If Canadian soldiers hadn't volunteered to fight in Korea 60 years ago, South Korea might have been mired in tyranny and poverty like the North.
That was the message Harry Lee, president of Winnipeg's Korean Seniors Association, had for the handful of veterans who gathered at Brookside Cemetery Saturday to mark to 60th anniversary of the ceasefire that ended the Korean War.
Lee, who got choked up as he remembered his boyhood on the front lines of the war, said he would have grown up starving, sleeping on a mud floor instead of a warm bed, without basic human rights and living under a repressive regime were it not for Canadian soldiers. Instead, South Korea is a democracy and an economic powerhouse.
"This reality would be impossible (without) someone like you volunteering to sacrifice your own life to defend the South Korean territory," Lee told the vets.
Lee said he'd been separated from his parents during the war and survived thanks in part to the largesse of Canadian soldiers. He came to Canada about 15 years after the war's end.
At Saturday's ceremony, which included words from Mayor Sam Katz and MP Joy Smith, a large contingent of local Korean children dressed in traditional clothes helped veterans and their families carry candles for each Manitoban killed in the conflict.
The three-year Korean War ended July 27, 1953, after 516 Canadians had lost their lives. Winnipeg's Kapyong Barracks gets its name from a 1951 battle in which Canadian and Australian battalions, badly outmanned, managed to push back Chinese forces seeking a route through the Kapyong Valley and on to Seoul.
Winnipegger Dan Lafreniere was one of the young soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry sent in to relieve the troops after Kapyong. He was a 19-year-old railway worker when he joined up, and his brother followed him into the service. Lafreniere then became a medical officer's assistant, and stayed in Korea a few months after many of his buddies returned home.
"It was a lump-in-the-throat kind of thing," said Lafreniere of his buddies' departure. "The good memories you have overshadow any of the hardships."