Let­ter gives fam­ily per­sonal in­sight into Korean War

The Chatham Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - ELLWOOD SHREVE

Like many Cana­di­ans still to­day, there was a time Randy MacKen­zie and his sons, Nick and Mathew, know lit­tle of the Korean War.

But that changed when Doug MacKen­zie, their fa­ther and grand­fa­ther, wrote a let­ter de­tail­ing his ex­pe­ri­ence as a paratrooper with the 2nd Bat­tal­ion Princess Pa­tri­cia’s Cana­dian Light In­fantry (PPCLI) in Korea.

The Chatham man wrote the seven-page let­ter a few years be­fore his death on April 29, 2008, at age 79.

“Other than that, he never talked about it be­fore. Read­ing this, I can see why,” Randy MacKen­zie said of his fa­ther’s let­ter.

MacKen­zie said he’s wanted to share his fa­ther’s let­ter over the years and fi­nally de­cided to do it.

Doug MacKen­zie de­tails how the PPCLI be­came part of the Com­mon­wealth Bri­gade, fight­ing along­side Bri­tish, Aus­tralian and New Zea­land troops af­ter ar­riv­ing in Korea in Au­gust 1950.

His let­ter de­scribes an en­tire English bat­tal­ion of 1,000 sol­diers get­ting hit on a moun­tain away from the rest of the troops.

“We could not get to them un­til the next morn­ing,” he wrote. “It was not a nice sight to see 1,000 bod­ies ly­ing there dead.”

MacKen­zie wrote it could have been the Pa­tri­cias hit that night. That wasn’t the only large-scale death the Cana­dian solider saw. MacKen­zie’s let­ter de­scribes the first time his unit’s first call to ac­tion — to res­cue 68 U.S. drivers sta­tioned not too far away.

“But when we got there, there was 68 dead men,” he said.

His let­ter de­scribes how the North Kore­ans came down from the hills to kill the Amer­i­cans, then steal their boots and weapons.

“We chased those North Korean troops for three weeks,” he wrote. “They were al­ways one or two hills ahead us. We never did catch them.”

Af­ter the 1,000 English sol­diers were killed, MacKen­zie’s let­ter de­scribes how it seemed the North Kore­ans let them ad­vance right into their ter­ri­tory.

Ev­ery­thing changed when the Chi­nese en­tered the war, he wrote.

“They put on a big push and all the North Korean troops came out of the hills and we had to make a hasty re­treat — they nearly pushed us right into the ocean.”

How­ever, when they ad­vanced again, MacKen­zie de­scribed how they “never left any en­emy troops be­hind us. We made sure the only ones were dead ones.”

In April 1951, the North Korean and Chi­nese troops started an­other big push dur­ing the Bat­tle of Kapy­ong, he wrote.

MacKen­zie said the PPCLI spent 27 days on the front lines, be­fore be­ing sent back for a five-day rest pe­riod.

He de­scribed how the Chi­nese put on an­other big push as they were re­placed by South Korean troops.

MacKen­zie wrote that, six hours later, the PPCLI got word en­emy troops were pour­ing through the front line, so they re­turned to ac­tion.

“We fought our way back to the line and stopped the Chi­nese troops from com­ing through,” he wrote.

The PPCLI, along with an Aus­trali­a­bat­tal­io­nan­danAmer­i­can tank com­pany, all re­ceived the United States Pres­i­den­tial Unit Ci­ta­tion and Repub­lic of South Korea Pres­i­den­tial Unit Ci­ta­tion for their ef­forts.

Al­though the 65th an­niver­sary of the Korean War’s end oc­curred on July 27, the bat­tle is of­ten over­shad­owed by the First and Sec­ond World Wars. This is de­spite the fact 26,000 Cana­di­ans served on land, at sea and in the air dur­ing the con­flict from 1950 to 1953.

A to­tal of 516 Cana­di­ans died, with some buried in South Korea.

Nick MacKen­zie de­scribed his grand­fa­ther as “the most hum­ble man you’d ever meet, yet ac­cord­ing to (his let­ter), he wielded a gun pretty good.”

The rea­son for the let­ter, Randy MacKen­zie said, was likely to share his wartime ex­pe­ri­ences with his fam­ily.

“I think he re­al­ized his health was catch­ing up to him and he wanted us to know what he went through.”

The let­ter might have also pro­vided a mea­sure of cathar­sis, Doug MacKen­zie’s grand­son sug­gested.

“Putting it down on pen and pa­per and get­ting it out of his head, it could have been re­lief in some sense,” Nick MacKeznie said.

Randy MacKen­zie said his fam­ily is “very im­pressed and proud” of his fa­ther’s ser­vice.


Randy MacKen­zie, cen­tre, and sons Mathew, left, and Nick, show off a trib­ute to their late fa­ther and grand­fa­ther, Doug MacKen­zie, a Korean War vet.

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