and the United Kingdom and it was the third-largest military deployment in Canadian history. There were 1,158 casualties on the Canadian side, including the 516 who died defending the Korean peninsula and whose names are inscribed in the Korean War Book of Remembrance located in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill.
The remains of 378 Canadians are buried in the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan, South Korea.
Many of them were in their late teens and early 20s when they chose to leave their families behind and go to war.
Their service and sacrifice were not in vain as South Korea has emerged to become a thriving democratic G-20 country that boasts the 12th-largest economy in the world (and the fourth-largest in Asia).
When I talk to Korean War veterans today about the recent historic meeting on April 27, they tell me they wish for peaceful unification because they know the war wasn’t over when they left in 1953 and it isn’t over yet.
I recall at the beginning of my teaching career in the late 1980s, the standard social studies textbook I was using had but a couple of paragraphs about the Korean War. I don’t believe much has changed in our education system since then to give the Korean War the significance and attention it deserves in the school curricula.
That’s why I introduced a bill that designates July 27 Korean War Veterans Day in Canada. The bill, co-sponsored by my colleague Senator Joseph Day, and in the House by Blaine Calkins, whose great-uncle was killed in action and is buried in Korea, received Royal Assent in 2013 to give Canadians an opportunity to honour the veterans who served in the war and performed peacekeeping duties following the 1953 armistice.
I encourage all Canadians every July 27 to pause and think of our veterans and their sacrifices, remain optimistic about peace on the Korean peninsula and to ensure the Korean War will never, ever be forgotten.
Senator Yonah Martin is the first Canadian of Korean descent to serve in the Senate of Canada and is the first Korean-Canadian parliamentarian in Canadian history. She represents British Columbia in the Senate.
This article appeared in the July 26, 2018 edition of the Vancouver Sun.