As governments struggle with curbing the rise of COVID-19, lockdowns have left Canadians suffering with feelings of isolation and disconnectedness. For the past year, funerals, weddings and events of significance have been reduced to 10 attendees or less. Like so many other major events that have been cancelled or postponed, the 70th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemorative Campaign, named “Forgotten No More”, is at risk of simply being forgotten — yet again — in spite of my best efforts and those of a national committee working together to honour our veterans of the Korean War.
It comes as no surprise that many Canadians may not even know it has been more than 70 years since 26,791 Canadians fought in the Korean War (June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953) and more than 7,000 served in peacekeeping duties after the signing of the armistice on July 27, 1953, until 1955. Unlike the Second World War, Korean War veterans did not return home to train stations with banners welcoming them or ticker tape parades down main streets. Rather, the veterans of the “Forgotten War,” as it would colloquially become known, returned home to pick up their lives as best they could without recognition; they were isolated in their own way, shattered by the horrors of combat and haunted by the ghosts of lost comrades, memories of starving children and the suffering Korean people devastated by war on the frontlines of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The four-day period from April 22 to April 25, 2021, marked the 70th anniversary of one of the most significant battles of the Korean War, which took place on Hill 677 overlooking the Kapyong (or Gapyeong) Valley. There, the soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (2PPCLI) stood their ground at the Battle of Kapyong and composed one of the most defining and harrowing chapters in Canadian military history.
In the spring of 1951, North Korean and Chinese leadership had put plans in motion calling for the complete destruction of the United Nations (U.N.) forces above the Han River. Three Chinese Army Groups and three North Korean corps massed on April 22 with the Chinese 40th Army given the mission of destroying the U.N. Forces near Kapyong. If Kapyong could be captured, nothing would stop the communist forces from moving south and recapturing the capital city of Seoul and putting the lives of millions of civilians at dire risk. Had they succeeded, who knows what might have been. Would South Korea have fallen to the communist North? Would there even be the Republic of Korea, a free and democratic ally and strong trading partner to Canada today?
The initial communist attacks at Kapyong engaged the Australians on the evening of April 23 and throughout the day on April 24. Waves of Chinese soldiers continuously probed Australian defences, forcing the commander of the 3rd Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) to order a fighting withdrawal or risk being cut off, and leaving the Canadians as the last defensive position at Kapyong.
The entirety of the Chinese 118th Division then turned its attention to the Canadians and at 10 p.m. on April 24, the Chinese launched an all-out assault on the severely outnumbered Canadians. The ensuing battle was unrelenting, often escalating to hand-to-hand combat. The Canadians were quickly surrounded and, with no way out, the men of the 2PPCLI made their peace and prepared for the inevitable.
During the early morning hours of April 25, the Chinese infiltrated the lines of D Company, forcing their commander, Captain Mills, to repeatedly call down artillery on his own position to avoid being overrun. Running short of ammunition and supplies, the Canadians resorted to air drops to continue their last stand, rather than surrendering.
By dawn the communist forces’ attack had ended and by the afternoon of April 25, the road through to Hill 677 had been cleared of enemy soldiers and the 2PPCLI was finally relieved. For their heroic defence at Kapyong, the 2PPCLI and the 3RAR were awarded the U.S. Presidential Unit Citation for their heroic feat.
During this pandemic, our veterans risk losing more than just time with friends and families — they risk being forgotten all together.
Due to the current stay-at-home order in Ontario, the national commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Kapyong scheduled to take place at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on April 23, 2021, was cancelled.
Instead, the 70th anniversary commemoration was part of a week-long campaign that included a small wreath-laying ceremony in Langley, B.C. at the site of the first Gapyeong Memorial Stone on April 16; the Commonwealth Commemorative Ceremony on April 22 in Gapyeong County, South Korea, co-spearheaded by Capt. Jill Marrack, Canada’s Defence Attaché in Korea; the publication by the Embassy of Canada to Korea of a commemorative photo book titled “Kapyong 70”; a virtual campaign on social media platforms using the hashtags #RememberingKapyong and #Kapyong70 on April 23 and April 24; and a national virtual ceremony of remembrance on April 24, followed by the official unveiling of “2PPCLI in Korea 1951”, a special commemorative painting by Korean War veteran and prolific painter James Kierstead.
Together, it is our sincere hope that these acts of remembrance have shown our brave heroes that the Korean War is forgotten no more.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Senator Yonah Martin represents British Columbia in the Senate.