Stanley Jaworski said in the decades after he fought in the Korean War for 14 months, he didn’t think about it much.
After returning there in April as one of 36 Canadian veterans hosted by the South Korean government to mark the 60th anniversary of the war’s armistice, he thinks about it more.
"I’m not a soft person," said the 79-year-old in the Westwood home he shares with his wife Rose.
"I spent 25 years in the police force (RCMP), three years in the army…I’ve seen a lot of dead people," he said, trying to rationalize the emotion he’s felt since returning from the visit on April 27.
"I dunno, it was going back there."
The Canadian delegation was taken to Panmunjom, where the armistice was signed in 1953 and a bizarre standoff scene exists today around a building split between the two Koreas.
"Armed (North Korean) guards standing there, gawking, staring at us, and not moving or saying a damn thing," Jaworski said, calling the present situation "awful."
"I’ll tell you, that’s the area that I fought in and it hasn’t changed a hell of a lot, I’ll tell you, on the other side of the line."
On the south side of that line, Jaworski said, a country that was a scene of utter destruction when he was last there in the ‘50s is now beautiful and thriving.
"My God, if you see South Korea, it’s unbelievable. We couldn’t believe the economy and advancement."
And South Koreans are grateful, he said.
"They treated us like kings. Just absolutely wonderful… oh my God, they pushed us around in wheelchairs. If you couldn’t make it up a hill they made damn sure you got there."
Jaworski made use of the wheelchair service on occasion, he said, like when he was taken to the United Nations Memorial Cemetery at Busan, where 378 of the 516 Canadians killed in the struggle are buried.
"I was looking for a few specific graves. I found what I was looking for… pardon me, some friends of mine are buried there. So, anyway, that brought a lot of memories back."
The cemetery is "so well kept," he said, "unbelievable, you won’t find even a twig out of place there. I’m really thankful."
For his service with Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) as part of a Sherman M4A2 tank troop, Jaworski earned the Canadian Korea Medal, the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal for Korea, and the United Nations Service Medal.
On his return trip, he said the South Koreans showered all the Canadian veterans with many gifts, among which was an Ambassador for Peace medal and proclamation which reads, in part, "we cherish in our hearts the memory of your boundless sacrifices in helping us re-establish our Free Nation."