Deadlock in Korea

DIK_COVER_JUNEDeadlock in Korea: Canadians at War, 1950-1953

Thomas Allen Publishers, May 2010

ISBN 9780-0-88762-528-2

Politicians called it a “police action.” The Canadian working volunteers who went to Korea to fight the Communists remember it as a bitter, grinding shooting war.

In the summer of 1950, thousands of Canadians – some veterans of the Second World War and regular army servicemen as well as adventure-seekers, unemployed and even some in trouble with the law – eagerly signed on for a UN-sponsored mission to stop the Communist foray into South Korea. They joined a forty-eight-nation, U.S.-led expeditionary force that quickly found itself embroiled not in a “police action,” but a full-scale hot war.

Ted Barris interviewed hundreds of Korean War veterans to then retell their stories of heroism and survival, tragedy and absurdity, successful operations and total snafus.

The Korean War was the first explosion in cold war between the USSR and the US after 1945. Canadian air force, naval and infantry volunteers were among the first to join the defence of South Korea. They etched locations such as Chinnampo, Kap’yong, Chail-li and Kowang-san onto the list of notable Canadian battlegrounds. Then, after twelve months that saw U.N. troops fighting up and down the Korean peninsula and drew Communist China into the conflict, the war settled into a bloody stalemate in the mud and cold around the 38th parallel.

Deadlock in Korea tells the stories of the men who fought in Korea, giving this war – that cost Canada more than a thousand casualties and was virtually ignored back home – its rightful place in Canadian history.

The book was a national best-seller on both the Maclean’s magazine and National Post top-ten lists in 1999-2000; and it has been officially recognized as the official history of Canadians at war in Korea by the Korea Veterans Association of Canada (Barris was made an honourary member of the KVA).

Springtime poppy

Walter Allward's marble sculpture of Mother Canada mourning her dead at Vimy Ridge memorial site in France.
Walter Allward's marble sculpture of Mother Canada mourning her dead at Vimy Ridge memorial site in France.

About a year ago, I received a letter from a stranger. He had read my book “Victory at Vimy,” the story of Canadians pushing the German Army from its nearly three-year occupation of strategic heights in north-central France. Born in Chile in 1944, the man said he had immigrated to Canada in 1976. In what had clearly been an important step in their lives, Pat Carvacho, his wife and two children became Canadian citizens soon after. Now a semi-retired architect, he wanted to share a dream he had experienced prior to reading my book.

“I saw a soldier of the Great War. I instantly learned his name, Charles Roy,” Carvacho wrote me. “Later (in the dream) I saw this soldier in a trench immediately before an attack, then advancing with his rifle and bayonet. There was a powerful explosion and the rifle and bayonet broke in pieces.”

Celebrity, thy name is Uxbridge

You probably missed it. You can be forgiven because I missed it too. But last Monday the Internet was all a twitter (yes, pun intended) about a birthday event. It’s one that your teeny-bopper kids (or grandkids) probably noticed. It appears that music heart-throb Justin Bieber celebrated his 16th birthday by visiting the Son of a Gun Tattoo and Barbershop in Toronto. There he had a tattoo of a seagull inked onto his left hip.

“That’s a bad area,” the tattoo artist told MTV News. “Justin was nervous, but then he got into it and it was done. It’s very tiny.”

Walking back to history

Veteran Barclay Craig celebrates a birthday and a victory
Barclay Craig (waving from truck) celebrates a victory and a birthday during VE Day parade in Apeldoorn, May 9, 2010.

Canadians were featured prominently that day. Grateful Netherlanders lined the streets, at first, in an orderly fashion. They waved, cheered and tossed tulips – the first blossoms of that bittersweet springtime when six long years of war came to an end. They celebrated the end of Nazi occupation in their country and embraced their liberators. It was May 8, 1945, Victory in Europe (VE) Day. Among those liberators marching in the Apeldoorn parade on the receiving end of all that adoration was a young lieutenant from Arnprior, Ontario. Barclay Craig remembered being told it would be a half-hour parade.

“It was actually the eve of my 25th birthday,” he told me this week. “The Dutch were so excited to be free again, they crushed in around us in the parade. I never shook so many hands in my life.”

Youth, the cost of war

Dutch liberation vet Ron Charland (left) is joined by air cadet Bo Gibbons during VE Day parade in Apeldoorn, May 9, 2010.
Dutch liberation vet Ron Charland (left) is joined by air cadet Bo Gibbons during VE Day parade in Apeldoorn, May 9, 2010.

As a boy, not surprisingly, he joined the scout movement. He loved to listen to the wireless radio broadcasts that came all the way from the BBC in England. But in every other way Jan Van Hoof was an ordinary Dutch boy during the Second World War. That is, until Sept. 17, 1944. During the next 24 hours, as Allied paratroops descended through the skies over his hometown of Nijmegen, Van Hoof left his youth behind. And it was summed up in what he said to his parents that day.

“The bridge is safe,” he said.